AMS Elections 2023 referenda, explained

There are four referenda on the ballot this year, all of which were put on the ballot by the AMS and endorsed by AMS Council.
There are four referenda on the ballot this year, all of which were put on the ballot by the AMS and endorsed by AMS Council. Isabella Falsetti / The Ubyssey

Election season involves more than just voting for candidates — voting on referendum questions is another way to have your say about what happens in the AMS.

There are four referenda on the ballot this year, all of which were put on the ballot by the AMS and endorsed by AMS Council.

In addition, 8 per cent of the student body — this year, 4,918 students — must vote ‘yes’ for the referendum to pass. Even if a referendum gets a majority ‘yes’ votes, if it doesn’t reach quorum, it fails.

Read on for more context on each referendum question so you can make an informed choice when filling out your ballot.

"Do you support and approve amending the AMS Bylaws in accordance with the changes presented in the document entitled ‘Bylaw Changes 2023 - Indigenous Constituency and Miscellaneous Changes?'"

This referendum involves a variety of changes to the AMS Bylaws.

One of the biggest changes is the creation of an Indigenous Constituency — which was first considered in 2021 under then-AMS President Cole Evans. According to previous comments from Evans, shifting from the existing Indigenous Committee to an Indigenous Constituency would give Indigenous students a body that’s still connected to the AMS, but that allows for more self-representation.

The question of creating an Indigenous Constituency was originally supposed to be part of last year’s election after consulting with Indigenous students to gain feedback. At the fourth annual election Indigenous Forum held on March 1 this year, members of the existing Indigenous Committee spoke in support of the referendum and told AMS Elections candidates they wanted campaign promises towards Indigenous students upheld beyond the election season.

Dominique Joseph, vice-president of the Indigenous Committee, said the new constituency would allow for Indigenous groups across campus to connect and collaborate, and allow for more support for all of those groups within a constituency structure.

“It’s just an easier way for us to make sure that all Indigenous voices are heard,” Joseph said.

Next, the AMS is proposing to reduce the size of AMS Council. First, by only allowing one elected member to collectively represent the students at all affiliated institutions, including but not limited to Regent College, the Vancouver School of Theology and St. Mark’s College.

Additionally, the following constituencies’ seats would be consolidated under the Graduate Student Society seat: Audiology, Library, Archival and Information Studies, Journalism, Planning, Population and Public Health, and Social Work.

The formula to calculate seats for large constituencies is changing as well — rather than allowing one seat per additional 3,000 students, constituencies get an extra seat when they reach 4,000, 9,000, 16,000 and 25,000 members. This would reduce the number of arts and science seats on council.

At the January 25 AMS Council meeting, AMS President Eshana Bhangu said she contacted all the constituencies that would be cut and said those who replied supported the change. She also said she had spoken to and received support from one affiliated institution.

It is unclear which constituencies or affiliated institutions she spoke to. The Ubyssey reached out to the St. Mark’s Council member, who declined to comment.

Another change involves the ways in which Council can remove executives (including the AMS president and vice-presidents). The proposed change allows an AMS executive to be removed from office upon either a referendum approved by a two-thirds majority, a special resolution passed at a general meeting or a three-quarters resolution of Council.

Previously, the protocol to remove an executive only involved either a referendum or a special resolution passed at a special general meeting, so this change would essentially make it easier for an executive to be removed. The motivation behind the change is unclear.

The last proposed change is to give the president the power to liaise with constituencies and manage the VPs. The most notable difference is the addition of the word “manage” to the bylaw that allows AMS presidents to “assist, advise, and manage the Vice-Presidents in the duties of their offices.”

Bhangu, who served as chair on the Governance Review Committee that proposed these changes, did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

“Do you support an increase of $52.50 in the fee for the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan Fee ($277.50 to $330) for the upcoming academic year to maintain similar levels of current coverage, which may include but is not limited to, dental care, drugs, and psychology coverage?

Note: If this fee increase does not pass, the AMS will be unable to maintain similar levels of current coverage, which may include but is not limited to, dental care, drugs, and psychology coverage ($1,250 for mental health), and significant cuts in coverage will be made.”

This referendum proposes a $52.50 increase to the AMS/GSS Health & Dental Plan — an increase the AMS said is needed due to an unsustainable depletion of the plan's reserve.

Students currently pay $277.50 per policy year for the plan, with annual increases of up to five per cent that do not have to go to referendum.

According to AMS VP Finance Lawrence Liu, if the per capita usage of the plan is less than $277.50, then the difference goes into the Health & Dental Reserve Fund. However, if students claim more than $277.50 per capita in a year, then the AMS pays insurer Pacific Blue Cross the difference from the Health and Dental Reserve Fund.

In the last two years, the AMS has seen a significant increase in claims for mental health counselling sessions, leading to the depletion of the reserve at an exponential rate. Student mental health claims have gone from $5.16 per capita in the 2016/17 academic year to $74.01 per capita in 2021/22.

In January 2022, the AMS increased mental health coverage from $1,000 to $1,500. This was decreased again to $1,000 in September, but soon returned to $1,250 following criticism from students.

“Last year, $3.4 million was claimed for mental health counselling sessions alone," said Sophia Haque, the director of partnerships and development at Studentcare. Studentcare acts as an intermediary between the AMS and Pacific Blue Cross, helping to negotiate and implement the insurance plan.

“Utilizing these plan reserves to respond to this was exactly what those funds are meant to do," Haque said. "They are the rainy day funds. Having said that, the rainy day funds need to be sustainable. So you can't keep perpetually subsidizing the cost of the plan to the tune of $2.5 million.”

The dollar amount of the reserve was $7.8 million at the start of this fiscal year, but the AMS has pulled $2.5 million from the reserve this year to pay for the difference in claimed amount and the amount students are paying into the plan. According to Liu, at this rate with current coverage, the reserve would last only two more years.

Haque said there are two ways to stop this depletion. One would be to decrease the plan’s coverage and the other would be to increase its fee.

“It's a matter of asking students what they prioritize and value the most — the coverage or keeping the costs low because we would have to sacrifice one for the other," Haque said. "And it's just unfortunate [because] it's a difficult time of the year for students.”

As a result, the Health & Dental Committee proposed the $52.50 referendum item, which the AMS believes is enough to keep the plan sustainable at its current level of coverage.

If the item does not pass, "significant cuts in coverage" will likely be made, according to Liu.

"If the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Fee Increase Referendum is approved, do you support an additional increase of $8 in the fee for the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan Fee (for a total fee of $338) for the upcoming academic year for Gender-Affirming Coverage not provided by provincial coverage? "

The recently-formed Trans Coalition, a group dedicated to advocating for improved access to gender-affirming care at UBC, proposed this $8 referendum to improve financial access to gender-affirming services.

They explained that the fee increase aims to directly improve the lives of Trans students by alleviating financial stress and allowing for freedom of expression and identity.

“Right now, BC's provincial gender-affirming coverage is well below international standards of care,” said a leader of the Trans Coalition. Their name has been changed for their safety.

This referendum is conditional upon the passage of another referendum asking for a $52.50 fee increase for the AMS/GSS Health & Dental Plan Fee. The separation comes after AMS councillors rejected Trans advocates’ call to combine the fee increases, which would bring the total to $60.50. Councillors also voted against removing the conditional language.

“It was just a complete repeated abuse of power,” said the Trans Coalition leader, in reference to the February 13 Council meeting. During the meeting, they said the AMS hid behind in-camera sessions and Robert’s Rules of Order to control exactly how they wanted the referendum to go forward.

“Why do we have an AMS Council if that's the response to your most vulnerable constituents?” said C, a member of the Trans Coalition whose name has been changed for privacy reasons.

They said the conditionality of this referendum “is essentially hostaging Trans peoples’ healthcare to the passage of the first [referendum].”

C noted that the Coalition had “explicit commitment” from VP Finance Lawrence Liu during a November meeting ensuring that both items would be included in one referendum.

Liu did not respond in time for publication. At Council, he said a combined referendum could be confusing for students.

“We've worked very hard in our campaign messaging to make sure they were aware of our needs as a community … They still voted in a way that would actively harm our community,” said a leader of the Coalition.

Now that the referendum is separate, the challenge lies in spreading awareness about the campaign while remaining cautious of increased visibility of the Trans community.

“Heightened visibility to the Trans community repeatedly leads to increased violence,” said a leader of the Coalition.

“Students have an opportunity to make a concrete show of allyship by voting yes … Trans health care is health care and all students deserve access to health care,” said C.

“An inclusive UBC begins with you.”

The Ubyssey released an editorial in support of the Trans Coalition’s efforts on March 3.

“Do you support increasing the AMS Bike Co-op/Bike Kitchen fee to $4.17 to support accessible and affordable transportation through increased programming, alleviate its pandemic-related accumulated debt, and invest in sustainable and active transportation for the UBC community?


  1. This constitutes a $3 increase from the current AMS Bike Co-op/Bike Kitchen fee.
  2. The fee will continue to be fully refundable upon request through a digital opt-out.
  3. The fee will continue to be indexed annually according to the BC Consumer Price Index."

The UBC Bike Kitchen is putting forward a referendum to increase its opt-outable student fee from $1.17 to $4.17. After a referendum to increase to $5 failed last year, Bike Kitchen is giving it another try to stabilize its financial situation.

The Bike Kitchen is a non-profit bike repair and education shop located in the basement of the Life building.

The majority of voters on last year’s referendum voted 'yes', but it did not reach the necessary quorum of 4,762 'yes' votes to pass.

According to Shop Manager Alex Alvarez, Bike Kitchen has accumulated over $50,000 in debt since the start of the pandemic, which has prevented the shop from buying parts and accessories and paying its staff market-rate wages.

According to Bike Kitchen management, their bottom line was affected by pandemic campus closures, and has continued to dip with disruptions in the global supply chain. It also lost an additional revenue stream when the Bike Kitchen transferred upkeep of campus bike lockers and cages to UBC.

Due to the debt, the Bike Kitchen has not been able to run as many non-profit programs as it did before, and has shifted to a service-oriented shop, which Alvarez said it was “never intended to be.”

“80 to 90 per cent of my time [on a given day] was teaching people or students to learn how to do their stuff,” Alvarez said. “Now that’s about 10 per cent of my day, most of our time is now focused on booking and repairs, taking it out of people’s hands, generating that money.”

Alvarez also said the increased fee would allow the Bike Kitchen to retain experienced staff, increasing their revenue by not having to retrain technicians.

“The things that lead to staff retention are [market-rate] wages, and health and dental,” Alvarez said, “which we’ve never been able to provide for our employees.”

AMS Council also endorsed the referendum item, with several executives voicing support.

At the meeting, AMS President Eshana Bhangu said she wouldn’t normally be in favour of re-running a failed referendum, but last years’ failure was just a matter of not reaching quorum.

“[The Bike Kitchen] does a lot of great work for members of the community,” she said.

Bike Kitchen Programs Assistant Harris Green said the fee increase would help the team better serve UBC’s community and environment.

“We think about having someone else on a bike, that's one less car on the road. Obviously, that's less of an impact on the environment,” he said.

“[Students who vote for this are] supporting other students to make it affordable for them to bike … so that they can continue to be involved in this mode of transportation, and not just mode of transportation, but mode of mental and physical health maintenance as well.”

Follow us at @UbysseyNews on Twitter and follow our election coverage starting February 27. This article is part of our 2023 AMS Elections coverage.

This article was updated at 5:31 on March 15, 2023 to remove the name of a Trans Coalition leader for their safety.