Thursday, January 18, 2007

Debate III: Senate, VP Admin, VP Finance

In case you haven't seen it yet, skip down a few posts to enjoy Jeff Friedrich snorting a condom. It gets funnier with time.

And even funnier? Tonight's candidates' forum at Place Vanier. Notably, this corner appreciated that there were more questions, more engagement, and, most importantly, more time to hear from the candidates. There were some good exchanges, there were some contrasting visions. And most of all, we left with information that will help us make up our minds.

VP Admin
To our eyes, this is the most interesting race. There are three (real) candidates, all of whom are equal in talent and skill to any candidates in years previous. And they're all good. This corner has confidence that any of them would make a good VP Admin.

That having been said, there's some clear distinctions. Sarah Naiman is the "student life" candidate, focusing her portfolio on issues of student life, and engaging with students. Suvina To is the SAC internal candidate, hoping to bring a year of in-depth knowledge of SAC to the top job. And Liz Ferris comes to the job from Sustainability, but an intelligent and solid vision for the position. (Also, Lougheed the Barbarian grunted a lot. And I mean a LOT - see Video below:)

On the issue of resource groups there was agreement: the AMS ought to respect the autonomy of resource groups and encourage them, supporting them at arms-length. Dave Yuen (the incumbent) asked about the balance between student and commercial uses of the SUB, and the candidates broadly agreed that conference bookings were important, but not at the expense of the student experience. Again, there was not much disagreement on substance, but there were clearly differing approaches: Suvina talked a lot about SAC and how the AMS already provided the clubs with free room bookings and other services, and Sarah about student life. Liz' contributions were more balanced.

Scott Banducci asks a question

The most interesting question was posed by first year arts student Scott Banducci, refreshingly outside the election-media complex. He noted an AMS diversity poster highlighting diversity, and wondered if the AMS perceived diversity as being solely about race, at the risk of ignoring other imbalances (like financial inequities - which determine a student's access to postsecondary education). Sarah pointed out the recent childcare agreement which addressed one aspect of socioeconomic barriers, and Liz pointed out the gender-neutral washroom, as instances where the AMS took a lead on diversity that's not race-based. Interestingly, both of those changes fall within the portfolio of the VP Admin.

VP Finance and Senate behind the cut. Go ahead - read more!

VP Finance
There are two candidates. And the distinction could not be more clear. Which is probably why this was the most sharp and contested debate.

Brittany Tyson is the insider, the experienced one, the continuity candidate. And Peter Rizov is the outsider, the newcomer, the fresh thinker. They told us so. Many, many times. I'll get to that. But two new ideas were floated. Peter put a great deal of stock in an AMS book exchange. Unfortunately, the AMS had a used bookstore a few years ago, that they dumped because it wasn't doing business. And they currently run an online exchange, including textbooks ( Brittany suggested "AMS Bucks", money that can only be spent at AMS businesses. Good idea. It reinforces the idea that these are AMS businesses, and helps to reinforce the connection. This corner thought it was a terrific idea.

But this debate wasn't about ideas, it was about philosophies. Should it be an insider, or an outsider? Peter talked about fresh ideas, his Commerce education, his knowledge of the AMS, and ability to look at the budget with new eyes. Brittany talked about her experience with the Financial Commission (FinCom), the learning curve, her relationship with the incumbent, and how a quick start is essential. Peter suggested that a shift in mindset was necessary. For instance, when Brittany argued that better promotion was the answer to getting students to know, Peter rightly pointed out that there's new ad campaigns every year, but they don't succeed in getting student attention. That having been said, given the Finance portfolio, her contention that experience is important carried a lot of weight.

Moreover, Brittany came dangerously close to arguing that experience was a prerequisite for AMS success, but didn't quite do so. Regardless, to follow her contention to its natural end, one could be forgiven for coming to that conclusion. But, to her credit, Brittany argued her position with poise, intelligence, and sharp analysis, skills that will undoubtedly serve her well.

It was disappointing that only 5 out of the 7 candidates bothered to show up. The candidates were given time to make opening remarks, and one question. They all painted themselves as listening to students, responsive, representative of student voices... the same thing you've heard over and over and over and over. It's enough to make you shove a condom up your nose. (See? Never gets old.)

As a result, each candidate tried to distinguish him/herself. Lawrence Song pointed out that he had a uniquely difficult courseload, ignoring the med student (Jaspreet) beside him. Hillson Tse is a first-year and brings that, Alfie Lee cast himself the outsider with fresh ideas, and Tariq Ahmed drew on his time at UVic (in Engineering) and at UBC, on both institutions' senates. The most successful was incumbent Jaspreet Khangura, who was (rightly) proud of her pass-fail initiative, and sought a mandate to keep working on it.

The debate was also notable for the first interesting question. Responding to ideas of confronting student apathy, the Underground questioned why bother about apathy at all? Most candidates gave the boilerplate "the AMS actually matters" answer, with varying degrees of insight. Two were notable: Jaspreet, who tied it in to growing issues and the actual power of students to impact their learning environments, and Tariq, who questioned whether or not apathy was a sign of general health, in addition to arguing very forcefully and clearly why it ought to matter, and students ought to invest in making a difference.