Sydney Harakal, a third-year arts student, is running for AMS president with what they call an outsider’s perspective and a focus on “making things better for people.”
If elected, Harakal — who uses all pronouns — wants to increase the number of social and study spaces in the Nest and create more opportunities for students to meet one another outside of clubs and parties. They want to bring a Queer, Indigenous perspective to the AMS.
Harakal also said they would oppose any increase in tuition by assessing what pressures they can place on the university’s Board of Governors and trying to increase the number of student representatives.
The latter would require changing the University Act which outlines the number of student, faculty, staff and provincially-appointed members on the Board. Section 19, which defines the composition of post-secondary institution boards, has not been amended since the act passed in 1996.
They said their biggest challenge will be overcoming UBC’s existing institutional problems — which they said make “it harder for student politicians to make any real changes that affect anything.”
“So I'm going to try my best to make as many connections as possible outside of the AMS and just see like, ‘Why is it that the Board of Governors raises tuition every year?’” they said.
Harakal doesn’t have prior experience in UBC governance — they are currently the head tournament organizer for the UBC Esports Association and served as a floor rep in their first-year residence — but they see this lack of experience as an asset.
“Because when you're a student politician, you're kind of being forced into that mindset and it prevents you from taking on any outside perspectives … I want to make sure that I am of the students' opinion rather than the politicians.”
Harakal will ensure that they are serving students’ interests by monitoring social media and by asking people for their opinions when talking to them around campus.
They also plan to communicate to students how much power the AMS has — by, for example, increasing conversations surrounding AMS budget transparency — to increase student engagement with the student society.
In an interview with The Ubyssey, Harakal stated that the AMS had a $25 million budget. While the AMS did record $27 million revenue for 2021/22, $23 million of this figure goes towards non-discretionary allocations, like the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan. In reality, the AMS only budgeted to spend $4.7 million this year.
This past year, the AMS started to develop a strategic plan to serve as a “guiding document” for the organization. Harakal said this plan will be important to ensure students continue being supported by the AMS.
“The students are an ever-changing population … but the needs of the students always stay the same. So it's good to have a solid foundation to the things that you're doing for students,” they said.
While Harakal said they have wanted to run for president since their first year, last year’s uncontested races for all but one AMS exec position gave them another reason to enter the race.
“Once I saw that, I was like, ‘Okay, there's nobody running which means that there's no choices for anyone.’ So I am here to give people a choice of a candidate that they might actually agree with.”
Harakal is running against AMS veterans VP Academic & University Affairs Eshana Bhangu and VP External Saad Shoaib, newcomers Wesley Choi and Tate Kaufman and joke candidates The Pan and Remy the Rat in a crowded race for president.
This article has been updated. A previous version said that Harakal was incorrect in asserting that the AMS has a $25 million budget. While this isn’t entirely incorrect, a more accurate figure is $4.7 million, which is the amount the student society budgeted to spend this year.