Wednesday, January 30, 2008

AMS Council Meeting, Jan 30, or how much we care about committee reform, deep down inside.

Today's council meeting was both disappointing and heartening. Disappointing because the anticipated public lynching of EA Brendan Piovesan failed to materialize. Heartening because it turns out that deep down inside, we really care about committee reform. And there were several other important (University Ombuds Office!) and thoughtful (Systemic discrimination in the AMS?) decisions.

We got to find this out when an apparently simple motion about changing the chair of the Impacts committee (which looks at sustainability) from the VP Admin to VP finance. This motion was predicated by conversations in the impacts committee and executive committee about where sustainability issues fit best in the structure of the organization. Since the many of the sustainability and impacts issues have to do with businesses, and implementing the budgets of the sustainability strategy, they seemed to agree that the chairmanship would be best supported by the Finance portfolio. Basically, this was about finding a permanent home in the organization for a committee that has traditionally had... issues.

Seems simple enough. Makes sense. Consultation with the committee in question took place. Both the VP Finance and Admin already sit on the impacts committee anyway. Interestingly, this motion met with resistance. Councillors wanted to refer it to the Code & Policies committee (sometimes a bad idea in my opinion). Throughout the debate, it became clear that it wasn't just this committee, and the trivial switch in chairmanship that was bugging councillors. It was the "top-down" nature of the proposal, the fact that it was still an executive committee member that was being proposed to chair it, and that it hadn't gone through a committee process - essentially, it turns out that council really cares about the ideas behind Spencer's committee reform, and the fact that this change in committee structure wasn't integrated holistically into the whole committee reform conversation, was very bothersome! Wow!

For whatever reason, momentum is building behind committee reform. Somebody even called the phrase a buzzword today, which I had to chuckle about, considering that it's been in negative buzz territory for numerous seasons of sitting on the backburner. But I'm very happy that people are thinking about it, even to the extent that they're dragging it into irrelevant debates. yay!

In other notable meeting news, the long-awaited University-level Ombudsperson Office is one step closer to reality with hiring proposed for April 2008. The Ombuds Office will be an independent and confidential service for students to voice complaints against the University and to serve as a central body where students can go to seek referrals to all other campus resources. AMS Council voted unanimously in favour of a 3-year funding package in support of the initiative with the GSS and the University providing joint funding. This office has been 16 years in coming; a previous AMS attempt in 1991 failed at the Senate level. Attempts under Martha Piper were emphatically refused by that president. When Stephen Toope came on board in 2006, students saw an opportunity to try again and found encouragement from the new President. An ad hoc committee with members from the VP Student's office, University counsel, equity office, faculty association, AMS Ombuds, AMS Advocacy, GSS Advocacy was struck, generating terms of reference, which were reviewed and passed by the University Administration. The Ombuds Office will be housed in the Student Union Building, a nod to the independent and student focused nature of the service. [This paragraph kindly written by Joshua Caulkins, Geography Ph.D. student and Chair of the Ombuds Committee]

Ross Horton has been hired as the new General Manager of the AMS. The GM is a hugely important position which oversees all the business and service operations of the AMS. The GM sits on the Executive committee, reports to the president, and is basically the boss of everyone that the AMS employs. He/she suplies important turnover for executives. Another complete post on the new GM is forthcoming. This is big for the AMS.

Other interesting motions that were carried:

  • Oversight committee (which usually evaluates the performance of executives) is to seek submissions and make recommendations about this year's election process, in hopes of improving it for the future. This research and report will be totally separate from the process of resolving current elections irregularities, which is taking place through elections appeals committees and student court.
  • An "appropriate external body" (whatever that may be) is to be employed to look at systemic discrimination in the AMS. In the last three years (maybe since the abolishment of slates? term paper anyone? (asks Jeff Friedrich)) there has been a decrease in the proportion of women politically active in the AMS. Council seems to be disproportionately low in visible minority representation as well. This ties into the commuter/non commuter dichotomy also. This is to make a professional determination about whether there is a problem, and how to address it.

The last thing on the agenda was a discussion topic about the elections period that has just concluded. The discussion topic was added to the agenda by AUS president Stephanie Ryan, in order to discuss a submission she had received from a constituent. But immediately as the agenda item came up, it immediately went in camera (ie. nobody except councillors (and anyone specifically invited)) allowed. "I came specifically for this though!" said "Che" Allison, a candidate in the President race, as he waited outside the council chambers for the in camera session to conclude," I can understand where they're coming from, but there are people that have personal experience about the HR issues they're going to discuss. Don't get me wrong, I love sitting through AMS meetings [dripping sarcasm] ... They invited Chris and Stef [the VPs finance and external elect], but not two other candidates, one of whose election is still unresolved! And they should have invited the VFMs - since that was a shitshow too". In any event, it seems that some councillors have vowed to move to discount any and all elections results that include the results from paper ballots, which were not conducted in sectret on Jan 25th, when the elections results come to council for approval. This won't happen until the various sundry official complaints are resolved.

The whole question of in camera session when you're talking about employees' performance is a little mysterious to me. All students are members of the society, and should be able to participate in a conversation about HR issues in something as important as an election. Anyone care to enlighten about what libel/lawsuit worries drive council into in camera sessions? Particularly when the agenda item is just a discussion period as opposed to a deicsion-making topic?


BioScience Building locked down

from the UBC website:

There has been a police incident at the Bio Sciences Building, which is located at the intersection of Main Mall and University Boulevard at the University of British Columbia.

On the advice of the RCMP, the Bio Sciences Building has been locked down. Building occupants have been instructed to stay where they are, to secure the room in which they are located, and to await further instructions from the RCMP.

No person will be permitted to enter or leave the Bio Sciences Building without RCMP authorization.

Out of an abundance of caution, the RCMP is advising that others on campus stay where they are currently located. All campus occupants should be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious circumstances to the RCMP at 911. Persons who are not on campus are advised to remain away from the campus until further notice.

Further information, as it becomes available, will be posted at

Stephen J. Toope
President and Vice Chancellor

Also, check out this link:
News Link


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Student Court challenges, election 2008

The period for the 2008 AM elections was punctuated by numerous irregularities of various sorts. When problems arise in elections, or in other matters of stuff that goes against the AMS Bylaws or Code, complaints can be brought to a group of people called the "student court". These are seven people, typically law students, that interpret the code, and make rulings based on it in whatever dispute is going on. The Student Court is comprised of one Chief Justice (who has to be in third year law) and six other students. They've got the ultimate say on interpreting AMS bylaws and code. AMS council can overrule Student Court rulings, but usually doesn't. Elections-related complaints first go to the election appeal committee. This committee consists of the Elections Administrator, Chief Justice, and a representative of the person with the complaint (other than themselves). If this committee can't decide what to do, or if the person appeals their decision, the issue goes to all of the Student Court.

Current challenges/complaints that I'm aware of (there may well be more):

VP Academic race: A complaint pertaining to this race has been submitted. I don't know by whom, or any details. The VP academic race was particularly close, with only 30 votes separating the winning candidate, Alex Lougheed, from the runner-up, Nate Crompton.

VP Admin race: Mike Kushnir, the candidate that ran as "scary" Mike "the rabbi" in the VP admin race, is filing a complaint about the cancellation of this race, in opposition to code. Specifically, he wants the results from WebVote released. To quote the formal complaint he submitted to the elections committee a few days ago:

I am not looking to have the VP-Admin election declared valid. I am simply looking to have the election results released. I would like to have Stephanie Ryan appointed as my representative to the Elections Appeal Committee.
BoG race/ general: According to sources, one of the winners of the BoG race sent out an email to members of the Greek system, stating that he was the only fraternity member running for BoG. This turns out to be factually incorrect, since Andrew Carne is also a fraternity member. Omid Javadi, the EUS VP external, who is filing a complaint about this and more general matters pertaining to the conduct of the Elections Administrator is on the record saying the following:

Brendan does not deserve a penny of the honorarium he is supposed to get. The election results should be invalidated, simply because democracy was not achieved with this election. He provided no services to this society, and as such, should not be paid. This sort of ineptitude should never be seen again.

Details are still fuzzy, since I can't find a list of current Student Court members, and the Election Administrator isn't answering my emails. Speaking of the EA, rumors are flying that council is going to try and fire Brendan Piovesan, this year's EA, at tomorrow's council meeting.

In any event, elections results are only official after council approves them. As long as there are unresolved Student Court challenges pending, this won't happen, so the elections results are still very much in question. Hopefully this won't spell a huge delay for Executive turnover.


Monday, January 28, 2008

The 432 isn't worth the paper it's printed on

This is where I get mad. The 432, the Science Undergraduate Society's official newspaper, is ... euuugghh. The very idea that students are funding such a worthless, offensive, and generally craptastic rag is insane. This newspaper, apparently, used to be good. It used to be smart and hilarious, and enjoy more readership than the Ubyssey. Not that that's exactly anything to be too proud of. For as long as I've read it though (about two years), the 432 has been an emblem of stupidity and needless tree-chopping - and this week it just about scraped bottom. Apart from the annoyance of its entering VFM without doing a shred of elections coverage, lets do an enumeration of this week's journalistic offerings: Article about giving you dog a bath (...), Article about the city's sex shops (whaa?), and to top things off with a flourish of offensive bad taste, an article about Sarah Naiman's breasts (classy). This is not harmless fun - it's offensive, student-fee-funded, useless crap. Though not everyone agrees, of course: according to the outgoing Director of Administration of SUS and AMS VP Academic elect Alex Lougheed, this issue represents an improvement in quality. "It's pretty good this week, actually," he said to me, without any redeeming hint of irony.

How about this radical thought: if you don't have anything to write, don't write anything at all? I even left out the "nice" from the kindergarten adage about keeping your mouth shut. There's a balance between informative satire (think Colbert, or The Devil's Advocate, for that matter) and pure farce. Most undergrad newspapers, including the Underground (which, to it's credit, actually contains at least a couple laughs every other issue) seem to be publicly funded mediums for a few amateur comedians to fill space. Yuck.

It seems to be notoriously hard to get people to actually write for these things. The poor editors typically publish whatever they can get their hands on from a few nominally funny SUS councilors the night before press time. But how is this possible?? There are heaps of science students that must have something to say. Maybe a combined undergraduate newspaper from all the faculties would be more interesting and prone to publishing actual content? Maybe a hired position for editor and a committed volunteer staff appointed for a whole year would produce better results?

Anyway, just a few thoughts. It seems like I've been doing a ton of "media" stories lately, and I promise this is the last for a while. Scintillating topical posts about the Vancouver Quadra federal by-election, AMS elections 2.0 (including student court challenges), and other cool stuff are on the way. And it's Science Week! Check out some of the events.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

How to vote in VFM - Interpolated Consensus,WTF?

Voter Funded Media, the contest that accompanied the AMS elections for the second year this year, is an idea that's meant to award media public funds by the will of the people, thus fostering better journalism, more informed voters, better elected leaders, and healthier democracies. The assumption is that media, as opposed to candidates or special interest groups, are able to engage larger audiences, since they are experts in communication. This, at UBC may or may not be the case, particularly considering the contest's mismanagement this year, but in any event, voting for this "race" of sorts is on now on WebVote until the 31st. There's an 8 thousand dollar prize pool that will be distributed among the various media according to votes. If you've enjoyed reading this blog, I encourage you to login and vote for us.

Before you do that though, you should find out about the voting system: "interpolated consensus". It's a tad complex, so just bear with me - and by the end, you'll know how to best allocate your votes! Alors, when you log into WebVote, you'll notice that for each media, you have the option of allocating to them $0, $500, $1000, $1500, or $2000. Lets do a simplified scenario: after everyone has voted, the votes are counted, and the median is determined. The median is a number which 50% of the numbers in a set are below, and 50% or the numbers in a set are above. It's the 50th percentile. The median will be one of the five amounts of money. If this is done for each media, you have an amount of money that each should receive. This is the "consensus" part of interpolated consensus. Taking the median, as opposed to the average, as a basis for awarding prizes is meant to discourage strategic voting - that is, it should encourage the voter to vote for the amount they actually believe that the contestant should receive. With averages, people are encouraged to engage in strategic voting (ie. voting above or below their real opinion) in order to "pull up" or "pull down" the average. If you use the median, on the other hand, the actual number you choose has no bearing on the amount that the media is awarded. All that matters is whether it is above, or below the median. Your vote will pull the median closer to your vote, whichever direction (up or down) that may be. You don't know. So if both 2000 and 1500 is above the 50th percentile of votes, they will both have the same effect on the outcome - by how much they are above the median doesn't matter.

Now, let's abandon our simplified scenario, and look at how it actually works. First, your five voting options represents a discontinuous set. That is, you're only allowed to award media in $500 intervals. To make the set more continuous, each vote for 500 is interpreted as 1/5 th of a vote for each 100-dollar interval between 300 and 700. Similarly, each vote for 1000 is interpreted as 1/5 of a vote for each 100 dollar interval between 800 and 1200. this is the "interpolation" part of interpolated consensus. If you didn't get that, just ignore it - it's a way of making the set of numbers more continuous. Second, we have to scrap thinking about the median (the 50th percentile) that we've been imagining. This is because taking the median of each media's votes and giving them that amount of money may not add up to the prize pool of 8000 dollars. In order for the system to actually allocate the prize pool, the percentile which will allocate exactly 8000 dollars is used - lets call this the pth percentile. This pthe percentile arbitrarily represents the "consensus" vote, and voting above or below it will change the prize for that media.

I have a few problems with this system. It seems to me that strategic voting is still possible: if you want to be sure that you'll have an upwards effect on a contest, always vote 2000. If you want to be sure to have a downwards effect, vote 0, or don't vote. If you want the media to get a specific amount, you should vote for that amount. The system will bring the pth percentile closer to the amount you chose, no matter if it's an up or down effect. The other problem I have is with using the pth percentile to determine how much money to give to each contestant, instead of using the median, scaled to $8000. It seems to me that it's quite likely to have a highly discontinuous set of votes with some media. This makes taking some percentile and awarding it highly arbitrary. It could jump from quite high to quite low as the result of a couple people that didn't vote (ie, voted 0) - or vice versa. If you're going to use a consensus system I think it makes much more sense to use a weighted median. I tend to think a voucher system with averages makes more sense to begin with, but that's just me. Thoughts?

For a more detailed explanation and simulation, go to


Friday, January 25, 2008

Best of AMS Elections 2008

Hi everyone still reading the Insiders. This is Serious Steve from the Devil's Advocate, bringing you the Best of the 2008 AMS Elections, as nominated by the VFM candidates and decided by me. (And before you ask, yes, yes I did hack the Insiders website. Because I'm that good. Watch my post stay up here too!)

Best Election Picture

Shawn from Eat Cake takes this category with a stunning rendition of Mistress Rennie. Read more wonderful results behind the jump!

Honourable mentions:
Gerald from The Insiders and Peter from the Cavalier pick up honourary mentions in this category, for gratuitious pictures of my ass and "Che Allison, AMS President." Watch for the revolution to arrive in your [University] neighbourhood soon.

Best Waste of a VFM Entry

Joey Coleman with Macleans on Campus! This was a clear-cut win. Joey isn't at UBC, and didn't cover the election at all! Talk about wasting some money. The silly thing is, Macleans is a brand name so silly voters may give him money. Thanks to the Radical Beer Tribune (also strangely lacking in coverage) for the nomination.

Honourable mentions: The 4 "we're in it for the money" 32, and the Underground (nominated by themselves, appropriately enough).

Best Dressed Candidate

Fire Hydrant Peets! This was a bit closer contest, but we felt that the elegant white and red lines of Fire's costume (not to mention the racing stripes) really carried the day. Thanks Peter at the Cavalier for the nomination.

Honourable mention: Irish Courage, for "being one bad-ass motherfucking leprechaun", and "Scary" Mike "the Rabbi" Kushnir.

Also check out Maayan's fashion report soon to come at the Devil's Advocate - reporting the fashion faux pas of candidates and Speakers alike.

Best Word of the Campaign

bloggify, v. The act of using all your skills in magic to transfigure some form of content to a “blog” format. (definition from Eat Cake)

I really have to thank Rodrigo for this one. (And as a side note, Rodrigo really rocked the Jam Space that was the Gallery post-election! Wow!)

Honourable mention: Flyerfuck (a close runner up particularly near my heart), Trek Park, "meaningful consultation"

Best Poster

Flyerfuck!!! I'm going to give Lougheed's so-called "Soft Porn" poster a mention for inspiration, but you'll have to excuse my conflict of interest when I award myself best poster of the campaign. As Peter mentioned in his nomination: "Flyerfuck - 'nuff said."

Honourable mentions: Scary Mike's cartoon posters (See: Axis of Evil. Dude, the rhetoric was Axis of Boring, ok?), and Piovesan: Disendorsed by Aaron at the Devil's Advocate.

Worst nomination in this category: The Underground with the Cloverfield poster. Sure, it may be a poster, but did they run in the elections? Nooooo. And did you pay any attention to the elections at all? ....

Best Embarrasing Moment

"The fear-stricken eyes in the ranks of the senate candidates when they were asked to display personality" -- Maayan from the Insiders, in her nomination. Indeed, folks, as I mentioned in this post, most of them failed to show any real personality at all.

Honourable mentions: Freeman being shamed by the audience for his comment on international students, and Mike Duncan in Debate numero uno.

and finally,

Best Dall-Dropping

The man himself: Brendan Piovesan
"I can has election?"

Honourable mentions: None.


Well, thanks for reading (both here and at the Devil's Advocate). We'll be covering the VP Admin race so check back for more coverage. Congrats to all the winning candidates for running our student society next year, and to all the losing ones to have time to actually go to school.



Elections Results: photos and mockery.

Last night, I took photos. This morning, I mock people. You know you like it.

Aaron from UBC Devils, undoubtedly plotting.

Austin from UBC Devils. I'm a firm believer in keeping one's friends close and their enemies closer.

Andrew Forshner, of whom I cannot take a photo without it looking like he's singing.

Stef Ratjen, heading out of the Gallery for some air.
We've got all sides of the competition covered...
...especially when it comes to UBC Devil's head dude Stephen McCarthy.

It was Open Mic night in the Gallery, and this fine gentleman serenaded the throng of politicians for a while. Sadly, I didn't catch his name.

Erin Rennie ponders her picks for the elections pool.

Gina, another Open Mic Night entertainer.

Erin Rennie wanted the Presidential race to be a series of staring contests, as she is totally schooling Matt Naylor.

Angelina from the Devil's Advocate, and her paper airplane.

It's an Exec Sandwich!

I'm not sure EA Brendan Piovesan can exactly be called the most popular man... but everyone did want to hear the results.

Team Flyerfuck awaits results.

Azim Wazeer raises the roof upon hearing he made it.

VP Finance-elect Chris Diplock was all smiles and hugs.

Unsurprisingly, Team Flyerfuck went straight for the makeouts upon finding out Alex had won.

Erin Rennie, relieved to have gotten her 10% and also to have not won.

President-elect Mike Duncan and VP Admin Sarah Naiman.

Maybe there are pink UBC cowboy hats in our future.

VP Students Brian Sullivan was also in attendance.

Tyler "Che" Allison relates the story of voting at every poll booth, his concerns about the way paper ballots were handled, and details the coming revolution for Eric Szeto (off camera, holding mic)

Congratulations to the newly elected student representatives, and condolences to those that didn't make it; there's still plenty of opportunity to make your mark!

It was an interesting election, and voting isn't over - be sure to vote for the UBC Insider in the Voter Funded Media Contest!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Results! (prefunctory)

Here are the results. That is, the results before the 3 to 5 student court challenges that should be comin forward in the next week or so due to voting irregularities. Note the Bottom-of-the-barrel voter turnout. This is worse than this year's SUS elections, if memory serves. To quote the Devil's advocate: "Brendan Piovesan. DISENDORSED."

Philip Edgecumb 580 :(
Colin Simkus 615
Eileen Harder 631
Aidha Sheikh 766
Blake Frederick 779
Azim Wazeer 796
Alfie 832
Rob Mclean 932
Alex Lougheed 1028

Genevieve "Malt-Likkah" 210
Glen "fidler crab" Finlay 280
Cris Marincat 309
Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes 439
Andrew Carne 512
Tim Blair 889
Bijan Ahmadian 1398

VP External
1049 Freeman Poritz
1429 Stef Ratjen

VP Finance
406 Stash "irish courage" Bylicki
608 Andrew Forshner :(
864 Chris Diplock

VP Academic
559 Fire Hydrant Peets
619 Rob Mclean
695 Nathan Crompton
Alex Lougheed

125 Che Allison
354 Erin Rennie :(
426 Rodringo Ferrari Nunes
484 Matt Naylor
1475 Mike Duncan

Now excuse me while I get another beer.

[gerald's 2am edit: Pictures are up on flickr, here. Commentary and post up tomorrow.]


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ineptitude? Carelessness? Cheating? Elections train is off the rails

In a surprising announcement today, Elections Administrator Brendan Piovesan confirmed that the race for VP Administration, between incumbent Sarah Naiman, "Scary" Mike "the Rabbi" Kushnir, and Yian Messoloras, has been cancelled. The exact reasons are yet unclear, but they involve campaign rules transgressions on the part of one candidate. Apparently, Messoloras broke the rules when he asked people to vote on his laptop computer on the spot. The elections code specifies that candidates cannot pressure people into voting and they have to be at least 10 meters away from voting stations. All the votes that have been submitted on the electronic voting system, which closed yesterday, will be discarded. This may not in fact be allowed, according to AMS elections code, however.

Article 3, Section 7, states: "if serious offences have been committed by more than one candidate in an election, the Elections Committee may declare the results of that election invalid."

Cancellation thus requires that there be serious offences committed by more than one candidate. As far as we know, here there's only one. Also, there's no power to "suspend" an election - only to declare the results invalid. This decision may find itself in Student Court.

Right now though, brand new nominations for the position apprently going to open, and the new race will take place in February. Questions about why the disqualification of the candidate in question, as opposed to the cancellation of the whole race, was the course of action chosen remain unclear. This development will doubtless bode ill for the VP admin race, which will probably have a lower profile and lower voter turnout due to the delay.

This incident is only one in a string of administrative and political gaffes that have marked this elections period. Other notable controversies include the bungled all-candidates' meeting, too-short campaign period and late and absent updates on the AMS elections website (including updating candidates' blurbs in a timely fashion). In addition, if you expect to find candidate profiles, media coverage, or posters near the paper ballot voting-booths tomorrow, you may be disappointed. Uninformed voters hoping to make an on-the-spot decision will find it hard to gather information at the voting booths, since Piovesan has confirmed that neither candidate blurbs, nor bulletin boards for posters will be provided at the voting stations. Candidates may independently bring their posters to the voting sites, but according to Piovesan, they will not be officially organized. "No way. I'm not gonna do that," quoth he.

In the realm of the Voter Funded Media contest, things are not much better. Voting using the Interpolated Consensus counting system is impossible on Web Vote software, and even a simplified voting system has not been organized on the university-controlled program. Therefore, voting for the VFM contest has been delayed, only to take place after the elections are over. It remains unclear on what system this voting will take place. Speculation about the influence of this delay on VFM results abound: will late name-recognition entries that have done no coverage (like the Science and Arts undergraduate newspapers) end up benefiting at the expense of smaller unfunded independent media? We'll see.

Of course, administration hasn't been the only issue. Some candidates seem to have stopped showing up to debates. The BoG debate on Monday was notably missing two prominent candidates, and yesterday the VP External debate did not even take place due to the absence of one candidate. Of course, candidates should have the freedom to determine what the most effective campaigning strategies are, but in this elections it seems like unprofessionalism from the administrative side is feeding the same from the candidates to result in a week of exemplary irregularity.

The elections committee redeems itself somewhat by their funny loudspeaker announcements pulling people in to vote on the SUB's North side, but whether that's enough to salvage a voter turnout short of disastrous is suspect.


Issue of the Day: The Musqueam Issue

Now for something a little more controversial. Somebody who I work fairly close with recently questioned my leftist politics. That’s fair – I feel quite comfortable in the bureaucracy of the AMS, and I feel quite comfortable trying to balance the 42 000 different opinions of AMS members, and I even support many CASA policies. But after reading Jesse Ferrara’s post on the Musqueam issue, I agreed that it was something that should get some more discussion in this year’s election. And frankly, at the most recent BoG debates, there are a few things that should be clarified.

More behind the jump...

A History of First Nations Oppression:

There is a certain camp of people, in which I identify, who might describe the history of First Nations people in BC like this:

There were no “signed” treaties in BC that handed the land over to the Crown – in fact, the conditions under which these other “treaties” were signed across Canada are sketchy at best. There was also no war that was won that legitimizes the Queen of England‘s right to let the Canadian government oversee this land. The only thing that did happen was that a lot of Europeans came to this land with racist, imperialist assumptions that the people who lived here were “backwards and uncivilized” and that was some sort of justification for why we could take it over.

Over the years, those racist assumptions permeated into the minds and hearts of almost every Canadian, excusing policies that forced children to leave their homes, renounce their Native identity and stop speaking their Native language. What followed were decades of white people actively destroying Native culture and history, and any of its power and meaning. Families fell apart, survivors of the Residential Schools were taught to hate themselves and histories were not just being lost, but violently rewritten. We built entire institutions that systematically destroyed Native culture and kept the First Nations people down through a reinforcing cycle of economic and social poverty.

Now, people think that we should just forget all that: “I didn’t take over their land, its not my fault.” Well, that’s nice. But I for one feel perfectly capable of taking responsibility for the incomprehensibly terrible things that my ancestors did, and I feel perfectly comfortable doing whatever it takes to rectify the situation, whatever it will take for First Nations communities to heal and rebuild.
Systemic oppression is about systems, structures and societies that are built on keeping certain people down, certain perspectives out, and certain power-structures in place. Accepting the First Nations issue as an oppression issue is about acknowledging the decades of violence that has been launched at Aboriginal communities.

Land Claims issues:

The basic principles to rectifying the relationship between Canada and the First Nations communities are outlined in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP): recognition, respect, sharing and responsibility. We must recognize that the Aboriginal people are the original inhabitants of this land, and no matter how you want to look at it, that grants them certain rights, and we must recognize them as nations, on par with the nation of Canada. We must respect their tradition, their history, their culture and their wishes, the way they define themselves and the future that they define for themselves. We must share this land. And lastly, we must take responsibility for the years of violent oppression, it is our responsibility for the current relationship and state of affairs.

Understanding current First Nations issues, like current land claims, requires a deep appreciation for these basic tenants. Land claims in BC are about negotiating use of this land on equal terms, land which has never been negotiated fairly up until this time. It is not necessarily about “living off the land” – although most Indigenous cultures have a strong cultural tradition that is linked to particular land. To assume that all Native people want to return back to some sort of pre-Settler lifestyle is racist. Thus, if the Musqueam nation wants to build condos on the Golf Course – by all means, who are we to say what they should do? Land claims are about reconciliation of past injustices – and we need to respect the terms of reconciliation that they define.

The Musqueam Nation and UBC:

We have to recognize the First Nations people as legitimate nations, with legitimate governments. In this sense, why would the Musqueam nation negotiate with UBC? The Musqueam Nation negotiates with the nation of Canada. UBC just happens to be the governmental institution that sits on their land. The notion of putting a Musqueam leader on the Board of Governors is absurd because it is tokenistic. It doesn’t address the heart of the issue at all. It is a false gesture. Until UBC is willing to address Indigenous issues head on, with a serious commitment to change things and rectify things, then a BoG seat is entirely meaningless. A serious approach would question how we perpetuate racist and anti-indigenous assumptions in our institution. It would question how we, as an institution of higher learning that is representative of advances in human society, continue to oppress and colonize First Nations people.

UBC’s current approach is to increase access of First Nations people to the ‘incredible education of UBC’ – aka bringing more FN students into UBC. Education can be one of the greatest tools for empowerment and freedom. It also can be one of the greatest tools for domination and repression. Unless UBC’s educational experience is willing to take on this question, and change to be anti-oppressive, then again, this solution is tokenistic, and side-steps the real issues, and even perpetuates the colonial relationship. What would an empowering education look like for an Aboriginal student? Well, it would be an Aboriginal education, taught from an Aboriginal perspective by Aboriginal people. It would not be a Western interpretation of Aboriginal history. It would force white students to engage in that Aboriginal history from an Aboriginal perspective. It wouldn’t just be a pathetic attempt at being more “welcoming” and “supportive” of First Nations students. UBC’s approach doesn’t critically ask, how does the white institution of UBC needs to change in order to end the oppression of Aboriginal people within its doors, and in society as a whole.

The Issue as it relates to the AMS:

You may have read in a recent issue of the Ubyssey that the AMS failed a motion to support a negotiated settlement for the Musqueam Nation in the recent golf course issue. I think it was a very sad day, and a missed opportunity to publicly support the Musqueam nation. The AMS, like UBC, really has no role in “building relationships” with a nation – would any true representative of the United States come deal with the AMS? But there are things that the AMS can do. Firstly, the AMS can do a better job of publicly supporting the Musqueam nation in their struggle. The other thing the AMS can do is better represent its First Nations students – this would require more Aboriginal representation within the various facets of the AMS, better resources and services for FN students, outreach and relevance. Of course, its a bit of a Catch-22, because there aren't many reasons currently for First Nations students to get involved in the AMS, which makes it difficult to build in those relevant resources and programs. For example, there should be an Aboriginal Student Centre in the Resource Groups. But again, until the AMS is willing to take a critical look at how we actively perpetuate an oppressive relationship, then we aren't doing much better than UBC. The AMS will have to engage in the issue head-on, work with Aboriginal students to define what their needs are and how the AMS can support that, and then help Aboriginal students to make it happen.


Issue of the Day: Sustainability

I like to think of myself as an environmentalist, and its definitely how I got my start in student politics – co-chairing the Student Environment Centre for two years. Those two years were spent feeling frustrated and overwhelmed – partly because of the generally poor organizational structure of the SEC (and other Resource Groups), and partly because I was too idealistic and didn’t know a thing about campus politics, the AMS, coalition-building, strategic planning, and well, activism.

I still feel like I don’t really have a handle on environmental issues at UBC. So, what is it all about? Is it just PR or are we making a difference? Is UBC really leading the way in sustainability? And where does the AMS fit in all of this…

Some answers to these rhetorical questions… behind the jump…

A History of Sustainability:

In 1997, the University passed its Sustainability policy, committing to creating a Sustainability Office and creating a strategy that would guide its sustainability efforts. In 1997, this was huge, and still something to be proud of – a lot of very organized student groups across the country are still fighting with their University’s to develop a recycling program, let alone a sustainability office. Then Director of Sustainability Frida Pagani along with Geoff Atkins (AVP Land & Building Services) and I’m sure others convinced UBC that they could save millions of dollars in energy costs by retrofitting buildings (making buildings on campus more energy-efficient), which could fund the sustainability office’s operations. UBC agreed, and there you have the lasting marriage between UBC and Sustainability.
But that was really all the sustainability office had to offer save for a few educational and administrative programs which have mostly been, in my opinion, ineffective. UBC also likes taking a lot of credit for the U-Pass, and the associated increase in transit ridership – all too often forgetting the role that the AMS played in securing that program for students.

Recently, a new Director was appointed to the Sustainability Office, Charlene Easton. She comes from the corporate sustainability sector, and brings a very different flavor, but I think one that is setting the Sustainability office in much bolder new directions. We’ll have to wait and see, she’s only been in the position for less than a year. But, Charlene is very interested in building partnerships with students, particularly the AMS. Some of the new initiatives: creating something comparable to LEED standards for the market housing being built in U-Town; creating a coalition of student groups on campus called the Climate Action Partnership, coming together to create a framework that will get UBC to climate neutrality (also known as carbon neutrality).

What’s the problem?

Well, technically you could say there isn’t one. UBC has an incredible compost and recycling program, we boast the amazing educational and food security efforts of the UBC Farm (although it took a lot of lobbying to get UBC to recognize its value, which isn’t quite done), and we get a lot of international recognition for our efforts. The reality is, we could be doing a LOT better, and the push should be coming from students. The problem, in my opinion, is with us, the students.

We should be producing reports on various environmental issues, we should be writing letters, lobbying and building coalitions. We should be planting gardens in the middle of main mall. We should be demanding that no more trees are cut down for market housing, that more green space is preserved, and that all buildings are LEED platinum.

It takes all the energy we can muster to put on the Student Environment Centre conference – this year it was great too… but it didn’t create any larger dialogue about what the next big things that should be happening in campus sustainability. When I was co-chair, I was an idealist who didn’t know a thing about the science behind anything I was talking about, and I thought that “awareness campaigns” had meaning. We tried to hold stuff swap events that mostly just highlight the incredible amounts of junk that people collect over the years. I definitely wasn’t knocking on administrator’s doors. I definitely wasn’t mobilizing students to do demonstrations, and I wasn’t putting much effort into finding out what was really going on.

What should we do?

If student leaders want to be effective in making a difference in the environment, there are three things we need to do… 1) Get really informed – know everything that the Sustainability Office is working on, know all the new and innovative ideas that are being implemented around the world, etc. 2) Get more organized – let’s not be afraid to have structure if it makes us more effective, pay people for the work they do, have goals and plans, pick one issue and address it from every angle. We’re getting had because we, as environmentalists are too flakey. 3) Get political – lets stop wasting our time on frivolous events where we’re the only ones attending our own events, usually out of pity, and lets start changing the mind’s of the big-wigs at the top.

And a little plug for the AMS’ Sustainability Strategy:

Currently I’m working on developing a sustainability strategy for the AMS. I want it to be big. I want it to be bold. There are a lot of focus groups happening over the next two weeks, so make sure you come and participate and get your ideas to us – get more info on the AMS website.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Letter to the Editor, re: VFM

This was sent to us as an anonymous letter to the editor, and we would like to run it as continued discourse on the VFM:

How to Drink the VFM's Milkshake
name withheld upon request

The VFM contest would have very easy to hack this year. The main problem with VFM is that it is extremely easy to enter. For a measly $150 and five minutes filling out a form, any publication can appear on the ballot. The entry fee was raised from $100 to $150 this year as an attempt to filter out the 'noise'. As Matt Naylor put it, "the idea is to limit the number in the contest; otherwise it would collapse under its own weight." Great idea Matt! Too bad you went about it
entirely the wrong way. The voter media website explains the choice of using an entry fee: "It's better to charge an entry fee than to require media entrants to collect signatures, because an entry fee has far lower social cost." That last part seems to about sum it up: an entry fee has a low social cost. With a $2000 cash prize on the line, an entry fee with a low social cost and a high return on investment, it is almost like the contest was inviting fly-by night publications to enter just for the money. Matt Naylor's mistake was focusing on the number of entrants and not the quality of the publications.

So, how could one hack the contest to assure themselves the top prize. The easiest way would be to pull a James Green. James Green, a relatively unknown, ran for mayor of Vancouver in the 2005 civic elections. He received an impressive 4,273 votes, but many think that the majority of James' votes were actually intended for the similarly named and far more well known candidate, Jim Green. Voters, when scanning the ballot, just voted for the first J. Green they saw. So if
one were to enter the contest with a name similar to another a publication, it can be reasonably assumed that some of the voters would mistakenly vote for it. So which publication's name would one mimic to generate the most accidental votes? It might be tempting to riff off the The Underground, the top finisher from last year, but as that publication is likely to enter the contest, one would more likely split the vote than win the prize. Luckily for the would-be hacker, the most well known newspaper on campus, The Ubyssey, doesn't enter the competition. Mark Latham did something called a "multifactor analysis" of last years results, and concluded that had The Ubyssey entered it would have won by a landslide. And thus, The Ubussy is

So unless the election code is changed next year, I am going to drink the VFM's milkshake. I'LL DRINK IT UP!


Monday, January 21, 2008

Disconnected sundry thoughts

VFM Hasn't Failed
Last year we (the VFMs, collectively) created a discourse around issues in the election, and there was a meaningful campaign for the first time in a long while. This year has been less successful, but the media are still influencing how candidates comport themselves and, heck, we even convinced a joke candidate to "go serious."

Voter turnout shouldn't be the end goal, nor should it be the yardstick by which VFM success is measured. Voters will only vote when they care; people only care when the people around them care. The VFM project is about building an information base and enlarging the AMS' critical mass. Even though, last year, the same number of people cast votes as in previous, I'd wager that they were more informed than the year before. At a minimum, it's creating a new class of informed students. And I'd want to see four years' worth of results before judging it a failure.

Knoll Slate
My first rule of student politics: never underestimate the left at UBC. No matter the electoral system, there will always be a viable "left-wing" element at UBC. (I hate the term but I use it because people know what I mean.) Since the SPAN days it has been given life by The Knoll which, last year, ran a de facto slate. This year the slate is less pronounced, but still there.

The reason the left can never be discounted is because they have a powerful built-in voter base. First, there will always be a activist core on campuses, and they're politically engaged. Second, there will be students who, because they're young, gravitate to the left-wingers because it feels right and appeals to their sensibilities. No matter the merits of the candidates, they'll get those votes. And that can be enough.

That leads me to two conclusions about this year. First, they're getting better at abandoning the revolutionary zeal during election time. Check out Nate Crompton's web page. It's not only slick and worth of Students for Students at its finest, but it's downright educational. And a very interesting read. And only uses the word "capitalism" once. And, most importantly, it's good. (That's not meant as a backhanded compliment. It's really very good and insightful.) Second, watch out for Rodrigo. In a year with two Presidential candidates with broad appeal, and a third "wild card" with an interesting cross-section of elite and popular support, that solid voter base might be enough for Rodrigo to win. Especially since I suspect that voter turnout might hit a new low, he could easily get enough support to win.

What's wrong with being a "hack"? I'm pretty sure it's a pejorative term, isn't it? Of course that's the very question - how to define "hack"? Often people tend to use it as a synonym for someone who's hyper-involved, likes to fancy themselves on the "inside." I have a hard time seeing that as necessarily negative. Just because someone gets involved in student politics and devotes their energies to boosting the campus doesn't make them a "hack."

See being a "hack" use to be unequivocally a bad thing. Then, during the halcyon days Wahid, McKechnie, Keys et al., the term was appropriate. Reclaimed, if you will, to mean something more positive.

I always resisted it, as I see the term far more negative implications. I see a hack as someone who's in politics for ambition's sake, who derives pleasure from being close to power, from the illusion that they themselves have any whatsoever. It's someone whose self-esteem is riding on their election result, and for whom the pursuit of power, and the attention it entails, is just as important as eventually getting it. And that's bad. There are people who fit this description in the AMS, and there are a great many involved people who don't. Don't confuse them.

(For a good example of hackery, see the comment on the post below signed by "#96." That's Spencer Keys, feeling the need to remind the world that he was the 96th AMS President. Although I'm sure Spencer has enough self-awareness that the irony was intentional. Or was it?)

Since when did it become a pissing contest about endorsements? From my understanding, it's become an issue that some candidates have more/better endorsements than others. All the lack of endorsements proves is that the candidate didn't solicit them from someone - it doesn't prove that nobody supports his/her campaign. Think logically - the absence of something doesn't prove that it doesn't exist.

Moreover, an endorsement can come from many places. From a "I think they're the best" to a sense of duty to a personality clash with an opponent. They're really worth nothing more than face value, and it bothers me to see people making any noise about them beyond that.

(Also, kudos to the Devil's Advocate. Dis-endorsing is probably one of the most brilliant ideas ever.)

Finally, I can't help but notice that this little blog has started a bit of a trend. I find it entertaining that "insider" has become a part of the discourse in a funny new way - people trying to define themselves negatively vis-a-vis us. The Thunderbird's blog is entitled "UBC Outsiders," the Devil's Advocate prides themselves on being "Insider-free."

Yet their controlling minds read our site daily. This amuses me.

True story: Gina and I came up with the name on the couch one afternoon last January. "We need something like UBC Insiders, only better." And lo, it was born.

(Edited to add a shout-out to VPF candidate Andrew, who wants to "make everyone a UBC Insider"!)


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Maayan's Endorsements

Well, I figure there's no point waiting any longer. If you care, here's who I'll be voting for, and briefly why. I haven't included a scientific dissection of each candidate's pros and cons, though I'm happy to discuss this in more detail in the comments.

President: Erin Rennie - I talked about this in an earlier post. Notwithstanding Jeff's rebuke of Tim and I for endorsing her, Erin is the best person for the job. As posted on the Devil's Advocate, she sent out a release today assuring students that she's perfectly serious about taking the job and doing her best, if elected. She's qualified, she's a leader. Vote for your first choice - or else democracy's a sham. My first choice is Erin.

(And by the way - if this situation ("this situation" being the one where people are afraid of voting Rennie for fear of "splitting the vote" for their second-favorite candidate) drives you crazy, make sure to support a sensible voting system that prevents vote-splitting next time someone suggests one. This will be occuring in a month or so. So don't forget.)
The rest behind the jump.

VP Academic: Alex Lougheed - Alex's platform is solid. He's matured a lot in the last year. He's shown that he can work as a team player, he's conscientious, knowledgeable, and quite creative in his own way. I hope that Alex will continue to develop his internal sense of values, so that he can make decisions that are not only practical and beneficial for students, but also personally meaningful.

VP External: Stefanie Ratjen - Stef's experience in the UBC community with grassroots activism will help her connect her the VPX portfolio with students. She has strong opinions, but it looks like she'll ultimately be willing to take direction and be open. Stef's commitment to lobby on a provincial level is a good thing; her unclear overtures about using CFS in some way to do so need to be clarified.

VP Academic: Sarah Naiman - Sarah has been working very hard this year on the SUB renew project. She planned a successful consultation strategy, and successfully renovated the Pit with VP Finance Brittany Tyson. Watching Sarah speak to the Board of Governors this fall about SUB Renew made me feel proud of the AMS, and proud to be a UBC student. She's that convincing. Sarah will continue to do a good job on SUB renew, and she's promised to devote more time to restructure SAC, which I look forward to seeing.

VP Finance: Andrew Forshner - I've had the pleasure of working with Andrew this year. He's clever, practical, has financial experience, and is truly one of the best listeners I know. His commitment to sustainability in the businesses is appreciated.

Andrew Carne - Andrew has demonstrated his knowledge of campus development issues. His commitment to communicating with students is important. This year, students have demonstrated an increased interest in BoG decisions - it'll be great to capitalize on that momentum. I don't know him personally, but I have it on several good authorities that he impressed in the debates and can be trusted.

Tim Blair - Tim will bring a level of maturity to the Board. As an experienced naturalist, community activist, and professional engineer, Tim has both the right priorities and the necessary credibility to be an effective Board member. He knows alot about sustainability, and a lot about UBC planning issues. He'll be a credible champion of our open spaces and the Farm.

Senate: As others have mentioned, there's a great calibre of candidates this year.
Blake Frederick - Blake knows the issues inside out, having worked as the AVP academic for the AMS this year. He's already got important relationships that will be useful this year. He's truly thoughtful, and won't be a fair-weather senator.
Alex Lougheed - I agree with Brendon here. Alex is meticulous and detail oriented. He has some specific ideas about making student senators more effective and cohesive. While these might be a bit hard to achieve, the thought is a good one, and Alex himself will be a great senator.
Philip Edgcumbe - I am very impressed by Philip's platform. His two main ideas - recording lectures, and allowing students to challege the exam for a course - are both good and practical. The rest of his platform reads like a what's what of important academic issues. Philip has clearly done his homework, and done it well. He's young and keen, and will hopefully get the ball rolling on his ideas early.
Alfie Lee - Alfie has woked hard this year both on AMS and senate. His enthusiasm is appreciated. His platform points are all right-on. Study space, timely exam schedules, library hours, teacher training - damn slow senate processes!!
Azim Wazeer - Azim's platform looks good. The issue of the LPI and TOEFL is a new one, but the annoyance of having to take gazillions of standardized tests is not small for international students. I'm sceptical of Azim's recommendation about having grad students study at UBC for a year before letting them TA. Many grad students need TA positions to finance their graduate work, especially in their first year.


Issue of the day: The UNA - Interveiw with Mike Feeley

The UNA aren't the fat-cats we students like to imagine. The University Town Neighbourhoods are the five outlying areas of UBC's campus that have been leased out to private developers for the purpose of building high-end residential neighbourhoods, and thereby growing UBC's financial endowment. The university has envisioned these neighbourhoods as part of making UBC a "complete community" in which people live and work sustainably. They've set (and met) ambitious goals to have 50% (I think) of the neighbourhoods inhabited by people that teach and work at UBC. Students on the other hand, see the neighbourhoods and their inhabitants as a manifestation of the privatization and selling-out of our land to build a suburb completely separate from the University's academic mission. There's truth in both perspectives.

The University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) is the pseudo-municipal council for people living in the University Town neighbourhoods. It is often the target of student ire, being stereotypically branded by students as one of the reasons UBC is "selling out," screwing over students, and generally going to the dogs. Now I know it's a shocker, but stay with me: the residents of the University Town neighbourhoods don't necessarily represent competing interests to those of students; in fact, they experience many of the same problems we as students have with the governance structure of UBC.

I sat down with UNA board member and UBC engineering prof Mike Feeley a month ago to try and dig down and find the kernel of truth behind the hyped-up animosity between students and U-town residents. And what I found was that it shouldn't even be there. One of the first things Mike said to me was that U town residents themselves are not the people that decided to develop that land. "Once the development happens, the relationship changes to one between people," he said. The UNA, though it approximates some functions of a municipal government (like garbage and noise regulation, running its own community centres and gardens, allocating the tax and levy for U Town residents) is in fact an opt-in society constituted under the Society Act of BC, and completely subject to the jurisdiction of the UBC Board of Governors, much like the AMS.

Therefore, there is a formal problem of "taxation without representation" - the UBC BoG collects the property tax and services levy from the U Town residents, and then hands it to the UNA to spend. But, not all residents are members of the UNA due to voluntary membership, and the UNA itself is not formally represented on the BoG. It has always played a role as an "advisory board" to the BoG. There's a debate within the UNA as to whether formal representation, or the current role is in fact more effective in advocating for residents interests. So it's not completely cut and dry.

Some of the biggest issues the UNA looks at are

  • Running the Old Barn Community Centre (and the new community centre being built in South Campus)
  • Having control over "public" areas like gardens so that they are taken care of and planted with things that are appropriate for children and the community - not necessarily the way developers plan them.
  • Access to recreation facilities like the pool, rinks, and gyms, at cut-rate prices. (the UNA makes a contribution to the ancillary that runs them, UBC athletics, to the tune of 1/4 million a year)
  • Promoting community and volunteerism in the community.

There are some interesting dynamics at play in the UNA, I found out. On the UNA board, there are three appointed members - two from the university (AVP Planning, and AVP finance/business), and one from the AMS (the VP Academic). These members are controversial, since true municipal councils don't have appointed members. "Why students are there is a bit hard to understand," said Mike, "but they've brought a bit of energy to the board, and been tremendously helpful to our shared interests with students. The relationship with the AMS is tremendously important." The elected seats on the UNA board, (which will increase in number as the neighbourhoods grow) are dominated by members of the U Town community that are work at UBC - and by talking to Mike, these people are hardly emblems of capitalist treachery.

Hawthorne Place, the neighbourhood that was built over the old parking lot across from Totem Park, has proven to be quite a surprise in many ways. The university expected the type of people that would purchase there to be wealthy empty nesters. In fact, 70% of the residents in Hawthorne are faculty and Staff and UBC and from 700 families that live there, there are 650 children. Three main community dichotomies exist in the community: university connected/not; new immigrants/not; and families with kids/no kids, older. In Hawthorne, anyway, it seems that the younger university-connected set is the most involved, and thus has most of the political influence in the UNA. The character of Hampton place is quite different though, and it remains to be seen what sort of community emerges in the South Campus neighbourhoods.

It has to be noted, that though UBC has been successful in ensuring that many faculty and staff are able to live in the U Town developments, the same cannot be extended to students. Mike Feeley: "If you're a faculty member, you can barely afford to live here. If you're a student, you can't. If you're a labourer, work for plant-ops, a secretary - you're living in Surrey. I happen to think that's wrong, and it's a problem we need to address." There are three buildings in Hawthorne that were actually co-developments reserved for faculty and staff only, and built without some of the fancier fixtures to allow for more affordable price points. Mike lives in one of these. He added that this problem is not one that just exists at UBC; it's the same problem Vancouver as a whole faces as land values increase and the city become less and less affordable.

To me this is something UBC needs to address pro-actively. These communities are now being constructed from scratch, and there's no reason not to do it right. By ensuring that affordable housing exists in the Neighbourhoods alongside the more expensive developments, UBC will go a long way to ensuring that U town is truly a complete, sustainable community. If students can participate in the community by living in it, you'll see all the animosity and us/them dissipating. As for the UNA, it's not clear if they're interested in lobbying for political advancements like affordable housing, forwarding the Governance Review, above their work on recreation, sustainability and community events - that'll be up to the leadership in the community. Here's hoping they will.

What the candidates say:

Erin Rennie: "Forge a fair relationship with the RCMP, the UNA, and the UBC Admin.Demand more legitimate governance at UBC."
Matt Naylor: "This past year we have been struggling with the continued alignment of student [sic] by the RCMP and others, such as the University Neighbourhoods Association. They need to learn that to be on a university campus means that, on occasion, students are going to be around."
Mike Duncan: Couldn't find anything.
Rodrigo Ferrari Nunes: Couldn't find anything.

Alex Lougheed: "The UNA has a new board chair this year. This means its a good time to make new relationships with them. However I question their position in the current governance model of UBC, and many of their attitudes towards students. I hope to change our relationship with them, and their perceptions of us so we have more common understandings, and can work together. If we were to lobby together, there is no way the administration could ever say no."
Nathan Crompton: Couldn't find anything.
Rob McLean: "The goal of 25% of students being able to be housed on campus is far too modest given our diversity. As a student who has lived in low-cost housing on campus for the last three years, I can attest to the need for more Fraser Halls and less Chaucers. In my opinion, if it isn’t for students of people related to the university (faculty or support staff), it does not belong near campus (especially on Wesbrook)!"


Saturday, January 19, 2008

January 17th: Debate photos and commentary.

One of the things people most frequently mention about UBC Insiders is that the posts are often wordy, and lacking in sass. This should remediate both of those.

photos and comments behind the cut (warning, there's lots!)

debates jan 17 2
Ubyssey staff Brandon Adams and Jesse Ferreras, huddling before the debates start. Or exchanging sweet nothings. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

debates jan 17 3
Michael Duncan secretly wishes that the Presidential election was, in fact, a big hair competition.

debates jan 17 4
confidential to DP: telling girls about the size of your hydrant is a bad idea.

debates jan 17 5
Che Allison's Head of Police forcibly ejects AUS President Stephanie Ryan.
I support the intention and the action and hope to see Stephanie more frequently bodily removed from things.

debates jan 17 6
Mike hones his "monkey see, monkey do" skills as Erin promises to fight the War on Fun.

debates jan 17 7
There was a point being made here, but I've forgotten it. Also, it's not a very good photo. I'm sorry.

debates jan 17 8
Maayan asks a question, as Shawn from Eat Cake erroneously thinks that he looks better in maroon.

debates jan 17 9
Brittany promised violence upon my person if I said anything mean about her, and I figure she'd be at least as thorough at that as she was as VPF...

debates jan 17 10
Brendon watches the debates as Jeff watches us. Because Jeff is watching us all.

debates jan 17 11
Paging Dr. Freud!

debates jan 17 12
I don't want his lucky charms.

debates jan 17 13
Chris Diplock, throwing down fresh rhymes and phat beats during the VPF debate.

debates jan 17 14
Sarah Naiman watches the debates while enjoying a "baby roll", one of the items on the Honor Roll's secret menu. It's made out of babies.

debates jan 17 15
Enraged at being caught in the act of eating a baby, Sarah goes after the wrong member of the media. Luckily, Brandon survived.

debates jan 17 16
Tough questions. Reasonably priced drinks. What more could you want in a debate?

debates jan 17 17
Stef Ratjen, VPX candidate that Jesse Ferreras has neatly disassembled.

debates jan 17 18
Freeman Poritz, VPX candidate that Jesse Ferreras has neatly disassembled.

debates jan 17 19
Some of the Senate candidates look away as Colin Simkus tries to serenade the moderator. Alex Lougheed is definitely taking mental notes.

debates jan 17 21
Being on the elections committee Listening to would-be senators read their resumes would also drive me to drinking. I hope Tariq comes out of this with an intact liver.


VFM and other media-themed updates.

Voting started yesterday (Friday). As you may have noticed, the system being used is the archaic and inflexible WebVote hosted on the UBC Student Services site, not the new AMSLink system purchased by the AMS this year, which is still not functioning. If you tried to vote, you may also have noticed that the VFM entrants are not yet on the ballot. The VFM administrator, Paul Gibson-Tigh to explains:

VFMs are not on the online ballot as of yet, because the deadline for entering the contest was today at 4pm. We didn't want to disadvantage the last minute entrants (of which there were a few) so we couldn't complete the list until the registration period had closed. I would call it a coordination error that I guess arose because the entry form was created before the election period was determined. People will still be able to vote in the contest, even if they have voted for candidates already, so I dont think there will be any problems. I'll keep you and the other 10 entrants posted on whats coming up if this causes any problems.
So don't worry - everyone will still be able to vote for their favorite VFMs. Still, this timing is highly unfortunate. Media cannot themselves be publicized and marketed to a campus of 50 000 people in a timespan of days. In turn, I doubt VFM will succeed in fuelling increased voter turnout this year. We've learned that some last-minute entries has been submitted however. True to form though, the VFM website has yet to be updated. Another point to note is that the new voting system (Interpolated Consensus Voting) that AMS council introduced for the media contest this year can't be administered on WebVote. The system is a little hard to understand, and I was planning a fabulous explanatory post, but don't worry, you don't need to know anything about it anymore. As Matthew Naylor amusingly noted last week (in a totally different context, but still) "democracy was narrowly averted". Too bad.

Some other media notes:
The Ubyssey printed an extensive elections supplement yesterday, with profiles of all the candidates. This is great. They've barely published any analysis or real campaign coverage. This is sad. To summarize our official student newspaper's coverage: 1. an article on joke candidate names; 2. an article on one specific joke candidate (the hydrant); 3. an "analysis"/opinion piece running one presidential candidate down.

This last piece is truly unfortunate. While it's nice that the Ubyssey is trying to make it's Friday magazine more dynamic by introducing articles that are not striclty news, but have some opinion mixed in, this patricular piece was NOT labeled as such. It's a bit jarring to read a heavily angled and editorialized article you think is supposed to be news, and to suddenly encounter the first person "I". Obviously, these shouldn't take the place of actual serious reporting, which has been totally absent in the Ubyssey's pages this campaign. The Ubyssey has formed a veritable gallery of photographers and news staff at every debate - so where's the coverage? Given the mismanagement of the VFM contest, most voters that have read anything at all will probably be going to the polls on the basis of the Ubyssey's inadequate and downright skewed coverage.


Friday, January 18, 2008

How the President is voting - Jeff Friedrich's ballot

Jeff Friedrich is the current AMS president. These are his words. (Cartoon by JJ McCullough):

Ok… not to add fuel to the endorsement fire- but endorsing joke candidates? Maayan and Timmy, I think you two can step up and make a real choice here. And nothing against Erin, but being a joke candidate affords you a lot of advantages in a campaign. I think Erin is great, but I’ve never been that convinced that she actually likes or understands the AMS very well. Saying that an AMS run version of ACF is unfortunate because it won’t be student run is false, on the first hand; and a real candidate would present a plan to make it’s management involve more students- a perfectly reasonable platform point.

Also- elections aren’t fun. The type of people who should probably win them aren’t often the same type of people who thrive on the shameless self promotion necessary in campaigns. The one reflection I had about them is that they can be incredibly educational. I learned a lot about the AMS from my campaign- about student’s perceptions of it’s relevance and about how your ideas and vision resonate with membership.

So aside from congratulating all of the candidates for the bravery it takes to put your name forward, one message I’d have to all candidates is to hang in there, miss a few more days of class, and to learn what you can. And to the rest of you- cut them a bit of slack. It’s absolutely brutal to go home at the end of the day and read anonymous comments that are rude and unproductive.

President (this one is longer- I felt I owed it to Matt and Mike, both people I respect for their commitment to the AMS)

The most important job a President has is building a team that respects each other and their relationship with council. Finding shared priorities, particularly within staff and the exec team, and ideally with council, leverages the contacts, abilities, and momentum of many students and makes projects happen.

The reality is that the President portfolio is awkwardly defined- you get everything (internal, external, political, and management) and nothing. You’re not a CEO, and you can’t necessarily demand action from independently elected VP’s. You have a relationship with a council that is likely too large, has clumsy structure, grandiose debate, and whose members have to balance the political interests of their respective constituencies with their fiduciary obligations to everyone’s student union- the AMS.

That means the strength and effectiveness of your leadership is fundamentally dependant on how well you build consensus and use the governance structure of the AMS to build energy and commitment to projects. Just because it’s called “President” doesn’t necessarily mean there is an overly rigid hierarchy. I’m not sure everyone appreciates that.

[Endorsements behind the jump - Ed]
Quite frankly, I do not have confidence that Matt’s leadership style, ability to receive feedback, and judgment are well developed enough to lead an exec team or a large and complex organization like the AMS. If Matt had more ability as a team player, that would be demonstrated as support and endorsements from members of his exec team or from previous exec who have worked with him. Matt might be a future AMS President, but I don’t think he’s ready yet.

Matt’s ideas are also underdeveloped. It’s mostly status quo and the things he added as priorities don’t sit well with me. Liquor law lobbying might sound nice, but I doubt we’d gain much from ABLE membership, and most of the other ideas seem like they haven’t received feedback from people who might understand the practical challenges. It’s surprising to me that liquor would get a similar quantity of platform ink as discussions around student access, debt, and academic quality.

I have a hard time believing the message about empowering council. That’s a very hard thing to do- something we need to do, but nonetheless very difficult. It means more than working with the allies you have on council, which I think is how Matt has conceptualized the issue to himself.
Please appreciate how difficult it is for me to say that, and please don’t interpret my comments as being overly critical of Matt as a person.

Matt campaigns well. So far he has done this better than Mike. Which is disconcerting, because one of the reasons I support Mike is that I believe he has an ability to motivate student attention towards a referendum campaign for SUB that could be transformative for the organization, the U-Blvd project, and for the needs of a largely commuter based and disengaged student population. The groundwork is there but the route to referendum is challenging, and someone will need to build a very effective case to convince students. Mike needs to show through his campaigning that he is that person.

So pick it up Mike. Find a passion that is about ideas rather than “the next natural step” in student leadership. It’s there. Your ideas on athletics and involvement are important. I’ve worked with you on projects and know you’ve got an ability to motivate passion in others, and you’re organized in how you delegate tasks and manage projects. Mike is approachable and amenable to changing tack when decisions go astray. He has strong relationships with, and respect from, the university administration and the staff in our organization.

For those concerned readers of The Knoll and other members of the fledgling yet always inspired activist community at UBC (much love)- Mike has more political depth than you’re likely to give him credit for: I met Mike 4 years ago when he was helping organize Farmade, a cause I know he’s committed to. My guess is that he’ll have an approach with a VP External/Academic that is largely hands-off- meaning the political ambitions of the AMS will largely be guided by these portfolios in the coming year.
Mike Duncan is absolutely the person for the job.

The rest:

Alex Lougheed- VP Academic
Chris Diplock- VP Finance
Sarah Naiman- VP Admin (Sarah is exceptional)
Stef Ratjen- VP External

Senate - outstanding caliber of candidates this year…

I’m excited by, and you should vote for....

  • Blake Frederick (is qualified to be VP Academic)
  • Alfie Lee
  • Azim Wazeer (great focus on LPI- an issue which hasn’t gotten as much discussion as it should)

Can do the job, but I honestly don’t know enough about their platforms…

  • Aidha Shaikh
  • Colin Simkus

You should vote for one of these if you’re voting for them for VP Academic (it will help build a better relationship between the Caucus and AMS council)…

  • Alex Lougheed or Rob Maclean
I don’t know them, but their material looks professional and/or I’ve heard positive things about them…
  • Eileen Harder
  • Phillip Edgecumb

Board of Governors

Andrew Carne (good answers at the debate)
Tim Blair
Bijan is a close third for me.


Endorsement: Erin Rennie for the win!

Erin Rennie. The posture of a winner! Photo Gerald Deo

Tim beat me to the punch, but I swear my draft was here first. I decided to vote for Erin Rennie yesterday at around 12:15. Tim's got good reasons to choose her; I feel similarly. She's got council experience, reams of brains, and a far better personality for leadership and engagement than either Matt or Mike. It doesn't take much to see through some of her more humorous polemics to realize that Erin actually gets politics, and gets students. She wont be beset by her adversaries' respective problems. Problems which to me, are a fair bit too serious to just hold your nose and vote for. She's the best for the job. Simple enough. Other people have told me that while Erin Rennie is the best candidate, there's no point endorsing her because she can't win. To this I call bullshit. Look to the sidebar poll - yeah it's utterly unscientific, but I don't think people were joking when they chose Erin in the poll. Erin for the Win!!

My other endorsements coming soon.


TLG's Guide to Voting

Now don’t go and get your knickers in a knot – these aren’t endorsements. Far be it from me to, from the comfort of my 26th-story office, pass judgment on candidates I barely know, in an election in which I am ineligible to cast a vote. So rather than saying whom to vote for, I’ll go through questions to ask yourself when making up your own mind.

But first, a little indulgence:

Vote for Erin Rennie!
This is based on one simple principle: vote for the person who’s best for the job. I’ve worked, to varying degrees, with many of the candidates and, quite frankly, Erin’s the best. For serious. She’s got the competence, and a level of energy rivals even that of Mike Duncan, and doesn’t scream “give me attention!” She has probably achieved just as much in terms of improving students’ campus experiences as any other candidate. Most importantly, when she cares about something, she does it. She doesn’t form a committee, or make grand proclamations – she just does it. And that’s a quality we should strive for in leaders.

So, I can hear it now. “She’s running as a joke!” “She has a meagre platform!” “She doesn’t want the job!” All true (as far as I know). But I can only respond by quoting someone smarter than all of us: Plato. “The State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.” The best ruler is the reluctant ruler. You don’t want a ruler who’s in it for personal publicity or attention, or the gratification of getting love from the people that they couldn’t get from their father. Governing well and governing loudly are often incompatible; you want to elect a person who will govern well, and govern quietly. And when that person doubles as the best candidate, I happen to think the voting decision is remarkably easy.

Read my “how to make a voting decision” thoughts behind the jump.

The way this works is as a series of questions. I don’t have the answer – you do. Think of it as a filter through which to evaluate candidates, a lens through which to view them to decipher the identical Blogspot campaign sites and Facebook campaign groups.

What Have they Done?
The emphasis here is on “DONE.” They can probably list a zillion qualifications and committees and memberships – who cares? Find out what they’ve actually done with those opportunities. There’s nothing worse than a person who’s given a position of power and influence, then wastes it.

“I will change/improve AMS Council”If they were already on Council, why haven’t they done so already?
If they weren’t on Council, why not? Do they have a clue how it works? (Not to suggest that sitting on Council is a pre-requisite for executive. There can be a good answer to this question that makes them even more electable.)

“I will fight for better consultation with students”If you’ve ever seen them in a leadership role, have they personally consulted with students? Have they shown any inclination to consult themselves, or do they substitute their own views for those of “students”? It’s my experience that those who don’t consult are often useless advocates for the same.

Policy Priorities
Sure, policy priorities can be important. But this year, they’re not. There’s no significant ideological cleavage, no real debate on the merits of any particular issue or perspective. Most of the candidates are pretty much the same When they’re the same, don’t ask whether or not you agree with their opinion – instead, ask yourself if the candidate came to their opinion logically, and whether they expressed their opinion well. I don’t care if a candidate believes X over Y, I prefer if the candidate will, as they gain experience over the year, come to recognize that Y is preferable to X. And their logical reasoning is more important than their opinions.

Big Ideas
A lot of candidates have specific concrete ideas. Ignore them. Ideas fail and succeed for reasons far beyond their control, and, quite frankly, I don’t want a candidate who forces his ideas on the AMS machinery.
Instead, ask where that idea is coming from. Ask yourself why they identified this as a priority, and whether or not the fact that this is their idea illuminates a particular principle for which they stand. I call this the “Naiman Theory.” Her idea of a TV screen in the SUB showing UBC YouTube videos was rather silly, but the principle behind it, of giving students a stake in their own building and an outlet for their creativity was genius. And the principle is worth supporting, if not the idea.

Do they Play Well With Others?
No, this isn’t a popularity contest. But at the same time, some weight has to be given to their ability to work within a team. Most importantly, look at when they disagree. Do they disagree constructively, or do they go out of their way to antagonize others? Never, ever elect the latter. A year with a dysfunctional executive can have ramifications for years thereafter.

So these are the questions I tend to ask myself when voting, AMS or otherwise. They make it fun. And sometimes support prima facie absurd results – vote for Rennie!