Voting for AMS, Senate, the Board of Governors and Student Legal Fund Society elections is now underway and will continue throughout the week until March 6.
The Ubyssey staff has spent the last week interviewing candidates, covering two debates and fact-checking the promises the candidates have made, all of which you can read in our AMS Elections coverage online and in print. We've also sat down with the people behind the two referendum questions on the ballot this year to discuss the changes they hope these referenda could bring.
Now we're ready to give our analysis of what each candidate could bring to the table, if elected.
These are not straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ endorsements. The Ubyssey stopped giving endorsements a few years ago as we realized that different voters have different values, priorities and issues at the top of their minds.
We hope these analyses give you an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, so you can make an informed decision from there.
Current VP Administration Cole Evans has the widest-ranging platform of all the presidential candidates and tangible steps to carry out his goals under each section. He also has a good track record of proactively responding to some student concerns, such as authorizing Lennon Walls and keeping the Nest open overnight in preparation for the transit strike, which would be positive going into a higher leadership role. But with little advocacy experience, Evans could see challenges achieving a lot of his advocacy-centric goals and he has also faced criticism in council for not doing enough consultation on projects.
Current Student Services Manager Ian Stone has outlined project-based goals such as developing student housing, expanding career development and bringing a cannabis dispensary to the Nest. Given their ambitious nature, most of his goals likely won’t be complete by the end of his term — something Stone himself acknowledged. He also changed his platform during the campaign period to include equity plans and support for Indigenous students after being called out, but justified it as being open to feedback. He has the relevant AMS experience to come into the role with few knowledge gaps as well as the ambition to take on big projects and make the AMS more proactive.
Residence Hall Association President Harresh Thayakaanthan cares a lot about addressing student concerns, but his platform is mostly buzzwords centered around student engagement with few concrete steps. He’s focused a lot on affordability issues, but his plans to fix them often include projects already underway at the AMS under different portfolios, such as textbook pricing and open educational resource advocacy. He also struggled to stand out during debates and often paraphrased other candidate’s talking points without adding new ideas.
Though his platform focuses on student engagement, Sylvester Mensah Jr lacks knowledge that is key to the VP admin position. He was unfamiliar with the AMS sexual violence policy and his policy proposals lacked clear plans for implementation, which came through in debates. That said, his experience working for AMS Events inspired him to help clubs improve their own events and his platform’s emphasis on student outreach is reflected in his broad support in Greek life and on social media. But while the AMS’s relationship with the Greek community is up in the air, Mensah’s fraternity membership also has raised doubts of whether he would be unbiased in negotiations between the groups.
Aidan Wilson’s club and AMS experience showed during debates and in his club-centric platform. Proposing a fund for new clubs and online room bookings, he has the operational knowledge to make good progress on his goals. His goals were concrete, although certain plans including one for adding green space to the Nest for sustainability were criticized as superfluous. He was confident in debate and pointed out holes in his opponent’s platform, but his defensive response to a question about diversity raises questions about his communications approach and ability to connect with students as VP admin.
Lucia Liang has a deep understanding of the VP finance role after a year in the job, which is particularly important because of the technical nature of the portfolio. Her institutional knowledge is evident in the specificity of her campaign goals. She took responsibility for the AMS’s outdated financial systems and said she’s pushing for automation and digitization to modernize the system, which she already started to lay the foundation for in her first year. But Liang hasn’t come up with an inspiring answer in discussions about how to equitably allocate the AMS’s growing budget surpluses, a big topic in the society currently.
Remzi Fuentes is certainly passionate and ambitious, but has displayed a thorough lack of organization in his platform and debates. Much of his platform also includes issues that are beyond the scope of the VP external portfolio, demonstrating a knowledge gap. His performance during the Great Debate in response to a question about sexual misconduct policy showed a lack of respect for the debate and the topic at hand. Finally, his inability to communicate clearly with media and elections officials about the status of his candidacy does not bode well for his suitability to a role that, ultimately, is all about effective communication.
Kalith Nanayakkara’s platform centres mostly around affordability action. While his goals are less ambitious than the other two candidates in this race, he does have fresh ideas about how to tackle issues like the climate crisis and Indigenous advocacy. Nanayakkara seems ready to prioritize these issues for students, but his quick dismissal of longer-term advocacy — like working in advance to leverage the 2021 provincial elections for student advocacy — demonstrates a gap in understanding about the VP external portfolio’s need for sustained, strategic advocacy.
Andy Wu has a thorough, organized and tangible platform for advocacy that includes key issues like affordability, climate action and mental health services. Wu has also demonstrated a more forward-looking approach and acknowledges the need to lay the foundation for work that will come to fruition beyond his term. But he failed to do his research on one of his key platform points to register the AMS as a third-party advertising group with Elections BC, resulting in a slight debate gaffe. But he is the only candidate with AMS experience and demonstrates a strong grasp of what the position entails and how far he can take it.
Perhaps the most knowledgeable of the candidates without UBC governance experience, Eshana Bhangu delivers an ambitious platform centred on transitioning international students into the Canadian education system, open educational resources and promoting Indigenous inclusion. She’s certainly passionate and it’s clear she did her homework. Out of all the newcomers without prior experience, Bhangu performed best in the debates. But her lack of experience in student governance shows when it comes to concrete planning and actionable steps in achieving her platform points. What she lacks in institutional knowledge, she would hopefully make up for in what seems like a genuine interest in serving students.
Braden Bellinger did not do his homework. The first-year Sauder student is very interested in leadership, but has little relevant experience. In debates, he often did not answer questions fully, echoing the ideas of others and making factual errors. He also doesn’t know much about policy emerging from the Senate or what they’ve done in the last couple years. Bellinger seems passionate about improving the classroom experience for fellow students, but he has few new ideas or actionable steps to achieve those ideas.
Mack Borno is passionate about advocating for minority students. He has both lived experience and practical know-how, serving as president of the AMS resource group Colour Connected Against Racism. Borno struggled to communicate his platform during the debates and much of his speaking time was spent agreeing with other candidates or saying there was not much left for him to say. But he has good ideas — like advocating for an Indigenous seat on Senate, improving facilities for commuters and promoting more accessible resources for students in distress — and seems willing to learn.
Julia Burnham is a strong incumbent contender bringing a wealth of institutional knowledge through her experience as AMS VP academic and university affairs, co-chair of the Student Senate Caucus and chair of Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Academic Diversity and Inclusion. Burnham’s platform, which focuses on inclusion and equity through a trauma-informed lens, continues the work she has already been doing, especially on the Inclusion Action Plan and Indigenous Strategic Plan. She expertly communicated her stance throughout the debates while correcting others’ misinformation. It’s difficult to find a shortcoming in her campaign other than a repeated platform point: last year, she campaigned on changes to summer awards, which is still top-of-mind.
Cole Evans might be a Senate newcomer, but he’s no underdog. The current AMS VP administration and presidential candidate didn’t quite match up to the commanding presence of the other AMS insider candidates at the debates, but he clearly understands how the Senate operates. His platform points are also mostly tangible and realistic, like pushing for summer course credits to count towards student awards criteria. Assuming Evans gets a seat on the Academic Building Needs Committee — a key part of his platform is to advocate for better learning spaces — he should be able to make an impact.
Chris Hakim deeply understands the Senate. As an incumbent, he has a polished and well-thought-out campaign that he mostly views through a financial lens as chair of the Budget Sub-Committee. He has big ideas on inclusion, reforming co-op programs and transparency, while laying out direct paths to achieving them throughout the debates. But at times, he lacks self-awareness as to how ambitious his goals truly are. In an interview with The Ubyssey, he said he didn’t see any of his goals as lofty despite many of his pillars tackling systemic issues. But there is no question Hakim will push for tangible actions.
Max Holmes is the most experienced candidate on the list, having served on the Senate for three years and as a two-term AMS VP academic. We know what he’s capable of and he has a good track record of achieving goals, like bringing fall reading week to its final consultation stages. Transitioning into the new three-year term of UBC Senate, Holmes wants to make the body more transparent with an external review and work on initiatives that he’s pushed for throughout the years. And as a candidate for re-election to the Board of Governors, he hopes to spearhead collaboration between the two bodies.
Axel Kong is eager to participate in student politics, but it’s clear that he’s in over his head. Kong wants to push for more interdisciplinary programs and eliminate the grading curve, but had trouble explaining the steps he would take to accomplish his goals. He was called out online for a platform that didn’t fall under the scope of the Senate. Kong made several false or misleading statements during the debates and demonstrated a lack of understanding of how the Senate operates. Kong says he’s willing to learn, but if he wants to make an impact, learning about how the Senate actually works would be a good place to start.
Snow Wang, a newcomer to the Senate, does not have relevant experience — or a relevant platform. It’s unclear whether she understands the role of the Senate and student senators, especially since she hasn’t been able to name a single committee or policy. She wants to listen to students and incorporate their voices, but her lack of knowledge would pose a steep learning curve.
Board of Governors
While first-year science student Brandon Connor is passionate and well-intentioned, he’s out of his depth in a pool that includes two of UBC’s most accomplished student politicians. Connor does have some governance experience at UBC as a student-at-large on the AMS Advocacy Committee, but the Board is UBC’s highest governing body with a $2.7 billion budget. His platform has two major points of emphasis — engaging with students and fighting tuition increases — but shows little understanding of how to do so. This may be the beginning of a long journey through UBC governance for Connor, but he’ll have to take it one step at a time.
Running for his second term, Max Holmes hopes to continue the work he’s started over his first term and introduce some new ideas. Holmes serves as vice-chair of the Property Committee and many of his proposals revolve around resourcing affordable housing on campus and off. As a member of the Finance Committee, he aims to continue work ensuring programs like the Indigenous Strategic Plan, Inclusion Action Plan and Academic Excellence Initiative get the funding they need to succeed. Over the course of the past year, Holmes has not shrunk away from speaking up in meetings to hold executives and other governors to account when he feels student interests have been overlooked.
Axel Kong failed to show up for both debates and has not posted a platform online for his candidacy. Also running as senator-at-large, Kong’s participation in Senate debates was marked by gaffes and censure from his incumbent counterparts. In his interview with The Ubyssey, he outlined some broad principles — alumni engagement, inclusion of international students and teaching Indigenous languages, culture and history — but failed to identify any Board policies that are currently underway. At this point, what Kong stands for as a Board candidate is a bit mysterious — a black box. Or maybe just an empty one.
Pending re-election, Jeanie Malone will enter her fourth term on the Board — practically unheard of for a student governor. The first student to chair a committee in over a decade, Malone’s leadership of the People, Community and International Committee has allowed her to oversee the implementation and review of UBC’s standalone sexual misconduct policy. Over the past year, she’s been pushing for the university to explore a comprehensive affordability plan that will measure the impacts of UBC’s disparate programs on students’ pocketbooks. She’s also worked to make Board more accessible to students throughout her career, writing regular explainers to The Ubyssey about the most important motions on the Board docket.
Student Legal Fund Society
During the debate, unofficial team captain of Students for Students Chris Hakim proved to have the specifics ironed out for strengthening relationships with other bodies on campus while recuperating from the less-than-ideal state past SLFS members had left the society in. Unfortunately, because Hakim was doing all the talking, it’s difficult to fully understand what the other slate members would bring to the table beyond what they currently have outlined in their candidate profiles.
While independent candidate Danny Liu lacks the experience some Students for Students members have and had trouble sparring with Hakim in debates, he has to be given props for his persistence and openness to work with other SLFS members and the community. His goal of integrating SLFS into the AMS raises concerns because it could undermine the SLFS’s ability to give unbiased legal counsel, but it’s unclear how committed he is to this idea since he didn’t bring up the prospect in debates.
The AMS has crammed all 10 proposed changes into this omnibus bill, using the same all-or-nothing approach that resulted in last year’s bylaw changes failing to meet quorum. While the majority of these changes seek to modernize dated code and do a fair bit of housekeeping, there is one proposal that doesn’t quite belong: last year’s confidentiality policy has come back with a vengeance. By limiting access to records on the basis of perceived harmfulness to the AMS, this proposal could allow Council to withhold its records with little restriction. AMS insiders who are pushing the policy think it’s necessary because it allows the society to classify legal and financial agreements, as well as private, sensitive information involving individual students. AMS President Chris Hakim assures that Council would develop a policy to govern records classification in a fair and consistent manner. But it is difficult to judge the potential efficacy of such a policy given that there are no details on it yet.
This referendum is one of the easiest and most tangible ways UBC students can collectively act on reconciliation. The process for filling the seat is outlined in the Indigenous Committee’s code and has specifically been left open-ended to accommodate for the ever-evolving structure of Indigenous self-determination. Its passage will ensure there is an Indigenous presence and vote in the Council’s decision-making process.