Candidate endorsements may not sway vote, but info useful

Endorsements don’t mean much during election campaigns. Witness what happened during the Conservative party leadership race when high-profile candidate Kevin O’Leary, who was leading in the polls, dropped out and endorsed the next-most popular candidate, Maxime Bernier — who then lost the leadership race to Andrew Scheer.

The issue of endorsements has emerged during elections for the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission, which represents 25,000 farmers in the province.

In an Oct. 2 Facebook post, vice-chair Dan Danielson endorsed four “progressive” candidates out of the 10 running for four positions in board elections. (The election deadline is Nov. 24. Danielson’s position is not up for re-election this time.)

That is not sitting well with Saskatchewan Pulse Grower chair Morgan Nunweiler, who got into a Facebook debate with Danielson and another candidate — Glenn Tait (one of those endorsed by Danielson) — about the appropriateness of a sitting director endorsing candidates.

“Don’t you have good governance policy at Sask Wheat preventing current directors from campaigning for specific candidates?” Nunweiler wrote.

He also pointed out that at “other commissions there are policies in place to prevent current directors from influencing and campaigning for candidates.”

Tait responded that Nunweiler had a valid point, but that the issue had been discussed at the SWDC.

“The position that we came to at the end was that we had no right to gag board members on any topic (except privileged info, etc.) but it was still bad form to actively campaign,” Tait wrote.

The SWDC’s stance is relatively unusual, so Danielson is free to endorse.

In fact, there may be some merit to this. Voter participation in these elections is sometimes lower than 10 percent. The SWDC is relatively new. Formed in 2013, the commission has been surrounded by politics since its inception. Some members didn’t like the political persuasion of the elected directors in its inaugural elections, and the commission has steadfastly refused to join Cereals Canada. The debate centres around farmer versus industry representation, which is a discussion for another day.

Danielson’s post has stimulated debate. Voters who are somewhat removed from the internal politics of the SWDC might be more aware of the intense debate over farmer versus industry membership at the SWDC, and who to vote for should they hold a position on the issue.

When this issue came up in 2015, after three new candidates formed “Team Wheat” to run for director positions, Saskatoon lawyer Nancy Hopkins told Grainews editor Leeann Minogue that the Canadian Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG) recommends that directors be independent of each other.

“You shouldn’t have a board made up of people who tend to vote together,” Hopkins said.

That’s a valid, but somewhat idealistic position. So is the CCGG’s proposal that independent directors meet regularly without non-independent directors present. Human dynamics can get in the way of such intentions.

It’s hard to believe that a director endorsement will sway votes. Farmers are an independent lot by nature. They will make up their own minds. But if they’re wont to consider the internal political debate that’s going on at the SWDC, they might have a better idea where candidates stand because of Danielson’s endorsements. More might even be spurred to vote. And that’s not so bad.

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