VP finance candidates propose two different visions in first debate

VP finance candidates, Mohkam Singh Malik (ਮੋਹਕਮ) and Gavin Fung-Quon, disagreed on ways to tackle the AMS’s financial issues at the first candidate debate on Monday.

Throughout the debate, Fung-Quon, the current AMS associate vice-presidents funds, repeatedly pointed out discrepancies in Malik’s plans for the AMS, specifically the topics of the AMS’s deficit and resource group funding allocation.

To manage the predicted $738,000 deficit facing the AMS, Malik said he planned to cut AMS executive salaries by 10 per cent and the number of paid support staff, and instead opt for more volunteers in the VP finance office.

Instead of cutting salaries, Fung-Quon suggested the AMS expand its current business operations, notably AMS Catering & Conferences.

“If we push [current businesses] moving forward and expand that we can actually make more money to put back in the pockets of students,” said Fung-Quon.

Candidates also discussed fee opt-outs and their impact on services such as the Bike Kitchen. In 2023, the AMS approved over 7000 opt-outs to promote affordability, but many resource groups raised concerns.

Malik said aggressive fee opt-outs campaigns “to save students $1–3" can negatively impact important services.

When asked about the viability of outside sponsorship to support the AMS Food Bank, both candidates believe that it is only a “short-term” solution and not sustainable.

Fung-Quon said he would look for more opportunities to collaborate with non-profits in the Vancouver area, like the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. He would also “connect with community groups” and student groups to organize “drives or sponsorship events.”

Malik said the AMS should start its “own negotiations” and partner with local grocery chains and philanthropic groups on campus, citing the UBC Sikh Students’ Association’s Vand Shako initiative which offers free dinner on Tuesdays.

Fung-Quon and Malik’s plans to address the AMS’s partnership with RBC also differed.

Malik said it is not possible to rupture the building loan with RBC but is supporting a proposed referendum to transition “all AMS financial accounts, where feasible, from RBC to a credit union by 2026.” He also stressed the importance of student engagement on these questions.

However, Fung-Quon said severing the relationship between the AMS and RBC is not plausible since the AMS has worked with the company for a “very long [time] on an operational level.” Fung-Quon also said the AMS has been unable to find a solution with “other credit unions around the region,” due to the amount of business done by the AMS and its clubs and constituencies.

“It's really unfortunate but we will look forward to different opportunities if the options are clear and actually work for us,” he said.

On the AMS/GSS Health & Dental Plan, both candidates agreed that consultation with the student body is necessary and needed

Fung-Quon said instead of constantly pushing for fee increases, he instead plans to consult students and see “what [they] actually want on their health plan.” This could include shifting funding from dental care to mental health services or the opposite.

“It’s really consulting with every student group on campus, especially when it comes to health care, because that's so important for everybody,” said Fung-Quon.

Malik also emphasized the importance of mental health care and consulting students on their health care priorities.

“We don't have unlimited money. We can't keep squeezing pennies out of students. We have to say 'We're going to work with you, and we're gonna see what is it that you want, what is it that you need and how can we best accommodate that with the resources that we have,'” said Malik.

Both candidates agreed that tracking all executive spending and establishing hard budgets is needed to avoid another year of executive overspending.

The VP finance candidates will debate again on February 29 at 3 p.m. in the Michael Kingsmill Forum.

This article is part of our 2024 AMS Elections coverage. Follow us at @UbysseyNews on X (formerly Twitter) and follow our election coverage starting February 27.