VP finance candidates spar in ‘spicy’ first debate

Candidates for AMS VP finance questioned each other on platform points and qualifications at the first of two by-election debates Tuesday night. 

The by-election was called after former VP Finance Rita Jin resigned in July because AMS Council did not approve her course schedule for the summer and fall. AMS President Eshana Bhangu has served in the role since, first as a temporary replacement and then officially as the interim VP finance.

The candidates for VP finance are AMS Strategy and Governance Lead Kamil Kanji, Associate VP Funds Lawrence Liu and the Arts Student Centre (ASC) — represented by Arts Councillor Mathew Ho who wore a trash can on his head throughout the debate. 

Throughout the debate, in which candidates discussed mental health coverage, the AMS's deficit and funding the AMS food bank, Kanji repeatedly said he believed his opponents weren’t presenting plans to address the issues at hand. 

“Once again, I heard no plan to address the issue [of the AMS’s deficit]. It takes money to fund an office that works to contribute to students,” Kanji said when the candidates were asked if the AMS’s $1.25 million deficit was manageable without raising student fees. 

Ho and Liu pushed back on Kanji’s plan to reduce the AMS deficit in part by conducting an audit of the AMS's supply chain. 

“It doesn’t matter what audit you do," Liu said. "We’re in a deficit, you can’t make up money."

“The ASC does not believe that we can audit our way out of our problems … supply chain issues are affecting businesses in general and this would include the AMS no matter what you necessarily do,” the ASC said. 

Candidates differed on ways to address mental health coverage. The AMS increased mental health coverage under the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan from $1,000 to $1,500 for the 2021/22 academic year, but on August 31 the increase expired.

Liu said he would increase the coverage to $1,500 if elected, and said he did not understand the decision to decrease considering student need. When asked if he expressed those concerns within the finance office when the decision was made to decrease, he said he “wasn’t present.” 

The ASC said that the increase was in part draining the health and dental fund unsustainably, but that the change could have been better communicated.

Kanji proposed “securing funding partnerships with UBC” to establish sustainable long-term mental health coverage. He criticized his opponents for not mentioning that a strict increase in the coverage could come with increased fees for students. 

On Wednesday, the morning after the debate, the AMS announced coverage would be increased to $1,250. 

Kanji questioned Liu’s preparedness for the VP role, saying that “one of his competitors” was “unable to complete” the AMS Indigenous Finance Guidelines. Bhangu has said during AMS Council that the student society is working on the guidelines to make the student society’s financial system easier for Indigenous people to work with.

Kanji claimed that work on these guidelines fell on himself, Bhangu and another employee in Bhangu’s office to complete. 

Liu responded by saying he had done the work, pinning the lack of follow through on Bhangu.

“That’s so weird — I did do the work. The interim VP finance never followed up, and we just never really communicated about it,” he said.  

The ASC concluded the question’s open debate, saying “Mathew has made his points, we'll watch the spicy drama.” 

The Ubyssey is moderating a second debate on Friday, September 23 at 3 p.m. in the Michael Kingsmill Forum. Follow live-tweets @UbysseyNews on Twitter or watch our Facebook live stream. 

A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the ASC's representative Mathew Ho. The Ubyssey regrets this error.