After explosive start, two of three VP External candidates discuss climate and housing advocacy

At Friday's Great Debate, candidates Andy Wu, Remzi Fuentes and Kalith Nanayakkara came together to debate key topics in the VP External portfolio like climate action, transit, sexual violence policy and student affordability. But one candidate came for clearly different intentions.

The first question asked candidates how they plan on working with the province to address the issue of sexual violence on campus.

Wu and Nanayakkara both cited Bill 23, BC’s Sexual Violence and Misconduct Policy, as a starting point for lobbying efforts. Wu said that as VP External, he would create more submissions to the provincial government after collaborating with stakeholders on campus to improve provincial policy. He cited his voting record as AMS Councillor in voting against cuts to support services provided by the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) in 2018.

“I put my money where my mouth is,” he said.

Nanayakkara’s plans are to look into UBC’s sexual misconduct policy SC17 and ensure that the university has a “parallel review policy” to provincial policy.

But when it came to Fuentes’s turn to answer, he used the opportunity to talk about the Graduate Students Society (GSS) VP external relations race in which he is also running. He said that his opponents in the VP External race and the GSS President had worked together in the previous AMS debate to challenge Fuentes about his candidacy in both races being a conflict of interest.

“The president did not ask questions, but brought up his personal interpretation of AMS policies,” Fuentes stated.

He refused to stop speaking after he went over time and his mic was cut off. The other two candidates quickly went back to topic, debating BC sexual violence legislation.

Before the open debate period began, Fuentes was asked to respond to the question at hand. Instead, he continued on about the GSS and ended it by announcing that from now on, he will focus his efforts on the GSS race.

He wished the other two candidates good luck and walked off the stage.

In response, to Fuentes’s accusations, GSS President Nicolas Romualdi said he had delegated all presidential powers that may interfere with the elections process because he is running for election as the GSS VP University and Academic Affairs. He had notified the GSS Elections Committee well before the campaign period had begun about recusing his powers to interpret GSS policy and “played no part” in how the GSS Elections Committee decided to handle Fuentes’s case.

“I will say that I am very sad about these events, since the reputation and integrity of the dedicated graduate students who work and volunteer their time at the GSS is being called into question,” he wrote in a written statement to The Ubyssey.

Kate Sedivy-Haley, a member of the Elections Committee who sits on the GSS Governance & Accountability and Executive Oversight Committees, clarified that Fuentes is upset because he was not notified about a change in location of the GSS VP external debate after he sent them an email they had perceived as a formal withdrawal from the race.

“I am personally very concerned by how Mr. Fuentes is representing this situation … These allegations do not reflect the Elections Committee's efforts to ensure that the elections process is fair to all candidates including those without prior experience in the GSS,” she wrote in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.

“Nor do Mr. Fuentes’s statements regarding the GSS debate reflect Mr. Fuentes’s own responsibility for clarifying his intentions to the Electoral Officer in a timely matter.”

GSS Communications Manager Ben Hill also noted in a statement to The Ubyssey that once Fuentes did arrive at the debate, he was allowed to take part as normal.

Sedivy-Haley said the incident reaffirmed worries about Fuentes’s conflict of interest.

“… his decision to raise these allegations against the GSS during the AMS debate yesterday suggests to me that Mr. Fuentes is not in fact able to separate issues related to the GSS from those related to the AMS, which supports the initial concerns raised by Mr. Romauldi that a candidate might have difficulty simultaneously acting in the best interests of both organizations,” she wrote.

After the debate, Fuentes did not confirm to The Ubyssey whether he has officially dropped out of the AMS race despite repeated requests for confirmation.

The Ubyssey has also reached out to the Chief Electoral Officer Ahsan Sahibzada, who has not received or announced Fuentes’s official resignation.

Back to business

With Fuentes out of the debate, matters quickly went back to normal as candidates responded to a question about housing affordability. Wu said he would address the issue on the federal level by advocating for the inclusion of student priorities in the federal National Housing Strategy and provincial Rental Assistance Program.

Nanayakkara echoed his statements of the previous debate, arguing for provincial lobbying to change the minimum standard of allowance in Vancouver.

Tensions flared once again during the debate and both candidates displayed a lack of adequate research when Nanayakkara criticized Wu’s plan to register the AMS as a third party advertising group with Elections BC. Nanayakkara said that this would preclude the inclusion of a voting booth on campus.

“How are we going to get voter turnout when we can’t have a polling station in this building?” he asked.

Wu fired back by saying that registering the AMS as a third party sponsor would have no effect on voting stations on campus. The AMS is already registered as a third party sponsor and has had voting stations despite the fact.

Candidates found some common ground later in the debate when discussing climate advocacy. But while both agreed that the AMS needs a clearer and firmer stance on climate crisis advocacy, they disagreed on how to best conduct it.

Nanayakkara mentioned that he would fight to ensure that the government has a “proper feedback mechanism,” where graduates have a place in the CleanBC labour market.

Meanwhile, Wu offered more concrete plans on how the AMS should adopt a firmer stance on the issue and suggested implementing a policy within the AMS that outlines what their climate advocacy should look like.

“Our current climate change position hasn't really evolved beyond … climate change is bad,” he said. ”We need to do more than that.”

Another key topic of the night was advocating for and with Indigenous voices. Both candidates highlighted the need of including Indigenous voices in advocacy and working with existing groups on campus. Nanayakkara also added that he would include advocacy for Indigenous languages and awareness education and for more federal funding for Indigenous students through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program.

Wu and Nanayakkara wrapped up the debate by encouraging people to vote and thanking everyone for coming.

“It's been a great debate here,” said Nanayakkara. “Conversations like this help us move forward, learn from our mistakes and what we need to work on.”

This article was updated to include a statement from Ben Hill.