A history of student voting at UBC: the most important AMS referendum questions

As letters on why students should vote yes or no on the upcoming BDS referendum flood our mailboxes, we thought we’d take a look at some of the most historic and contentious AMS referendum questions that students have managed to put on the AMS ballot through the power of petitions and organizing in recent years. Aside from the usual AMS, athletic and SUB expansion fees that students have needed to approve as time went by and UBC’s population increased, the AMS saw student-organized votes on a wide range of social, political and university issues that have affected students over the years.

1967: Vietnam War[/ub_subhead

In February 1967, students organized a referendum that asked students to take a stance on the Vietnam War. Slightly less than half of all voters said that the US should continue the bombing while over a third also said that Canada should continue selling armaments to the US. Half of all voters disapproved of the US policy in Vietnam.

1972: Abortion[/ub_subhead

This was the year when students organized for a referendum question on abortion to be asked at UBC. While this referendum was meant only to gather student opinion and did not call for any specific actions, 2,016 out of 2,504 students voted in favour of legal and accessible abortion in Canada as early as 1972. While abortion has been legal in Canada under some circumstances since 1969, it was in 1988 that the Supreme Court struck down the law that limited some abortions.

1987: Apartheid[/ub_subhead

In January 1987, students voted on whether the AMS should divest from products made by Carling O’Keefe and Rothmans, companies that had been linked to supporting the South African Apartheid through some of their shareholders. The referendum failed as 1,951 out of 3,371 students voted against the divestment and the necessary 10 per cent voter quorum was not reached.

It was only in the summer of 1989 that AMS Council voted in favour of ceasing the sale of Rothmans products in all AMS stores and vending machines in order to put pressure on the South African government to end the Apartheid regime.

1995: The Ubyssey[/ub_subhead

In January 1995, our paper held a referendum to charge $5 in student funds in order to become fully independent from the AMS. The passing of this referendum set an important precedent of us being separate from both the student union and the university and saying whatever we want of how things are going down at this university without fear of repercussions.

2003: Sexual Assault Support[/ub_subhead

In February 2003, students voted to increase AMS fees by $1 to create a Sexual Assault Support Services Fund after the province cut funding for programs that helped victims who were affected by violence. The fee, which has been raised to $3.36 in the last decade, is in place to this day and almost all of the money goes straight to UBC's Sexual Assault Support Centre for their work on helping victims of sexual violence.

2010: United Nations[/ub_subhead

After then-AMS President Blake Frederick and VP External Timothy Chu filed a human rights complaint, about the university not providing sufficient financial support to students, to the United Nations from the AMS without consulting any of their fellow councillors, the majority of students voted to have them impeached. Still, the referendum was not successful as a 75 per cent vote in favour is needed in order to remove directors from their positions.

2013: U-Pass[/ub_subhead

During the January 2013 AMS elections, students actually risked losing the UPass (which is, arguably, the best thing that the AMS has ever done for its members) after a referendum on whether to accept the higher costs that the society would need to start charging for it was held by the AMS. Thankfully, the vast majority of students voted in favour of the increases and we were not left to pay the $90 a month it would cost to take the bus to campus without it.

2014: Whistler Lodge[/ub_subhead

After years of seeing the Whistler Lodge bleed money while having only a very limited group of students actually use it, a referendum that gave AMS permission to sell it passed by a 54.6 per cent majority in January 2014 (after failing due to lack of quorum in January 2012). After officially selling the property to a couple who intends to use it for residential purposes last week, the AMS closed that branch of UBC history once and for all.