Op-ed: Why you should vote in this year’s student government elections

This year’s AMS elections season isn’t like the rest. There are no candidate posters lining the walls of UBC buildings, and the Great Debate was tucked away on top of the Egg rather than smack in the middle of the Nest’s Lower Atrium.

We’d also be remiss not to point out that the AMS VP academic and university affairs executive position — which saw three candidates run for it last year — has no one vying for the role.

But just because these elections are quieter doesn’t mean there’s nothing at stake or that your vote matters any less.

We’re The Ubyssey news editors, so we’re pretty into student politics, probably more than the average voter — definitely more than is healthy. But we aren’t just in this for the drama or the titillating legalese.

We genuinely think these processes are important, as they have the power to impact student life at UBC for years to come, whether it’s Board-level policy proposals or AMS strategic planning.

There’s a common perception that the work of the AMS executive team doesn’t matter. But that’s not true.

The AMS is a multi-million dollar organization. It operates bustling businesses and services and provides tens of thousands of students with affordable health care — all funded through your student fees. The AMS also saw an annual budget surplus surpassing $900,000 last year, and how that money should be spent is becoming a recurring discussion.

As an AMS member, you own a piece of that pie. Elections are your chance to say where your money should go and who should be in charge of that decision.

We’ve spent the better part of the year covering the meetings of all these bodies you’re voting for: the UBC Board of Governors (BoG), Senate and AMS Council. We’ve slouched outside closed doors during purgatorial in-camera sessions and stayed longer than some of the representatives themselves as they split hairs over bureaucratic technicalities.

We’ve watched AMS Council bicker over minute word choices in code, we’ve watched them take half an hour to rearrange the agenda or interpret Robert’s Rules of Order.

But we’ve also watched as they made important decisions.

We were there when they passed the society’s first standalone sexual violence policy. We were there when they decided to deconstitute the Interfraternity Council as a club due to code violations. We were there when Visual Arts students stood up for the AMS’s over $4 million permanent art collection and we listened as members of the Sexual Assault Support Centre demanded a collective bargaining agreement after the service was nearly cut in 2018.

And beyond the AMS, we watched the discussions that led to revamped academic concession at Senate, reports of UBC’s Inclusion plan and debate over interpretation of UBC’s academic freedom statement.

We sat in the gallery alongside fifty student protestors as the Board of Governors voted to explore divestment from fossil fuels and declare a climate emergency. We were there when the Board rubber-stamped tuition increases — again — and we saw governors shrug their shoulders as your exasperated student feedback was presented to the room.

We’re not breaking any news when we point out student union elections suffer from apathy. The AMS gets a fairly consistent voter turnout of about 20 per cent. But with no U-Pass referendum — historically a voter magnet — a smaller pool of candidates and no posters, it’s possible turnout will be lower than it’s been in recent memory.

But many students on this campus depend on the issues that these bodies discuss, whether it’s Indigenous rights and reconciliation, climate justice and sustainability or equity and diverse representation.

This year we saw thousands of students walk out of class for the Climate Strike, crowd the atrium of the Nest to watch the federal leaders debate, plaster notes on Lennon Walls across campus, and march and die-in and blockade and hunger strike and so much more.

We know you’re engaged. We’ve seen it. We challenge you to now take that engagement to the polls.

So read through our elections coverage, watch the debates and go to the forums to ask questions of those promising to fight for you and the issues you care about.

In the meantime, you’ll find us scrolling through policy briefs, bussing downtown for protest coverage, or nestled in the corner of a committee room — reassured that our vigilance makes some small difference in bringing folks like you to the polls.

Voting for the AMS, Senate, Student Legal Fund Society and Board of Governors elections runs from March 2 to 6. Emma Livingstone and Henry Anderson are the news editors for The Ubyssey