The annual general meeting held between Feb. 8 and 10 by the University of Waterloo’s (UW) Federation of Students (FedS) witnessed only a 7.5 per cent voter turnout to elect their new student executive, faculty senate and faculty council positions. The low voter turnout, showing an increase of roughly 100 students from the 2010 election, was just one of the many shortfalls.
Election season was not without controversy, as a satire group calling themselves the Rhino Party slated candidates in many of the electoral races, amusing some and angering others.
The group is the namesake of another infamous political satire group, the Rhinoceros Party, which was active in Canadian politics between the 1960s and 1990s, ridiculing the Canadian political system and the politicians themselves.
The group, led by UW students Ian Charlesworth and Edgar Bering, fielded a full slate of candidates for all of the elected student executive positions, campaigning and taking full part in electoral debates.
Charlesworth, who ran as the Rhino Party’s presidential candidate, maintained that although they were actively involved in campaigning, “the goal was never to win.”
“FedS seems entirely irrelevant to a whole bunch of students,” Charlesworth noted, adding that the Rhino Party’s ultimate goal was to bring attention to student politics and increase voter turnout.
Among the campaign promises offered by the Rhino Party were to provide each undergraduate student with one roller skate to make walking to classes easier and to found a Global Alliance of Student Organizations with all other student government organizations around the world.
Charlesworth did admit that despite all their hard work, voter turnout only increased marginally. “It didn’t work. People still don’t care about the election.”
Niall Wingham, another UW student, caused a stir when he removed several Rhino Party campaign posters on campus, publicly advertising his actions on Facebook.
This was one of two poster-related scandals on campus in the same week; many female candidates also found that anti-feminist posters had been placed on top of their campaign posters.
These posters featured an image of Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie with the text suggesting that the chemist and physicist was “the mother of the nuclear bomb.” This incident was unrelated to Wingham’s activities and is still under investigation.
Reflecting on the election process, Wingham agreed, “There are a lot of problems with the system.” Yet he did assert that satire is better suited in the media and that the way the party conducted themselves was “disrespectful to the student government.” Nevertheless, he calls the members of the Rhino Party “good people.”
Wingham has been arrested and charged with vandalism.
Regarding whether or not he would have removed the posters knowing the trouble it would cause him, Wingham expressed no remorse. “The fact is I don’t feel a lot of regret and even if I wanted to lie about it, it would be difficult to lie about.”
More controversy arose when Jordan Lui, a candidate for engineering senate, received a financial penalty from the FedS election committee for pressing “like” from his personal Facebook account on a post made by Wingham detailing plans to remove the Rhino Party’s posters.
While Lui maintained in his unsuccessful appeal that he did not necessarily support Wingham’s actions, he admitted that he did not believe the Rhino Party’s methods were appropriate.
“They’re trying to take advantage,” Lui asserted, adding that many students were annoyed that the Rhino Party was wasting student money in yielding non-serious candidates who fully utilized their student-funded campaign budgets.
Matt Colphon, who won the presidential election with 1,425 votes, agreed that student apathy has been a problem at the university. “We’ve had a problem with voter turnout at Waterloo… [the Rhino Party’s method] was certainly an interesting way to get people interested.”
While calling the party’s methods “extreme,” Colphon praised the party for asking appropriate questions and challenging the status quo, noting that “they certainly did their research.”
Charlesworth remarked that he would not be resurrecting the Rhino Party in next year’s election, as the party’s ultimate goal of significantly increasing voter turnout failed.
“It’s not that [students] don’t care,” he said. “It’s that they don’t want to care.”