The University of Regina’s Students' Union (URSU) had decided not to allow Kevin Chow to run as the alias “Snowy Bear” in this year’s bi-election, unless the character ran under his real and legal name. Section 17.3.11 of the URSU Bylaw Policies states that “only the legal names of the candidates or reasonable derivations thereof, shall appear on the ballot as appointed by the CRO."
The idea of voting under a false identity goes against the idea of a democracy based election, according to Professor Martin Hewson from the Department of Political Science.
“[Running under a false name] contradicts the idea of who you’re voting for… the principle of knowing who you are voting for.”
Hewson agrees that URSU’s decision for having people run under their real name is a reasonable one. He also goes on to discuss that there is room for the argument that making oneself a joke in an election draws attention away from more serious contenders in the race. As a result, the attention of the media and newspapers may be focused on the joke candidates, leaving aside the important issues that should be discussed.
However, despite Hewson's argument and URSU's decision, Chow believes that the URSU executive didn't like his strategies or tactics for campaigning.
"Last year, my campaigning…brought students together under the universal belief that students at the U of R are entitled to free bacon," he said.
Despite this, Chow enthusiastically and rhetorically asks, "will I run again next year on the most epic slate ever seen at the U of R, [despite] Snowy Bear being censored out this year? Only time will tell."
Apart from URSU's decision, other student unions across Canada think that joke candidates add an interesting atmosphere to student politics.
“[Running under a false name] contradicts the idea of who you’re voting for… the principle of knowing who you are voting for.” – Martin Hewson
For example, the University of Calgary’s Students' Union (UCSU) created a joke candidate's slate for candidates to run under in 2010. While these candidates cannot be officially elected, UCSU believed that these “joke candidates” could be used to engage students and could create more awareness of the elections.
While candidates in this slate can run as fictional characters, they have the opportunity to raise important issues at the same time. In the U of C’s 2012 General Students' Union election, a “Power Rangers” slate was created, where five candidates ran as each member of the Power Rangers team.
Running under a false name is not new to the world of elections outside that of student politics. In 1983, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party was established in the United Kingdom. The party is still an officially registered party to this date.
In addition to its obscure name, one of the candidates in the party at the time, 22-year-old student, John Desmond Lewis, legally changed his name to Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel, the outlandish name of one of the characters from Monty Python's "Election Night Special" sketch, so that he can officially run in the election. Needless to say, the party and the candidate did not win.
Gimmicks such as joke candidates could be a much-needed tool to raise awareness of student union elections, and to make students more interested in student politics. With only a 20% voter turnout in URSU's 2011 general elections, perhaps joke candidates are an underestimated strategy.
Until then, however, students must bid farewell to characters such as Snowy Bear in URSU elections.