Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Last updated: 2 hours ago

The Ubyssey’s 2013 AMS elections endorsements

Photo Andrew Bates/The Ubyssey

It’s time to step up to the line. Photo Andrew Bates/The Ubyssey

Each year, The Ubyssey endorses candidates in the AMS elections. We do this to give students a better sense of what we look for in a candidate for public office.

The editorial board was able to come to a consensus on the majority of races. When we weren’t able to settle on one candidate/referendum proposal, we brought the proposal to a vote. Much like the Supreme Court, we’ve written majority and minority opinions. Unless otherwise noted, however, the editorial board was unanimous in its decision.

Let’s start from the top:

President

Endorsement: Caroline Wong

At the beginning of this election season, we were not overly thrilled with the candidates for president. Indeed, it was hard at first to pick out where they differed in any substantive way. On the face of it, Jay Shah, Caroline Wong and Ekateryna Baranovskaya come from very similar backgrounds. They’ve all come from somewhere deep inside the AMS — from Student Services, Council or the undergraduate societies. They’re all arts students, and they’re all involved in Greek life. And they’ve all served on one committee or another (a point every candidate was all too happy to bring up in the debates). These candidates come from a monoculture that is interested in code, bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order.

Now, a week and a half into the two-week campaign period, the three hopefuls have yet to distinguish themselves. What these candidates represent, ultimately, is an AMS that has completely forgotten how to talk to actual students. Ninety-eight per cent of students don’t care if a candidate has served on such and such committee unless it’s clear as day why that matters. The intricacies of the organization only matter if they propel some larger vision, a vision of what a student society ought to be. These candidates have no such vision. It’s a competition over who would be the better manager, who better understands pragmatically what the AMS can do over the next year. Steady as she goes.

These are the criteria on which we had to base our decision.

Baranovskaya offered a number of ideas for improving student engagement with the AMS: a lofty goal that has been trotted out by AMS politicians since time immemorial. She would do this by creating some sort of forum, or providing better support for undergraduate society elections. But “engagement” with the AMS isn’t going to spring from a forum — it will only come from offering some new service to students, or from realigning existing services to better reflect what students want. Baranovskaya’s platform point about the upcoming provincial election came across as equally unclear. And while creating an executive position to focus on student mental health and social life is a good idea, more or less every other candidate believes this should happen. It is not a new idea.

Jay Shah has tried to distinguish himself by arguing he is not a “career student politician.” And while this is true (Shah has not held an elected position in the AMS), this argument doesn’t go far in recommending him for the job of president. AMS services, which Shah headed this year, will exist no matter who’s in charge. The department gets a dependable amount of money from students, and has a large permanent staff. It will run no matter who’s in charge (though that’s not to say that there haven’t been any hiccups in recent years). Shah has done little to rock the boat or try new things. Services (like Safe Walk, Tutoring and Mini School, to name a few) are no more visible this year than they have been in the past. He may have been a fine manager, but we’re not convinced that Shah would be a particularly effective leader.

Caroline Wong is the only candidate in this race with any past executive experience, having served as VP Administration under past president Matt Parson. This puts her in a better position than the other two candidates, as she knows the ins and outs of the new SUB project. The new SUB opens in a little over a year, and since the AMS is betting the farm on the hope the new building will increase business revenues and student engagement, the priority of this executive will be making sure the transition goes smoothly. They also have to make sure that the new SUB is something students are excited about. We think Wong is in the best position to lead this charge. While her term as VP Admin was largely uneventful, we believe she did a fine job keeping up communications with clubs and pushing the new SUB project. While her background is in administration, she knows what she has to do to step into a leadership role.

While we give her our endorsement, it’s lukewarm. Even after almost two weeks of campaigning, no candidate stands head and/or shoulders above the rest.

Full disclosure: Collyn Chan, one of The Ubyssey‘s paid graphic designers, worked on Wong’s campaign for VP Administration, and served briefly as Wong’s assistant. Chan has not participated in any AMS-related coverage and was not present at our endorsement meeting.

Board of Governors

Endorsement: Matt Parson and Tristan Miller

BoG is a tough race this year. Let’s start with who we don’t endorse.

We can unequivocally dis-endorse Harsev Oshan. He has a list of follies as the Arts Undergraduate Society president that make us wary of giving him our support. He has basic responsibility issues such as signing dubious sponsorship deals with Gold’s Gym, leaving thousands of dollars in a office that was broken into and missing meetings. His campaign has promised very little in terms of what he will do for students if elected to the big table.

We also have issues with supporting Conny Lin. She had a lacklustre performance at the debates and her answers to our candidate questions went off topic. There is something to be said for having a graduate student rep on the Board, but she seems to lack basic knowledge of key issues like governance.

While incumbent BoG rep Mike Silley didn’t make any big mistakes during his time in office, we don’t think he deserves another term. He doesn’t have any concrete platform points this year and quotes like the Board has “won him over” this year cause us to question if he has lost touch with the student point of view. We also have problems with him taking credit for the lower bachelor of international economics tuition during his time in office. He didn’t take an active role pressing for it, and citing it as an accomplishment seems disingenuous.

We think Erin Rennie would be an OK choice, but she isn’t in our top two. Her platform to fight the war on fun is appealing, but it is unclear if that can actually be addressed at the Board level. She was away from UBC for years and might not be up to date on the campus culture. She also worked in a B.C. Liberal cabinet minister’s office. On a Board dominated by B.C. Liberals, her political career could put her in a tough position to disagree with her fellow board members.

Which leaves our endorsements for Matt Parson and Tristan Miller.

Parson has extensive political experience and knows what’s coming down the pipeline at the Board. He has experience working on student housing, a valuable attribute for a student rep. But we have our concerns about his AMS presidency. He backed down on a number of his campaign promises and didn’t wow us with his PAR goals. But ultimately, he understands students and understands how the Board works. We think he will be an effective voice for students.

We think Tristan Miller would be a good foil to Parson on the Board. He has the personality to be an effective bad cop. While he can come across as icy to the average student, he has concrete plans for housing affordability. We also think he wouldn’t be afraid to take a stand against the Board and will resist becoming a lackey.

VP Academic

Endorsement: Kiran Mahal

Kiran Mahal has been an outstanding AMS executive this year and has strong ideas for continuing her work in a second term. Mahal has been active as an advocate for student housing, taking the lead on the Acadia Park issue after UBC moved to evict student families from the buildings. She has also drawn up a Student Housing Action Plan and worked on restructuring UBC’s internal loan structure, the easiest way to bring housing costs down. It was Mahal who spearheaded the fight against the bachelor of international economics and succeeded in forcing the Board of Governors to reduce tuition, saving students around $500,000.

Challengers Anne Kessler and Montana Hunter have no business running for the VP Academic position. Kessler’s rants against the university at debates and in her stump speech appear juvenile when she fails to couple them with any compelling policy positions. Hunter is running on a platform of “affordability,” an issue already being addressed by Mahal. He has not presented any concrete or realistic ways to reduce student costs.

To say Kessler and Hunter’s answers at the debates were boilerplate would be too kind. The Ubyssey wholeheartedly endorses Kiran Mahal for a second term as VP Academic and University Affairs.

VP External

Endorsement: Tanner Bokor

It’s hard to get excited about a race with only one candidate. While we endorse Tanner Bokor for the position of VP External, we do so with some caveats.

Bokor has made transit his sole focus as Associate VP External, and while it’s safe to say students want to see advocacy focused on improving transit service to UBC, we worry that this approach will come at the expense of other areas of the portfolio. For one, the provincial campaign to improve access to education that the AMS supports, Where’s the Funding (WTF), is awful. It’s website hasn’t been updated since early September, and there’s no indication that the AMS or other area student unions are gearing up for any kind of advocacy push during this spring’s provincial elections. If Bokor focuses exclusively on transit as VP External, his term will have been a failure.

All that aside, Bokor has done fine work in the VP External’s office this year, and would be a good choice to take the reins. He’s certainly better than the alternative: a “no” vote.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article expressed concerns over the limitations of a study visa, knowing Bokor is an international student. While a study visa requires an international student to take a full-time course load, Bokor has since informed us that he has applied for a full work permit. The article has been updated to reflect that fact.

VP Administration

Endorsement: Derek Moore (7 for, 3 against)

This was a tough choice. Our editorial board quickly moved past Justin Fernandes, who has gained a reputation in the Science Undergraduate Society as being hard to work with. And while we’re not always keen to endorse someone based solely on prior AMS experience, Olivia Yung would need some more experience running an organization before we’d suggest handing her the keys to the SUB/clubs.

Derek Moore ultimately gets our endorsement. He’s worked on the new SUB project extensively, and has an understanding of the thousands of little things that need to happen before the AMS can move into the new building in 18 months. That project is far from “done,” as other candidates have suggested. Moore has worked hard over the past year to make sure all clubs and student organizations given a designated space in the new SUB were consulted.

Moore would be well suited to some of the more mundane administrative work that the position’s title suggests. And while Moore has proven himself to be a hard worker, some on our editorial board were concerned about his lack of ideas.

On that front, one candidate stood out. We debated for some time whether to endorse this race’s wildcard candidate, Barnabas Caro. Caro is well-known (as UBC students go). He’s been a residence advisor and has served on the Student Administrative Commission, the AMS group in charge of managing clubs. He seems to have developed a good rapport with club execs, organizing a number of informal (but well attended) beer nights. Much of his platform revolves around advertising the often untouched funds the AMS makes available for clubs. Of course, these initiatives are not the same as managing a multimillion dollar building, and Caro has shown in the past that he has some basic responsibility issues.

Ultimately, Moore is the safe choice. But part of us wants to see what Caro would do with the position.

VP Finance

Endorsement: Joaquin Acevedo

VP Finance is not a glamorous job. It’s mostly spreadsheet-crunching, telling other people they can’t have things, and cheque-signing. A LOT of cheque-signing. It’s important the person who takes the job has a clear grasp of the job duties before they start, because the time between taking office in March and submitting the summer’s first budget draft will inevitably breeze by.

Mateusz Miadlikowski seems like an eager chap, but he revealed in debate that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His only experience with the AMS is slinging beers at the Pit. We don’t want to disparage that, but it doesn’t exactly prepare him to take control of the society’s oft-confusing financial side.

Joaquin has the requisite experience and knowledge of what the VP Finance does. He’s also a fairly affable guy who communicates well, which will make his new role working between AMS Council and the new business board easier.

Senate

Endorsements: Kiran Mahal, Philip Edgecumbe, Yaniv Pereslavsky and Natalie Marshall

Eleven candidates are running for Senate and only four stand out.

To start off, we endorse the incumbents Kiran Mahal and Philip Edgecumbe.

Mahal has actually done work on the exam database and student mental health, issues all of the candidates included in their platform. She already has her hand in ongoing Senate projects and it would be a shame if she didn’t get to lead them to fruition.

Philip Edgecumbe has served two terms on Senate, giving him valuable experience. He knows how things work on Senate and has already developed essential relationships with other senators.

Although Yaniv Pereslavsky and Natalie Marshall haven’t served on Senate before, they seem to have a fundamental understanding of what it can and can’t do. They have ideas and the basic knowledge to push for them. They have both earned our endorsements.

The other candidates all seem to be be passionate about Senate. They all share similar positions on the exam database, earlier release of exam dates and student mental health. But nothing about them really stands out as deserving our endorsement.

Student Legal Fund Society

Endorsement: Students for Responsible Leadership

To put it bluntly, the Student Legal Fund Society doesn’t do much. In past years, the fund has taken in money but blocked a lot of small requests for legal aid. It justifies this by saving up for a big case, and they do host workshops, but the fact is that board after board has done very little with a substantial amount of money. After a left-leaning slate elected a member last year, it is disappointing to see a single slate run unopposed.

However, we have voted to endorse the Students for Responsible Leadership slate. The approach of some newer candidates like Roshak Momtahen is positive, and it’s possible that good things can happen next year. However, we question some of the candidates who continue to run year after year with few observable results. What exactly have Aaron Sihota (four terms), J.J. McLean (three terms) and Jordan Stewart (two terms) done in their time on the society? Those three seem to have found a comfortable resume padder. We can’t encourage anyone to vote for them. While they’re all likely to be reelected, we hope the new blood, especially Momtahen, gives the more complacent members a kick in the pants.

Referenda

Question 1: U-Pass (“Do you support and approve the continuation of the U-Pass B.C. program…?”)
YES

The U-Pass is a good program. It harnesses the sheer size of UBC’s student population to get us a really good deal on transit. We’re glad it’s continuing, and we’re glad it’s had the chance to spread to other schools in the Lower Mainland. We hope TransLink is eventually is able to pony up some more cash to make transit to UBC faster and smoother, but biting the hand that feeds just to be petulant won’t help us on this one.

We’re pretty sure you’re in favour of renewing the U-Pass already. Remember, if the AMS doesn’t get enough people to vote on the renewal, the program is cancelled and you go back to paying $90 or more each month to take a bus to campus. So go vote for this. Please.

Question 2: AGM quorum (“Do you support and approve the change to the AMS bylaws, as presented in the attached document called ‘Quorum Reduction for General Meetings,’ reducing quorum at general meetings to 1 per cent of the active members, or 500 active members, whichever is the greater number?”)
YES

The past couple of years have shown how vitally important it is for a student society to have the ability to hold a general meeting.

At Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2011, their student union was plagued with some pretty bad scandals. Lawsuits, financial mismanagement, you name it. The student union’s directors wore out their welcome, and students didn’t want them in office anymore.

Students organized a general meeting of the society, and enough people showed up to oust the unpopular directors.

If this kind of scandal came to pass at UBC, it might have a different ending. According to the current AMS bylaws, a general AMS meeting needs to have 1,000 people attending in order for it to count. There’s basically nowhere at UBC that can hold 1,000 people in one room. The proposed bylaw change whittles that number down to 500, which is a hell of a lot more feasible; you can fit that many in the SUB ballroom, or Wood 2.

We endorse this change wholeheartedly. Let’s get some direct democracy up in here.

Question 3: Substantive bylaw changes (“Do you support and approve the changes to the AMS bylaws as presented in the attached documents called ‘Other Changes: Executive Turnover, Representation for Affiliated Institutions and Entrenching the AMS Endowment Fund’?”)YES

The AMS has focused on a few key areas of their bylaws that need tweaks, and we think these changes are a good idea.

Moving executive turnover to May makes a ton of sense, because it lets new execs learn the ropes in the summer while the campus is emptier and the stakes are lower. Affiliated college students are AMS members who pay full fees, so why shouldn’t they have voting seats for a say on how those fees are spent? And formally recognizing the Endowment Fund is pretty important, since it keeps future greedy AMS execs from dipping into the society’s savings.

We’d like to give the AMS a pat on the back for not trying to close their records to students, like they tried to do in a sweeping set of bylaw changes in 2011 that failed to pass. Everything that they’re trying to do here is above-board.

Question 4: Housekeeping bylaw changes (“Do you support and approve the housekeeping changes to the AMS bylaws?”)
YES

They’re a fairly straightforward set of changes to ensure the AMS doesn’t overstep the bounds imposed on it by provincial laws. Nothing here is remotely controversial. We’re in favour of this going through.

Bike Co-op question (“Do you support and approve the introduction of a $1 annual student fee, refundable upon request, for the AMS Bike Co-op…?”)
NO (8 against, 3 for)

Against: Though we like the Bike Kitchen as a service, we voted against endorsing the Bike Kitchen’s request for a $1 levy.

The Bike Co-op is asking for the referendum to ensure the current level of service, free up executives’ time currently spent writing grant applications, and expand the number of workshops given. Any mandatory fee request requires a lot of justification for how the money would help all students, especially in a year where some students have been particularly loud about wanting to opt out. We don’t think that bolstering the Bike Kitchen’s existing services quite qualifies.

There are ways the pitch for the dollar could have offered a transformative service, but we’re not convinced that it would actually influence change. And if the Bike Kitchen can ask for a dollar to operate the same business it currently runs, what’s stopping Sprouts or other non-profit businesses from swinging for one?

For: We think the Bike Kitchen provides a valuable service that could be relevant for every student, with a little more support. Much of their time is spent writing grants, and while a dollar from every student probably won’t mean they’ll stop seeking out other sources of funding, it could free them up to provide new services. There’s clearly a demand: the Kitchen is always hard up for used bikes, and the Purple and Yellow bike share fleet seems to have dropped off in recent years due to overuse. People on this campus want to bike, but the Co-op’s current funding model makes it harder for them to meet that demand. Plus, students can always opt out of the fees. An extra dollar seems fairly uncontroversial.