In the run up to the 2016 USC election, a new policy requires all associate vice-presidents, interns and coordinators to take an unpaid leave of absence if they plan on volunteering for or publicly endorsing candidates.

The policy puts into writing a standard practice for those who wish to run as a candidate in the University Students’ Council’s spring elections to take a leave of absence. The rule applies to elected positions, including councillors, faculty presidents and the speaker of council.

The policy comes after controversy over the role of the former associate vice-president student affairs in Team Sophie’s campaign team during last year’s election. The AVP eventually took a leave of absence for the remainder of the election period.

According to Kevin Hurren, USC communications officer, while the policy wasn’t specifically designed to address last year’s issue, there has been confusion on the acceptable level of involvement in election campaigns by USC’s student staff.

“There was a lot of confusion both outside and in the USC about what actually constitutes involvement,” he said. “We have made it very clear and we have played it relatively safe on when students shouldn't really be having access to the USC resources or office space during the campaign time if they plan on being an active participant.”

The policy also aims to deter any undue influence on the elections by USC employees and volunteers who might be supporting certain candidates or slates.

“I think the idea of the leave is that you’re not using your USC resources or your presence in USC office spaces to benefit or change the outcome,” Hurren said.

AVPs, interns and coordinators intending to volunteer for or endorsing candidates are expected to start their leave of absence the same day their candidate files their nomination forms.

At the beginning of the election period, the elections governance committee will receive a list of all students who have taken their leave of absence for campaigning or endorsing purposes. The list will be made public so students-at-large are aware of the USC members who will be taking time off during the elections.

However, if certain AVPs, interns or coordinators decide to volunteer for or endorse a candidate during the election period, they can still take their leave prior to public endorsements or campaigning.

“It may be the second week of the campaign period that an individual decides, ‘you know what I really want to go out and support a candidate’ … at the point they can still file their leave of absence,” said Andrew Chorney, USC’s chief returning officer.

If any USC member in these positions is found campaigning or endorsing candidates without a leave of absence, they can be reported to the elections governance committee. As AVPs and interns are USC employees, disciplinary actions will be taken internally.

The committee itself will also be keeping a watch on the campaigns to monitor any unsanctioned activity.

“We are being very proactive this year. We will have our eyes and ears open and in the event we do see something that is suspect, we will look into it,” Chorney added.