It’s elections season, and we can once again expect candidates to throw out a lot of numbers, figures and claims at the AMS elections debates. Understandably, it’s easy to take what candidates say at face value, and that’s why The Ubyssey is fact-checking some of the big claims candidates make at debates.
In this article we’ve covered the Great Debate, which included the races for AMS president, VP academic and university affairs (VP AUA), UBC Board of Governors (BoG) student representatives, VP external, VP finance and Senate.
Here, we fact-check statements on everything from funds and fees, freedom of expression on campus, COVID-19 concerns and everything in between.
Claim: “The AMS gives about $588,000 every year to [UBC] Enrolment Services to administer aid for us.”
True. The Student Aid Bursary Fund disbursed $618,000 in the 2020/21 and 2019/20 fiscal years. While $30,000 is allocated under the Evelyn Lett Childcare Bursary, the remaining $588,000 is distributed under the main Student Aid Bursary Fund through UBC Enrolment Services.
Claim: “... To Saad, you talk about inclusivity, you want to create an inclusive space for people. But how can you say you are going to do that when you meet with Members of Parliament charged with sexual assault, when your supporters bully and harass the elections team online because they disagreed with a decision they made, when your supporters go and make homophobic and sexually harassing tweets on other candidates’ feeds?”
Duly noted. on January 25, Shoaib met with an independent MP who was previously charged with sexual assault. In addition, Shoaib admitted that individuals who expressed support for his campaign had made disparaging remarks on an Instagram post by the AMS Elections team and homophobic tweets to another candidate’s Twitter feed, both of which were confirmed by The Ubyssey and have since been deleted.
Shoaib apologized for the January meeting and condemned the comments made, clarifying that those individuals were not part of his election team and do not reflect the views of his campaign.
Claim: “I’ve actually got a slide from the Equity Action Plan here, and what stands out the most to me about it is the fact that it has this blurb in here that says ‘AMS spaces being utilized by free speech groups propogates hate speech,' and then below that it says ‘inclusive participation?’ ... While the plan seeks to include as many voices as possible, it also tries to block voices and open debate from happening on campus.”
Mostly true, though perhaps a stretch. The slide in question is a visual from a November 2020 discussion group of students who describe themselves as having intersectional identities. While these quotes from students were included within the Equity Action Plan, there are no enumerated goals regarding the restriction of AMS spaces to certain groups, including groups oriented around free speech or freedom of expression. There is a goal stating that the AMS should “[act] on conflict and controversial issues related to [Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion] quickly and [handle] the issues firmly and with sensitivity.”
Claim: “There are counsellors for Indigenous students specifically.”
True, although the UBC Indigenous Portal currently states that only one Indigenous counsellor is on staff, with counsellors of other backgrounds and referrals to off-campus resources available.
Claim: “The AMS website hasn’t been updated since 2018 to include more information on Indigenous representation and the AMS.”
True. The last post on the “Indigenous Representation and the AMS” page on the AMS website is dated October 17, 2018.
The Pan’s human representative is Thomas McLeod, The Ubyssey's Opinion & Blog Editor. He is not involved in this year’s election coverage.
Claim: “The most recent resource group is the DUC.”
Claim: “I’ll give you the example of the Student Aid Bursary Fund. We have $660,000 sitting in that fund.”
False, though the exact amount is subject to change. As of February 2022, the Student Aid Bursary Fund’s reserve balance sat at over $1.1 million. The fund is budgeted to receive $660,000 in revenues in the 2021/22 fiscal year, and typically releases over $600,000 per fiscal year. It has disbursed $324,000 as of January 17, 2022.
Claim: “The Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee, which is in charge of implementing the full round of equity goals for the AMS, doesn’t have an equitable pay structure.”
Likely true. When the Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee was established by the Executive Committee in June 2021, it did not discuss honorariums or other compensation for the nine non-executive student members of the subcommittee.
VP Academic and University Affairs
Claim: “Twenty-six per cent of buildings on UBC’s campus are currently inaccessible.”
An understatement. According to UBC’s Wayfinding program, as of July 2020, 49 out of the 189 buildings on campus at the time (26 per cent) were inaccessible. Of the 140 remaining buildings, 50 had no information on accessibility.
Claim: “Eighteen per cent of students reported that they might have to abandon their studies for financial reasons.”
Potentially outdated. Around 16 to 20 per cent of undergraduate students and 20 per cent of graduate students said they may need to abandon their studies at UBC due to financial reasons in the 2019 Academic Experience Survey. In the 2020 Academic Experience Survey, 21 per cent of graduate students and 20 per cent of undergraduate students said that they may not be able to come back to UBC due to financial reasons.
Claim: “The UBC Housing Action Plan [outlines] that only up to 30 per cent of future housing on campus will be rental.”
True. This figure does not include units managed by Student Housing and Community Services.
Claim: “Last year was the closest vote in the Board of Governors on whether or not they should increase tuition.”
True. The vote regarding tuition increases for the 2021/22 school year was the closest since the province gave the Board the ability to set tuition fees after the tuition freeze of the 1990s. Domestic tuition increases passed by a vote of 10–8, and international increases passed 11–7.
Claim: “Currently, [the university’s] accessibility audits are not [publicly available], and from what I know, there are no safety audits that have been made publicly available either.”
True. While UBC publishes work-related inspection reports required by WorkSafe BC, there are no safety or accessibility audits that are publicly available. The AMS conducted its own Campus Safety Audit Report, which was published in January 2022.
Claim: “No candidate has sexual violence and harm reduction in their platform besides me.”
Claim: “For the BC Access Grant, If you look at what students are getting right now, they’re getting about less than $500 in total from the province.”
False. As of August 2020, eligible students may receive up to $1,000 per eight-month school year, although amounts may decrease as family income approaches the grant cut-off.
Claim: “Because [international students] are not included [in BC’s Tuition Limit Policy] now, their tuition fees have increased by over 64 per cent since 2006.”
Close. While Co is correct that international students are not included in BC’s Tuition Limit Policy, the cost per credit for an international student within the faculty of arts has more than doubled since 2006, increasing 134 per cent. When accounting for inflation, the increase is approximately 74 per cent. Exact amounts also vary by program — for instance, students within the Commerce program saw the cost per-credit increase 169 per cent, or 100 per cent accounting for inflation.
Claim: “Right now, [eligibility for the BC Access Grant] is dependent on family income.”
Claim: “The issue with the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan is the surplus that is in our accounts. Currently, there’s nearly $5 million dollars that is in the dental and health account that the AMS is not using.”
False. The AMS surplus is not entirely allocated within the health and dental plan, but rather located within multiple areas that fall under the AMS purview. The AMS Health Plan Reserve was $5,261,245 as of July 2021, but $10,551,365 as of February 2022.
Claim: “As the current associate VP finance I’ve gained valuable experience working with a $25 million AMS budget.”
Misleading. Yes, the AMS had a revenue of $27,691,118 for the 2021-22 fiscal year, but $23,726,827 of that is in the form of non-discretionary allocations. The AMS actually only budgeted to spend $4,725,768.48 this year.
Claim: “In the past year we increased [mental health coverage in the AMS/GSS health and dental plan] from $1,000 to $1,500.”
Claim: “We have hundreds of thousands of dollars in our surplus right now… The problem right now is not just the fact that it’s just not being used. It’s also the fact that the code limits it.”
True and true. The recent funds and fees report shows a significant amount of money sitting in different funds. AMS Code also does limit how each fund can be used, specifically those that were established through a referendum. The society has to use the fund in the way it was determined to be used when it was put to the student body. For example, this means that the Childcare Bursary Fund, which has $363,958.31 in reserve, which was defined through referendum to be used to “help students with children by providing subsidies for childcare and a contribution to the AMS Childcare endowment.” This description limits how this fund can be spent.
Angad Singh Gill
Claim: “I don’t believe most of the UBC students know that [Finance Committee meeting minutes] are available online. I’ve never seen any email, survey or social media posts being put out there that we have such resources available.”
Somewhat true. While it is difficult to verify whether or not students are aware of Finance Committee meeting minutes being posted online, it is true that they are not publicized in any such way by the VP finance team. Finance Committee meeting minutes can be found on the AMS website.
Claim: “I did my best to go on the AMS website and scout for such information [about the surplus]. I believe that AMS hasn’t been really transparent on that and doesn’t tell the student membership how much surplus there is.”
Somewhat true. While it is easy enough to find information about deficits and surpluses in singular fiscal years, it’s a bit harder to find out about surpluses in specific funds. The AMS does release a funds and fees report every fiscal year which outlines the reserve balance of each fund, but Gill is right in that it’s not well-publicized.
Claim: “This previous year I was the senator who prepared and drafted the motion for the drop date extension.”
Claim: “The fact that a senator can serve for 20 years is ridiculous.”
Noted. Only one senator has served for over 20 years: Dr. J. H. V. Gilbert has served since September 1993. Christopher Eaton, current clerk to the Senate, served as a student senator from April 2001 to March 2002, before moving into a role in the secretariat.
Claim: “I know some on stage, including Eshana [Bhangu], advocated for mandatory vaccines in residences and mandatory vaccines on campus in her open letter…”
Half true. The July 2021 open letter from the AMS to UBC executives and the Board of Governors did ask for mandatory vaccines in student residences. It did not ask for mandatory vaccines for educational activities — it called for masks to be mandated in lecture halls.
Bhangu also floated the idea of mandatory vaccinations for AMS staff alongside other executives in November 2021.
Claim: “I’m just wondering, for the other current incumbents, if you did vote on that mandatory vaccine policy which discriminated against students for their own medical choices.”
False. UBC does not have a mandatory vaccine policy. In its Campus Return Plan, the university stated that it would require COVID-19 rapid testing for all students, faculty and staff, excluding those who have provided proof of being fully vaccinated against the virus. It also stated that it would require proof of vaccination for those living in student housing (with the exception of Acadia Park and studios/one-bedroom apartments not requiring a meal plan) in line with provincial health orders and/or participating in “discretionary activities” excluding educational activities such as attending class.
Additionally, the university stated that “there are no vaccines in Canada that are mandatory” and that it would not be making vaccines mandatory, but would be requiring a disclosure of vaccine status. The only situation in which vaccines are mandatory on campus is certain health care settings as ordered by the provincial government.
As of February 28, 2022, UBC no longer requires regular rapid testing or vaccine declarations except those needed to comply with relevant PHOs.
Claim: “UBC has 49 buildings on campus that are inaccessible.”
True. According to UBC’s Wayfinding program, as of July 2020, 49 out of the 189 buildings on campus at the time were inaccessible and of the 140 remaining, 50 had no information on accessibility.
Board of Governors
Claim: “Because this has taken so long, the new [Deans Appointment] policy doesn’t affect our current Dean searches.”
True. While the UBC Vancouver Senate has passed the new Deans Appointment Policy, this policy has not yet been passed by the Board of Governors. Therefore, the new procedures cannot be applied to any ongoing dean searches.
Claim: “Canadian graduate students don’t have the same funding level as compared to [those in] the United States.”
Difficult to verify. Funding for graduate studies varies from institution to institution, though tuition fees in the US tend to be substantially higher for domestic and international students alike compared to graduate schools in Canada.
We’ve written on the extensive workloads graduate students at UBC are taking to make ends meet, and advocates have said that current stipend levels are inadequate in the face of food insecurity and housing unaffordability.
Graduate students at UBC may be eligible for merit-based awards to cover the cost of tuition (not including fees), along with merit-based federal and provincial scholarships and need-based provincial grants. Doctoral students are eligible for a minimum stipend of $22,000 per year, which is below the Canadian 12-month poverty line income of $25,920. Tuition varies by program and degree length — we’ve linked the current Master’s and Doctoral fees for your reference.
Graduate students in the US are eligible for a wide range of institutional and external merit-based scholarships and need-based grants. Doctoral students in the US may be fully funded by a mix of fellowships, assistantships and external funding, and receive stipends on top of the cost of tuition.
Claim: “I have been advocating strongly for students, including $1.5 million towards the climate emergency and thousands towards food insecurity and lecture capture.”
Generally true. Yee spearheaded the Climate Emergency Fund as VP Academic and University Affairs in 2020, and ran on a platform of affordability and online learning in 2021. UBC allocated thousands towards food security and lecture capture from incremental tuition fees in September 2021, although Yee and fellow student Board of Governor representative Max Holmes voted against the increases in April 2021. In an open letter, Yee and Holmes expressed concern that the allocations were drawn from student-derived revenue streams, and that the consultations upon which the budget was set did not take into account the university’s return to in-person learning.