Decision of the Election Team Regarding Campaign Materials and Conduct of Candidate Jeanne Ernst
October 14, 2021
The Chief Electoral Officer received a complaint on October 4, 2021, regarding the conduct of and the social media content posted by ONA presidential candidate Jeanne Ernst. The complaint was investigated and forwarded to the Provincial Elections Team for its consideration and deliberation.
The complaint sets out an allegation that candidate Jeanne Ernst made statements on social media, including on the Facebook group Ontario Nurses United, that was untruthful, disrespectful, unprofessional and/or in poor taste contrary to Article 33 of the Provincial Election Policy, 18.6. Specifically, it is alleged that presidential candidate Jeanne Ernst made the statement that “ONA has restricted the Board position election for entitled members” and that the fact that a number of Board members were acclaimed into positions “restricted union democracy” and can “optically [be] perceived as institutional oligarchy.” The complaint alleges that the references to ONA having “restricted” Board positions and as the election as reflecting “oligarchy” is untruthful, disrespectful and in poor taste and/or amounts to circulating false or defamatory statements to members of the union. The complaint also sets out a concern that Ernst did not correct a supporter who commented on her personal Facebook page “Vote Jeanne Ernst” who referenced ONA as a “dictatorship.”
Following its investigation, which included requesting a response from the candidate and carefully considering the complaint, the response and the materials presented by both parties, the Election Team considers, in particular, that the foregoing commentary by candidate Ernst is untruthful, as well as disrespectful, unprofessional and in poor taste.
In rendering its decision, the Election Team is aware that guiding labour arbitration and other jurisprudence from the courts mandates that Article 33 of the Provincial Election Policy should be interpreted liberally and consistent with democratic norms of free and fair debate and expression in a union election. The Team is mindful that it is ultimately the role of the union membership and electorate to evaluate and critique and/or debate the respondent’s speech and communications, not this Election Team.
However, in this particular instance, the Election Team is concerned that the foregoing commentary by candidate Ernst is untruthful or misleading and therefore impacts the fairness of this election as it constitutes misinformation. For an election to be fair, it must comply with democratic norms which mandate that the outcome of the election must reflect the will of the electorate. The electorate must have an opportunity to make an informed choice based on a fair campaign. Accordingly, given the electorate’s interest in receiving fair, full and accurate information, the Election Team is exercising its discretion to publish this present ruling, to address the public interest concerns raised by the complaint and to counter any unfairness created by untrue information being posted.
The Election Team wishes to clarify for the electorate and membership that it is simply untrue, and it is not the case that the ONA Board restricted or dictated who could run in the election.
In early 2021, in accordance with ONA’s express Constitutional procedures, a written request was made by a large majority of ONA Local Coordinators that a Special Meeting be held. The Special Meeting was requested to consider and debate a Constitutional amendment which proposed that candidates seeking election to ONA’s provincial Board of Directors should hold at least one prior term of union experience in a Local position prior to seeking candidacy on the provincial Board of Directors. In accordance with Constitutional procedures, notice of the proposed Constitutional amendments and the special meeting was widely shared within the ONA membership. The Special Meeting was held on February 16, 2021, was conducted by Zoom, and was open for all members to attend. The proposed Constitutional amendment was vigorously debated at the Special Constitutional meeting on February 16, 2021. Under ONA’s Constitution, the provincial Board of Directors only has one vote at the special meeting. After fulsome discussion and debate at the Special Meeting, the proposed amendment to the Constitution regarding minimum qualifications for the Board was passed with 95% support from ONA’s Chartered Local Associations. The amended Constitutional provisions therefore came into force effective February 16, 2021, following the conclusion of the special meeting. A copy of ONA’s Constitution can be accessed here: https://www.ona.org/wp-content/uploads/2021-ona-constitution-english.pdf
The Election Team also wishes to clarify that all acclaimed candidates were found to hold the requisite qualifications and local experience required by Article 4.16 of ONA’s Constitution.
The Election Team believes that publishing its decision is important to clarify and correct any misinformation or untruths that have been created by candidate Ernst’s campaign postings on social media. The Election Team also cautions Ernst and reminds her of her obligation and agreement, when seeking nomination and presenting herself as a candidate in this election, to ensure that her campaign materials, including her behaviour and conduct in relation to this election on social media, upholds ONA’s values of ensuring campaign materials are truthful, respectful, professional and in good taste.