Between the Motions: Strategic planning, UNA representation, U-Pass at June 3 AMS Council meeting

This month’s first AMS Council meeting continues a string of virtual meetings, with councillors discussing the creation of a strategic plan, representation at the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) and the resumption of the U-Pass program.

Here’s what you missed.

Pausing the AMS Strategic Plan

The AMS Strategic Plan has been an idea within the AMS since 2001. Various executives in the last 20 years have explored this, with one semi-plan released in 2005, but nothing final since then. Last year’s AMS President Chris Hakim put a significant amount of energy into the project, but ended the year saying the AMS needed more money and external consultants to create an effective plan.

Current AMS President Cole Evans presented five options for what Council could do with the plan: hire an external consultant to develop a full strategic plan, hire an external consultant for a targeted business and services plan, develop a plan in-house by hiring an additional paid student to lead the process, continue with what they’ve been doing or scrap it entirely, at least for this year.

Evans noted that executives have identified this as something they’re interested in doing, but brought it to Council for feedback.

Councillors raised concerns about whether this year in particular, with the pandemic and online classes, is the best year to be focusing on a plan like this.

“If we’re going to be spending a lot of money in the next year, I don’t think it should be towards a [strategic] plan. There are other things going on in the university that may require our attention,” Councillor Alex Gonzalez said, also noting concerns about how this would benefit students.

Board of Governors representative Max Holmes added that he’s concerned that strategic planning is taking away from COVID-19 planning.

At the end of the discussion, Evans said they would put a pause on this for now, and brainstorm over the next few months.

The UNA saga continues

The AMS has rejected a memorandum of understanding with the UNA that would reduce the AMS’s voting seat to a non-voting observer seat.

The UNA is the non-profit society governing the lands surrounding UBC, including Wesbrook Village and other residential areas around campus. Several councillors stressed the importance of student representation at the UNA, mentioning that many students live in UNA areas.

According to VP External Kalith Nanayakkara, the UNA overhauled its governance structure, which has led to changes in the composition of its board.

While students can run for an elected seat at the UNA, the recent code changes increase the term length from two years to three years, something councillors said was a barrier for students completing four-year degrees.

Senate representative Chris Hakim said that the AMS–UNA relationship has been rocky in the past. “I remember having to deal with the UNA [as a past AMS exec] and quite honestly, trying to formulate any sense of reason behind the decisions that the UNA makes — don't even bother.”

The Ubyssey has reached out to the UNA for comment.

Councillors seemed unfamiliar with the UNA, asking questions about its jurisdiction and its composition. Evans described the society’s relationship with the UNA as that of two bickering children, with UBC a reluctant parent. He added that the AMS should lobby UBC to take a “pro-student stance.”

U-Pass plans

Councillors also discussed plans to provide discounted transit to students still in Vancouver and using transit regularly, after the suspension of the U-Pass until at least the end of August.

Now that the province is relaxing physical distancing regulations, some students will be using transit, Nanayakkara said to Council.

One plan his office has been exploring is to provide subsidies to students in the summer so if they buy monthly transit passes, the AMS would reimburse students so they pay the same amount per month as the U-Pass: just over 40 dollars.

“Based on how the province moves forward with our social distancing regulations ... we will have more solid options, looking into the fall. However, we are advocating for the provincial government to support TransLink to be able to afford lower costs for students,” Nanayakkara said.

The price will be high. Nanayakkara said based on their estimates, it would cost $700,000 a month.

Councillor Ryan Wong asked under what conditions they would reinstate the U-Pass program. Nanayakkara said they would reinstate it if a majority of students are using transit.

“My biggest fear personally is [expecting] students to pay for a service that they can’t access especially in the current conditions,” he said.