All year, we’ve been attending governance meetings and keeping an eye on what’s going on in the AMS, Senate and Board of Governors. We’re familiar with the issues and the pressures of each position in student government. This elections season, we talked to all the candidates, attended all the debates and fact-checked their claims and platforms. Here’s the result.
We’re not here to tell you who to vote for, but we will be honest about each candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. Behold, The Ubyssey’s guide to all of the 2023 AMS Elections candidates.
ChatGPT is an AI software. While it can tell a good joke, its ability to engage with students meaningfully and with empathy is unclear (again, it is a software program, not a person). It also was not able to participate in debates due to a ban on technology, which raises questions on how it will interact with students. While it understood policies and issues facing the AMS to an extent, it made some factual errors in its interview with The Ubyssey — despite its claims to being all-knowing (because again, it’s an AI program).
Du is the status quo candidate in this race with the most experience. As VP admin, he has rebuilt relationships between clubs and the AMS. His idea to conduct an audit of AMS businesses to lower food prices and find ways to partner with local and BIPOC-led businesses is fresh. But, the rest of his platform seems to be an extension of his VP admin goals, like making Clubs Fair bigger and better with a ferris wheel. His idea to improve the consultation process on the AMS/GSS Health & Dental Plan also isn’t groundbreaking and while he said he is voting in favour of both referenda, he voted against Trans students’ push to combine the two health care referenda this year.
Remy the Rat/Esmé Decker
Despite their name, Remy the Rat is running as a serious candidate this year. If last year’s campaign saw Remy calling the shots, this year Esmé Decker is in control of the kitchen. Remy/Decker has a lot of good ideas that would bring a new perspective to the AMS, notably around the student society’s relationship with RBC. And while they do not have experience working within the organization — which sometimes showed during debates when they said their opponent Ben Du knew more on some things — their work with student advocacy clubs will provide a solid foundation for them to represent student interests.
Kumar’s experience in club executive positions gives her firsthand experience with the shortcomings of the current VP administration office — which could help if elected. She plans on addressing gaps in engagement by focusing on student visibility and inclusivity, but how they plan to carry this out is a bit unclear. Kumar’s only concrete plans are holding weekly in-person forums with student groups. However, the debates showed Kumar’s passion about incorporating more equity, diversity and inclusion-oriented training programs for student clubs and constituencies — even if she lacks some policy knowledge, specifically about the AMS Sustainability Action Plan.
Awotunde clearly has a passion for improving the student experience. But her platform lacks some specifics, showing a potential misunderstanding of the VP admin role. She does have some relevant experience from serving in student leadership of an undergraduate club or serving as a youth mentor for the UN Association in Canada. But these experiences seem best suited for external student advocacy — and the VP admin role is inward facing. While Awotunde could learn about the VP admin role if elected, there might not be enough time in a one-year term to complete everything on her to-do list.
Caguiat has extensive student leadership experience, from Arts Undergraduate Society VP administration to AMS AVP academic and university affairs. Although his ideas seem to be building off of existing initiatives, it is clear he knows the inner workings of the AMS, and possesses the operational knowledge to execute his platform. Expanding the Nest's accessibility is a guiding force for his campaign — from improving room booking requests to revitalizing the Commons Lounge into an upper-year collegium. He also has had the most to say about sustainability and Indigenous coordination during the debates, which is something the current VP administration portfolio is lacking.
Lu’s passion for the VP admin role grew through the campaign, demonstrated by her performance in the two debates. It’s clear Lu put in the work to find out what clubs and constituencies need by speaking to different students about their experiences. But as a new student, Lu lacks some experience, and while she talked about CampusBase’s deficiencies more than any other candidate, she has knowledge gaps in other areas of the role. Lu also questioned the necessity of some clubs, saying that some were taking up resources that would be better-used by other clubs.
Sawatzky’s platform focuses mainly on reviving campus life with “fun and engaging events.” Sawatzky shows a willingness to learn more about the VP admin portfolio and wants to advocate for clubs to reduce reimbursement processing times, something that former VP admins and VP finances have strived toward. But, Sawatzky’s limited experience with clubs is reflected in his platform, which has fewer specifics on administrative aspects of the job. He might have challenges when it comes to the management side of this portfolio, but if you want a candidate that cares about fun, he’s the guy for you.
Mishra seems passionate about working as the VP finance and has experience working with the AMS as the events coordinator and the events ambassador for AMS Events. His platform focuses on improving communication and accountability, securing long-term funding for the AMS Food Bank and supporting students with off-campus housing. He is also keen on clearing the backlogs of club reimbursements. He has some new ideas like raising funds for the AMS Food Bank through AMS Events, but their feasibility remains to be seen. However, he has some knowledge gaps on the AMS Indigenous Finance Guidelines, the AMS/GSS Health & Dental plan referenda and the AMS’s deficit.
Zheng, the current AMS associate VP finance and former Arts Undergraduate Society VP finance, brings a lot of experience with the finance portfolio. She seems to have realistic goals and was able to answer most questions during the VP finance debate in a concrete manner. However, most of her ideas have been explored by past candidates. Also, she lacked a concrete plan to financially help students with housing. Nevertheless, it seems that her knowledge would help her assume the role at a time when AMS is dealing with budget deficits, club reimbursement backlogs and the depleting health and dental reserve.
VP Academic & University Affairs
Kanji has extensive experience within the AMS and VP academic and university affairs office, thanks to his time on the AMS Advocacy Committee and as the strategy and governance lead. Kanji seems passionate about advocating for students, and he aims to address pressing issues like affordability, equity and open educational resources. Notably, he lacked details on how he would advocate for sexual violence policies, which he was also criticized for when he ran last year. If Kanji accomplishes his goals, he could deliver for students, but his platform does not bring many new ideas.
Tong is running uncontested for VP external. While Tong is aware of many of key issues like food security, housing and affordability, her lack of advocacy experience will likely be a challenge if she is elected. During the campaign she demonstrated a lack of familiarity with public administration, and during the debate she seemed to be unaware of police violence faced by marginalized communities (although she has since issued an apology), among other knowledge gaps regarding housing and provincial sexual violence policy. Her platform indicates a misunderstanding of the difference between VP external and other roles on the AMS executive, and her being out of touch with social justice demands means she would likely be unable to advocate for the interests of all students if elected.
Board of Governors
After two years as an AMS executive and three years as student senator, Bhangu knows her policy. She distinguishes herself from the other candidates with specific, realistic plans for the Board and would likely perform similarly to this year’s representatives. Bhangu has championed affordability for students as a member of the Student Affordability Task Force. However, it’s unclear whether Bhangu could improve student engagement. She has had difficulty consulting with student groups in her time as president, leading to several public confrontations at AMS Council. Bhangu says she wants to engage students through constituency channels, the ones she knows best, but that seems to leave out the students who have been protesting at Board meetings this year.
Hassib is a passionate advocate on social justice issues, but still has some learning to do on UBC policy. He has clear positions on increasing housing supply and divesting from companies involved in human rights violations, but he seemed to fall back on these points during debates when he couldn’t directly respond to questions. His background as an activist means the structure of the Board will likely limit his goals no matter what, but he would be a strong advocate for his positions. It’s easy to be skeptical about plans for social media engagement, but Hassib has a micro-influencer amount of Instagram followers that could make it work.
Razia has realistic plans on affordability and food security. She also has passion for community work, demonstrated by her leadership roles in several clubs. But Razia lacks some specific policy knowledge and made some factual errors in debates. Her Senate and Board platforms are also quite similar. Other ideas of Razia’s may not succeed in a single term — in particular her plan to increase student seats on Board, considering it would require amending the University Act. It’s also unclear how Razia’s plan to implement informal polling will increase engagement as students are already saying they face survey fatigue from UBC.
Wang brings UBC knowledge from his time as a student senator, but lacks understanding of what the Board does outside of its finance committee. He wants to bring more equity, diversity and inclusion to UBC through his work on the Board, but it’s unclear how he would represent a majority of students while supporting incremental tuition increases — which 92 per cent of students opposed in this year’s tuition engagement survey. Wang also does not have a public platform and could not attend either debate, leaving us with questions about who he is and what he stands for.
As a PhD student, Odenigbo has a unique vantage point on university governance, and he was the only candidate to discuss graduate research funding unprompted. He also has experience in the GSS which informs his proposals for housing aid and gives him financial experience the other governance newcomers lack. Beyond financials though, Odenigbo’s platform lacks some specific policy knowledge and awareness of the limits of the Board’s power. Also, his plan to get the Board to forcibly follow general student opinion shows ambition, but realistically it’s unlikely he could get this done.
Hajizadeh is a qualified candidate not only as an incumbent, but through her roles last year as co-chair of the Student Senate Caucus and vice-chair of the Agenda Committee — which showed in her confidence during the debates. Experience and institutional knowledge may count for a lot in an election cycle when there will be many new faces elected. While much of her campaign borrows heavily from what she promised last year in terms of student engagement and increased equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, she brings a strong track record of engaging with and advocating for student issues.
Hassib is a fresh face to student governance, although he has a background in political organizing and is clearly passionate about his values. He brings a progressive and action-focused lens to the Senate race, focusing on issues of accessibility and reconciliation through platform points like making it compulsory for all professors to record their lectures and pushing for mandatory Indigenous courses in all degree programs. Delivering on these ambitious promises could prove to be challenging as Hassib may be hindered by UBC’s commitment to academic freedom and his lack of experience in a slow-moving body that relies on procedure and bureaucracy.
Ho brings years of experience in different student governance roles, like serving as an AMS Councillor, and has clearly engaged with the materials and issues presented in these positions. Ho has a history of identifying and understanding the type of work that can be done under the Senate portfolio, and his platform is well-researched and achievable. While Ho’s answers at the debate were sometimes circuitous, their substance demonstrated a strong understanding of the issues behind the questions being asked. Student senators work as a team, and Ho would contribute valuable institutional and policy knowledge to the caucus.
Irfan has considerable experience with student governance in her previous role as the AMS representative for the Faculty of Arts, as well as a position in the Arts Undergraduate Society as a BIPOC coordinator. Like her previous work, her campaign has a specific focus on equity-based initiatives, like recognizing more religious holidays in the UBC academic calendar and including a mandatory Indigenous course. Her adamance for consistent communication with UBC’s numerous BIPOC and religious organizations, as well as the improvement of the Senate’s transparency, are foundational to her platform and she seems to have a strong understanding of where and how the Senate could improve on these things.
Kanji is running to continue his appointed position on the Senate. He has experience within the AMS from his time on its Advocacy Committee and as the strategy and governance lead. His platform has an abundance of policy change goals — like advocating for more open education resources and adjusting Campus Vision 2050 to include more quiet spaces on campus. He also has specific plans to improve communication with the student body. However, he didn’t achieve this goal in the last term — on the basis that he did not have enough time to do so.
With his background in student advocacy, Li has the toolkit to complete a smooth jump from the Science Undergraduate Society to the Senate. While he isn’t proposing transformative ideas, his platform demonstrates a good grasp of student concerns, like increased lecture accessibility and lowering the cost of learning. During the debate, Li’s newcomer status showed when he could not recall particular details of specific Senate policies. However, he has demonstrated an ability and a willingness to learn. Overall, Li is a candidate who acknowledges his strengths and weaknesses which could be a solid asset in the Senate.
Razia has the passion and the desire to advocate for her peers for years to come and has served as the first-year representative for the Science Undergraduate Society. However, she only displayed a surface-level understanding of Senate workings, often stumbling over policies and their contents. Razia’s platform is very student-focused with affordability, education and student engagement as core ideas, demonstrating her enthusiasm for improving student life. But, her lack of experience in student governance may hinder her ability to deliver on her promises. Overall, Razia is a promising candidate but may face too steep of a learning curve this year.
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 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday, March 7. A previous version incorrectly stated that Kanji's did not specify how he would achieve some of his Senate campaign goals. The Ubyssey regrets this error.