Who should you vote for in this year's AMS Elections?

File Maya Rodrigo-Abdi

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 2022 AMS Elections candidates.

Eshana Bhangu

Bhangu is one of two highly-qualified candidates running for AMS president in this year’s crowded field. She is part of the AMS establishment, but she seems to genuinely care about students. Through her work as VP academic and university affairs and a student senator-at-large, she has championed student interests by acquiring KN95 masks, extending the drop deadline for term two and pushing UBC to enact stronger vaccination and mask policies. But her personal attacks against a fellow exec during debates call into question her ability to play nice with execs — a trait that could hinder her ability to fulfill her many promises.

Wesley Choi

Choi said it himself: “I am so unqualified.” While he said he will read up on AMS policies and rules if elected, the learning curve will be steep. Still, Choi’s heart is in the right place. His interest in fostering a community for students coming out of the pandemic is rooted in his personal experiences — he feels disconnected from campus after transferring from UBC Okanagan to online classes at UBC Vancouver last year. He is also arguably the most approachable and genuine of this year’s presidential candidates. The question is: how far does approachable get you?

Sydney Harakal

Of the newcomers, Harakal is the most qualified, but they still don’t have a good understanding of how the society functions. They performed well at the debates and would bring an important voice as a Queer, Indigenous person to an organization that has historically lacked this perspective. Their goals of creating more study spaces and social opportunities seem achievable, but their desire to oppose tuition increases by adding more students to the Board of Governors is unrealistic. Harakal has some good ideas and has potential to represent students well, but they would need to read up more on what an AMS president can actually do.

Tate Kaufman

Kaufman wants to remove all COVID-19 measures on campus, cut AMS frill expenses and make financial resources for BIPOC and low-income students more accessible as AMS president. Although Kaufman says he’ll advocate against COVID-19 restrictions like vaccination requirements for gyms, he might be overestimating the president’s role in lobbying the provincial government. His debate performance also showed that he’s not very familiar with the society’s policies. Kaufman is the VP of Students for Freedom of Expression (SFE), a student group heavily criticized for attempting to bring controversial speakers to campus, like far-right pundit Lauren Southern. He said he would resign from SFE if elected.

The Pan

The Pan is an inanimate object. It also doesn’t want to get elected. It’s funny — although it did call learning about the Equity Action Plan ahead of the election “unpaid labour” — and has some good ideas on creating a more spirited community. However, if students are upset at the current AMS administration for its lack of effectiveness, an AMS under The Pan would be worse. Again, it’s an inanimate object. Maybe students are so fed up with the AMS that they believe a cooking utensil is their only option. But if students want to see actual change, they should look outside the kitchen.

The Pan’s human representative is Thomas McLeod, The Ubyssey's Opinion & Blog Editor. He is not involved in this year’s election coverage.

Remy the Rat

Remy is literally a rodent. Although he has questionable hygiene – because he’s a rat – Remy has seemingly good platform points like climate justice, food security and student engagement. But, his performance during the debates has shown that he doesn’t know AMS policy well, potentially indicating that he wouldn’t be able to follow through on platform promises. Also, he can’t read. After being kicked out of Open Kitchen, Remy’s looking for a new home, but he might not be able to handle the heat in the kitchen if elected president.

Saad Shoaib

Shoaib is another highly-qualified candidate in this year’s presidential race. After serving as associate VP external and VP external, he can point to his successful campaigns to permanently end student loan interest and to set minimum standards within post-secondary sexual violence policies. But, as has been brought up often, he recently met with an independent MP whose previous sexual assault charge was highly publicized. Shoaib also knew about the charge ahead of time — but said he didn’t know the “extent” of it. He has apologized, but this controversy reflects an error in judgement that some students might not be able to easily forgive.

Anushreya Arora

First-year Arora seems excited to help students but doesn’t appear to have done much background research or have clear goals. In her interview, she was unfamiliar with open educational resources (OERs), something previous VP academics have focused on in their advocacy. While it’s expected that newcomers won’t have the knowledge that comes from in-depth experience in student government, Arora could have filled a lot of the gaps with a cursory look through the AMS and Senate websites. However, as the only international student running for VPAUA, Arora does provide a perspective that other candidates may not have.

Kamil Kanji

Kanji has a wealth of experience in the AMS and with the office of the VPAUA through his work on the Advocacy Committee. Kanji’s proposals and stances span much of the VPAUA portfolio and show an aspiration to deliver for students while being tempered by real-world experience. Fellow candidate Dana Turdy did make a solid point when she mentioned in the debates that he had no mention of sexual violence prevention in his platform. But if Kanji is able to achieve his goals with regards to OERs, lecture-capture technology and Black student support, he’ll be able to improve the lives of virtually every UBC student.

Anisha Sandhu

Sandhu’s passion for making UBC students’ lives better is clear. As a two-time senator and the AMS sustainability coordinator, her resume is strong. However, her responses at the debates were often lacking in substance. The VPAUA needs to stand up for students in tense situations with top university admin and her debate performance didn’t make it clear she’d be able to do that. She does stand out as the only candidate to mention graduate student stipends in her platform and her focus on affordability and wellbeing could lead to real changes for UBC students. Overall, Sandhu is a passionate candidate with relevant experience, but might not be the most effective advocate for students.

Dana Turdy

While many candidates promise to better engage students, Turdy is one of the few who has a solid plan: she wants to introduce formal consultation guidelines. Furthermore, Turdy came off well at the debates and she’d undoubtedly be just as quick on her feet when lobbying the university as VPAUA. But after keeping her hands clean for most of the two debates, she sprang some (mostly valid) attacks on her fellow candidates near the end, denying them a chance to respond if she had criticized them earlier in debate. Still, Turdy is clearly passionate about making life better for UBC students and has plans to make it happen.

Ben Du

Du has extensive experience with the VP admin portfolio from his time as associate VP. He also has specific plans for how he’ll achieve his platform which is focused on helping clubs return to pre-pandemic membership levels and activity, increasing transparency and improving communications with clubs and constituencies. But during the debates, Du showed a lack of knowledge on some specific policies that impact the portfolio, specifically I-17, the AMS’s Sexual Violence Policy. Du also expressed a blasé attitude to being uncontested, which is concerning given this is the second year in a row the VP admin race has been uncontested.

James Cabangon

As this year’s associate VP external, Cabangon already has some experience advocating for students at the highest levels of government. Through the campaign, he displayed knowledge about every aspect of the portfolio and was aware of his predecessor’s shortcomings. He brings some new ideas to the table, namely his focus on lobbying for climate action. Cabangon is certainly a qualified candidate, but may have overemphasized that fact. His focus on the inexperience of other candidates during the debates brings into question whether he would be interested in giving others the chance to gain the knowledge needed to succeed him.

Erin Co

Co maximized her time in the VP external office, gaining lobbying and policy-drafting experience, despite officially being associate VP campaigns and community engagement commissioner. She showed a passion for helping other students and has specific ideas on how to do so on a broad range of issues. She is no AMS newcomer, and her platform is trying to move forward on accomplishments the office has made in years past. What sets Co apart is her experience working on campaigns and student engagement, both in and out of the AMS. With that, she seems best equipped to change the VP external’s reputation as being disconnected from students.

Sanchay Jain

Jain came into this race with a personal angle, wanting to respond to racially-charged hate crimes and international student issues. While being a newcomer to the AMS can help bring in innovative ideas, Jain brought general plans but not enough policy knowledge. Jain had difficulty articulating how he wants to accomplish his goals, often falling back on saying he would speak to as many students as possible to find out what their concerns are. He says he would give the position his all if elected, but the steep learning curve might make it difficult for him to be an effective advocate.

Angad Singh Gill

Gill has many big ideas for the VP finance role, but those ideas may not be feasible. His promise to eliminate the AMS’s one-size-fits-all health and dental plan involves significant negotiation with the organization’s insurers, a task that would take longer than Gill’s term and would likely extend beyond the VP finance’s scope. Similarly, his promised participatory budgeting would extend the budget process significantly. Gill also lacks the financial background and knowledge of AMS systems and processes. He views the VP finance role as a learning experience, but he’ll need to learn quickly to keep afloat if elected.

Noah Jassmann

Having worked for a major financial firm in the past, Jassmann has experience in finance but seems to lack long-term vision. His pitch to increase mental health subsidies to $2,000 per student — while admirable — is likely unaffordable without a referendum to increase student fees. Jassmann has misunderstood the AMS’s relationship to the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office — which is UBC-funded — on multiple occasions, and could not speak on the basics of the new financial system at the debates. Both these details demonstrate a lack of research, with Jassmann instead falling back on transparency and consultation talking points. Like Gill, Jassmann will need to read up if elected.

Rita Jin

Jin currently works within the VP finance office. As associate VP finance, she is clearly very familiar with the AMS’s financial systems. This experience makes Jin a qualified and prepared candidate for the VP finance role. However, this leaves her complicit in any financial issues faced over the past year. She also seems significantly less interested in transparency compared to her opponents. Jin is certainly the AMS establishment candidate and she seems confident that this fact will carry her to victory. Time will tell how this confidence, and potential lack of interest in student engagement, will affect her capacity to effect change.

Dante Agosti-Moro

Incumbent Agosti-Moro is a passionate advocate for students. He has tangible goals centring around seeing through structural and systemic change in the Senate, implementing a permanent standing committee for equity, diversity and inclusion and the appeals committees’ processes. Out of all the candidates, he appears to be the most involved and knowledgeable on the administrative side of the Senate. During his time in the Senate, he co-chaired the Student Senate Caucus and chaired the Elections Committee. He’s also one of two Senate candidates only running for one position. His passion for structural change and his experience in leadership make him a strong candidate.

Eshana Bhangu

Incumbent Bhangu is running for reelection as a student senator-at-large and has a good track record. Although her goals are ambitious, her time in the Senate proves her ability to deliver. One of her biggest successes was when she drafted and pushed for the drop date extension to February 6. Additionally, as the primary author of Senate 2023, she is well-versed in policy and emphasizes the importance of fighting for students in committee meetings, where student senators are a minority. All-in-all, Bhangu shows that students are at the forefront of her platform, and that she delivers on her promises. Bhangu is also running for AMS president.

Romina Hajizadeh

Hajizadeh is friendly and confident. She has done her research and has adequate knowledge of the Senate. Her experience is in the Arts Undergraduate Society and the AMS — she is currently an AMS councillor and the chair of the AMS Human Resources Committee. She’s also one of two Senate candidates only running for one position. She has a strong platform, but it might be too ambitious for how focused senators have to be to get anything done in a slow-moving body. Hajizadeh’s focus on transparency and student engagement is admirable, and she has experience in it — she organized AMS town hall on Instagram recently, albeit “town hall” is a loose term for the result. If elected, Hajizadeh will have to narrow her focus.

Kamil Kanji

Kanji has a lot to say and his drive clearly comes from a good place. He articulated his platform well during the debates, showing awareness of both pressing student concerns and the Senate’s previous policies. Kanji managed to ground his OERs and lecture capture promises in the administrative and technical steps needed to achieve them. As well, his goal of creating dedicated spaces for Black students shows he’s been paying attention to what the Black Caucus has been requesting. Also running for VP academic and university affairs, a seat on Senate would be useful if he wins. While his plans are ambitious, Kanji has done his research and can likely use his previous experience in governance to pull them off.

Tate Kaufman

Kaufman, a newcomer to UBC governance, is committed to advocating for “freedom” and representing the “genuine student voice,” though it’s unclear which students he’s referring to with this statement. His advocacy includes returning fully to in-person learning, holding in-person examinations and lifting COVID-19 measures. He did propose alternative accommodations for immunocompromised students, but displayed a lack of compassion toward concerned students, telling them to attend a different university if they don’t want to attend in-person classes. As a member of Senate, Kaufman also says he’ll fight for international students and those from conflict-ridden countries, but set out no specific plans to do so.

Anisha Sandhu

Sandhu has two years of experience on Senate, which can be a huge asset as a senator-at-large. She’s approachable and said she has good relationships with other senators. Her platform, however, was based largely on ambiguously-phrased goals that most of the candidates also promised, such as increased student engagement and improved accessibility on campus. With the triennial review coming up, Sandhu wants to drive change within the Senate through rewriting committee terms of references and creating a code of conduct. However, she hasn’t been a prominent student advocate in the Senate in the past, raising the question of how she’s going to accomplish these lofty goals.

Dana Turdy

Despite being a newcomer, Turdy is well-versed in Senate policy and has been paying close attention to past meetings. Her passion for advocacy will likely help her achieve her goals, even if she may have a difficult time doing everything she has set out to do within the body’s restrictive bureaucracy. She also lacked some specificity at times, particularly around her interest in creating a task force on accessibility. As she is running for AMS VP academic and university affairs, it would make sense for her to also be a member of the Senate where she would have more opportunities to advocate for student interests.

Georgia Yee

Yee has an accessible platform focused on equity and Indigenous consultation that proposes some great ideas. Her push to include more voices from marginalized communities makes her a good bet to help create a standing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee. Yee has an agreeable personality that makes her likely to form connections and bonds easily, but she can have a difficult time getting to the point in her answers, making her a little unclear at times. As an incumbent senator, she has the advantage of understanding the Senate body, but it’s unclear what changes she’s personally effected since becoming a member.

Max Holmes

Holmes says this year would be his last if he is reelected to the Board. The sixth-year student is running for a fourth year on the Board after a lengthy stint in student governance. He has proven himself to be an effective advocate for students. Most recently, the university finally made progress on a Student Affordability Plan, something Holmes has championed for years. He also spoke in detail about his plans for advocacy for Campus Vision 2050 — something his competitors didn’t do. He has the relationships, the knowledge and the drive. While many may think Holmes has overstayed his welcome (and maybe he has!), he wouldn’t be a lame duck in his supposed last year in student governance.

Tate Kaufman

Students for Freedom of Expression vice-president Kaufman walks the line on most Board issues but often provides fewer specifics than someone who truly understands the policy. Kaufman is also running for AMS president, and if he wins, he would often be prevented from voting on any Board motions the student society was consulted on due to conflict of interest rules. This would mean there could be one less student vote on student-facing issues. Additionally, Kaufman’s focus on freedom of expression doesn’t necessarily align with the work the Board does, and could alienate him from governor allies and actual student interests.

Georgia Yee

Yee is seeking a second year on the Board. She’s made her commitment to equity, climate action and transparency clear, and has strong community ties. However, it is a bit unclear what she’s accomplished on the Board over the last year. In interviews, she highlighted her work in bringing voices of disabled students to the Board, but in open Board meetings, Yee often doesn’t speak up or bring up specific concerns. However, Yee is a returning governor, so she would be able to get right back to work on the formation of a Disability Task Force, something that would benefit many.

SASC fee increase

The Sexual Assault Support Centre’s (SASC) usage has tripled in the time since its last referendum in 2019. SASC’s fee currently sits at $9.58, and the SASC team wants to bump it up to $16. This is a biggish ask — an increase of $6.42 — but we think that’s a small price to pay for such a valuable service. SASC has been asking for another increase for a while now, and this change would allow it to hire more staff to meet the growing demand students have for its service. SASC provides survivor support, hospital accompaniments, educational workshops and much more for free to UBC students and their family or friends. Even if you haven’t personally used SASC’s services, you probably know someone who has. Paying the price of a bubble tea is worth it to support survivors.

Bylaw and constitution amendments

This referendum is a whole swath of bylaw and constitution changes stuck into one question. Most of these are fairly straightforward and understandable — some of them are basic asks such as aligning the society’s bylaws with amendments to the Societies Act and updating the VP academic and university affairs’s responsibilities to match their real-life duties. But there are a few changes to flag: first, this referendum would allow the Finance Committee to pass budget amendments under $5,000 without Council approval, potentially lessening financial transparency. The society is also asking to add personnel “activities” to its bylaw on requesting records — meaning that any activities of staff deemed harmful to the society to release, such as a personnel investigation, cannot be requested. The president said this change is minor, and simply to ensure the society is protecting employee confidentiality, but it’s worth a deeper look into this one before you vote.

Digital opt-outs and fee reductions

This referendum includes fee reductions and an amendment to require digital opt-outs for all opt-outable fees. We support the fee reductions, given the large amounts currently in the funds. Voting on this referendum won’t save students a lot — if the referendum passes, students will only save a total of $3.37 — but every bit counts! On the digital opt-outs part of this referendum, we support it in principle because allowing people easier access to opt-out of fees is important, especially in a pandemic. But, we’re concerned the AMS didn’t properly consult with affected groups. When asked at a recent Council meeting whether the president has talked to those groups, President Cole Evans said he hadn’t. It’s also still unclear which groups will be impacted. The Ubyssey could be impacted, but we’re unsure due to a lack of communication from the AMS. If this referendum passes, we urge you to research the fee or service you’re opting out of. Many of them, including The Ubyssey if we are impacted, depend on these fees to function.

Bike Kitchen fee increase

The Bike Kitchen is a beloved community service. It’s been struggling financially for years, a challenge that has only been made worse by the pandemic. The bike shop is asking for a modest increase of $3.86, which would raise the tiny fee from $1.14 to $5. We think this is worth a ‘yes’ vote, as it would be a shame to see this valuable service disappear. The Bike Kitchen services bikes for an affordable price and has a community-based environment in which people can learn to fix bikes. It also gets a gold star on sustainability — what’s more sustainable than encouraging people to ride their bikes? However, if this passes, we urge the AMS to keep a closer eye on the shop’s finances going forward. The financial troubles stretch back a few years, and it’s important to ensure that going forward, the Bike Kitchen doesn’t return to the same dire financial situation it’s in right now.

Follow us at @UbysseyNews on Twitter and follow our election coverage starting February 28. This article is part of our 2022 AMS elections coverage.