By Robert Frank and Kevin Woodhouse
Quebec’s election authority confirmed that, after verifying the news conference hastily convened last week at Lester B. School Board Headquarters (LBPSB) by outgoing chair Suanne Stein Day who is running for re-election, there had been no breach of Quebec election rules.
Stein Day sent a midnight invitation to selected reporters to attend a 9 a.m., Oct. 23, news conference at LBPSB headquarters. Stein Day asserted that the news event “non-partisan”.
However, only Stein Day’s name and that of her supporter, incumbent commissioner and outgoing commissioner Craig Berger, appeared in the news release, which opposition candidates did not get to see prior to the news conference.
The news release described Stein Day only as LBPSB chairperson, while listing Berger—who has repeatedly spurned The Suburban’s interview requests since early this year—as a candidate for re-election.
When The Suburban arrived 20 minutes prior to the news conference, LBPSB staff were unaware that a news conference had been scheduled and had to hastily ensure the availability of the LBPSB board room, which had been booked for another meeting at that time. Stein Day employed LBPSB staff Alycia Ambrosiak and Jim Hendry to organize and monitor the unexpected meeting.
“The purpose of the news conference was to promote or protect the right to vote of anglophone electors and to encourage the participation of anglophone electors at the school board elections, Elections Quebec Spokesman Denis Dion told The Suburban. “It was not to promote a particular candidacy. Therefore, they are not electoral expenses.”
The ruling seems to go against what other candidates have faced during the election because they had been ordered at the outset of the election not to campaign on LBPSB property. They said that they did not expect that they could breeze in to LBPSB headquarters and summarily demand that staff organize an impromptu news conference there.
Dion also stated that the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) did not interfere with the electoral process Oct. 16, by paying a lawyer to force one of Stein Day’s opponents, candidate Chris Eustace, to take down a campaign video critical of Stein Day that had been making waves. LBPSB made the move three days after Berger had published a diatribe against the video on Facebook.
“The law says that ‘During an election, no person other than an authorized candidate may incur or authorize electoral expenses,’” Dion said in an interview. “The cost of any goods or services during an election period to promote…directly or indirectly the election of a candidate…is an election expense.”
Regarding the removal of the video, the spokesman for Elections Quebec said “it is possible that this video contained material belonging to the Lester B. Pearson School Board. And it is possible that this material was used without the school board’s authorization.
“But there’s no rule in the Act respecting school elections relating to this issue,” said Dion.
Dion added that Elections Quebec is mindful that school boards continue to operate during elections, and that the incumbents continue to administer them. Whether wrongdoing took place boils down to the answer to a single question.
“Was it an administrative gesture or was it a political gesture? This is analyzed on a case-by-case basis,” Dion explained, “and we need to have enough information to be able to characterize the intervention.”
The school board elections take place Sunday, Nov. 2.
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LBPSB election candidates complained that they were excluded from an impromptu news conference convened by Suanne Stein Day and Craig Berger at one minute after midnight, Oct. 23. Less than nine hours later, only three other candidates arrived at LBPSB HQ in time for the so-called “non-partisan” news event: Chris Eustace (right), Marc Lucke (left) and Josh Arless (not in photo). Other candidates also complained that they had no input into the content of the news release seen on the table.
(Photo © Robert Frank)