AMS Council: October 21, 2009

Highlights from tonight:

  • AMS serves intent to leave CASA as of April 1, 2010
  • Committee Reform Proposal

UBC Thrive Week Presentation

UBC Thrive Week will take place November 2-6 all over campus. It is an event to promote health and wellness on campus.

Highlight: Breakfast Cooking Show with Professor Toope on Nov 2. Students are also encouraged to run their own events if they have any ideas.

Sustainability Academic Strategy Presentation

Anthony Smith, a geography alumnus who was the AMS rep for developing UBC’s Sustainability Academic Strategy gave a presentation about the process and the results. It was some very high-level stuff but a summary is unnecessary because the website linked above has more info than I could ever provide. What people may be interested in is the ability to comment on the South Campus Academic plan which is crucial to develop properly for the long-term preservation of the UBC Farm.

The AMS passed a motion to “endorse the recommendations of the Draft Sustainability Academic Strategy Discussion Paper as presented.”

Committee Reform

Matt Naylor presented a whole slew of proposed Code changes to clean up the way AMS committees work. It was a veritable whirlwind of changes. It includes housecleaning things like changing some committee names to better reflect what they do, to more substantive changes about how the whole thing is structured. I honestly couldn’t really follow it that well. They took a straw poll about it at the end and councilors showed strong support for the committee reform. KatDov will have to tell you more about this in her recap when it comes out.

Discussion Period on CASA

A brief history of the AMS’s CASA membership:

Nov 1994 – Joined in principle
Aug 1995 – Joined officially
Feb 1996 – Withdrew from CASA
June 1998 – Rejoined
Jan 1999 – Referendum held but didn’t meet quorum
Oct 2008 – Moved to associate membership
Oct 2009 – Here we are

Earlier today, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations sent out a letter claiming that the motion was out of order because they did not comply with CASA’s membership rules.

Almost immediately Geoff Costeloe asked about the timeline and whether CASA’s letter affected this evening’s proceedings. Dave Tompkins, speaker of council weighed in with his interpretation that in order to fulfill CASA’s requirement for 30 days’ notice, a decision would have to be made first and that it was in order for this debate to go forward. Adrienne Smith, the AMS’s Policy Advisor on staff also did not put much weight in CASA’s letter, but giving the advice that to be safe, the AMS should post-date the motion to remain members until April 1, 2010.

Geoff then wanted to know how such a major communication breakdown occurred. Adrienne said it was due to unclear communication related to the fact that CASA had two constitutions and appeared to be operating on some hybrid of the two. It would have been extremely difficult to know what the actual regulations CASA was operating under.

Mike Silley asked why the AMS withdrew in 1996. Sheldon Goldfarb, AMS archivist, said it was an issue about misappropriation of funds by an executive. Tom Dvorak asked whether we ever decided which of CASA’s constitutions the AMS aligned themselves with and whether they ever sought a legal opinion about the issue. Adrienne said we didn’t pick one constitution or the other because CASA appeared to be using a mix of both and that no lawyer was ever consulted.

CASA Motion

Original Motion:

Whereas the AMS has been engaged in independent federal lobbying efforts, incurring costs in addition to those funds paid CASA; and

Whereas the allocation of funds towards federal lobbying represents a proportion of the overall external relations budget disproportionate with the impact that the federal government has on post secondary education; and

Whereas there are insufficient concrete returns on investment to warrant continued CASA membership, and

Whereas significant AMS concerns with the constitution under which CASA is operating, most notably the fact that such a constitution was rejected by Industry Canada, have not been rectified in a timely manner; and

Whereas AMS efforts to reform CASA governance structures, or embark upon a process that would lead to the recommendation of such reforms, have not been treated as a priority by CASA; and

Whereas CASA’s efforts to develop campus-centered campaigns to complement more conventional lobbying efforts have been either insubstantial, ineffective or non-existent; and

Whereas AMS ability to steer the organization is incongruent with the AMS contribution to the organization; and

Whereas CASA institutional rules prevent the GSS from becoming a CASA member; and

Whereas the voting structure of the organization gives a disproportionate voice to regional voting blocs and;

Whereas the Member Driven Principle continues to remain undefined on an organization wide basis, and insufficient safeguards exist to prevent situations of excessive staff control or ensure that the priorities acted upon and the policy priorities reflect the will of the membership;

Therefore, be it resolved that the Alma Mater Society of the University of British Columbia – Vancouver cease its affiliation to the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations; and

Be it further resolved that the AMS remain unaffiliated to any federal lobbying organization, for no less than one year; and

Be it further resolved that if the AMS considers affiliation with an external lobbying organization, it negotiate with CASA first.

Tim Chu talked about AMS’s historical problems with organization, and its decision to step down to associate membership status last year. Tom Dvorak started by saying that despite the previous interpretations, another interpretation of CASA’s letter today was still that CASA needed appropriate notice before the debate could occur. He moved to table the motion until a legal opinion could be obtained.

Tahara Bhate said that legal opinions had already been rendered on CASA’s new constitution: Industry Canada rejected it and CASA refuses to acknowledge this. Having this discussion tonight is totally within our bounds. She wanted to figure it out, then give notice to withdraw once it’s complete. Matt Naylor also expressed his desire to do it tonight. Dave re-iterated his interpretation that intent to leave can only be given after we actually make some sort of decision about it. He also put up an email received from Arati Sharma, CASA’s national director, stating that CASA’s interpretation was different from his.

A few more people spoke, but the motion to postpone failed.

Tahara motioned change the first BIRT clause to change it from being an immediate withdrawal to making it an “intent to withdraw” on April 1, 2010. This passed with minimal debate.

Geoff Costeloe took the floor again and said he was ashamed to be part of an organization that acted so unprofessionally in dealing with other organization and seemed to sour relationships. The minutes of the October 8 CASA meeting seemed to indicate bad communication and misinformation. He asked Tim how often he was in contact with CASA. Tim answered once every 2-3 weeks, usually when CASA would contact him. Geoff contended that the poor relationship might be due to the fact that the AMS never really put much into the relationship. Part of Tim’s job is to maintain these relationships.

Mike Duncan then said some of the issues with CASA were immaterial, like staff involvement – AMS relies heavily on that too. But he expressed his support for leaving CASA. As a full member the AMS spent ~$70K/year (Tom said budget for this year as associate was ~$33K). Being in Western Canada the AMS doesn’t have a lot of sway about how things work. There are better ways to spend that money, particularly by improving provincial lobbying.

Blake claimed that when he first started with CASA, he went in with an open mind but after dealing with them for two years doesn’t think they offer enough to justify the contribution that the AMS makes. He said he didn’t think that CASA was useless, but that they did have problems. Blake mentioned he did indeed confirm that more money was spent on cellphones than member relations. He addressed Geoff Costeloe’s point about contact with CASA, saying that the schools that contact CASA often are the smaller ones. AMS is not one of the smaller ones; they already have their own policy advisor and communications managers on staff.

Mitch Wright said council should consider the problems the AMS as a society has, not Tim’s problems dealing with them. Hayden Hughes (AMS Ombuds) wanted to know how much was spent on provincial and federal lobbying outside of CASA. Tom looked it up but I missed the figures. Matt Naylor called the question, extremely early, and the call to question passed.

Council then went throughout the Whereas Clauses one by one. Although there was discussion, none of the Whereas clauses had any change at all. The main motion was voted on, and overwhelmingly passed 25-2.

What does this mean? With the change in wording to the AMS serving its intent to withdraw, nothing becomes official until April 1, 2010 – after the next exec turnover. Council can change its mind anytime before that with a 2/3rds majority. CASA is still of the opinion that the process behind this was illegitimate – who knows how they will follow up on that. Since the wording ended up being simply a notice of intent to withdraw, it should probably come back to council at some point for them to turn that intent into concrete action. But what happens over the next five months is anyone’s guess.

What was most frustrating was the lack of debate about this. Other than Geoff Costeloe, most of the debate was focused on the people on the external policy committee and then called to question by a member of that committee before others got a chance to speak to the motion – and predictably there was a sizable speaker’s list.

The massive chasm between council and the student body was evident here as well. Just last month, proponents of external lobbying were going on about how regular students were of the opinion that external lobbying was the AMS’s most important function. This was in order to win some more funding. Now, as far as I can tell, there was zero evidence on display that anyone even tried to explain the CASA issue to students, let alone try to get their opinion on it. If students care so much, it seems like an awfully big decision to ignore student input. So which is it: do students care or not? Is anyone actually going to bother trying to, geez I don’t know, take their time and talk to any of them? The AMS has months to mull it over but it apparently had to be rushed through at this meeting. My opinion is that this is one of those things that makes the AMS irrelevant to students. It’s only fair, because the AMS is making the students irrelevant to what it’s doing.

Blake’s Broadcast
MHPM held a seminar about project planning; spoke at rally for $25 U-Pass for post-secondary students.

Johannes’ Jargon
Meeting with David Hannigan about appointments review committee; working with UNA on governance; campus plan, LEAD initiative; academic quality committee talked about professor evaluations

Tom’s Tirade
AMS Win! UBC will list AMS Catering as an option to all of their conference clients; alumni assication work; dealing with people who want fee refunds after the fact; invitation from Student Care confrerence.

Crystal’s Chat
SUB architect selection has been postponed, still working on agreements and other process things; working on the baby changing table installation.

Tim’s Talk
CASA; U-Pass subsidy applications closed now, 524 applicants; cuts with coffee events, over 1000 postcards; Olympic transit plan was released, on UBC 2010 website; U-Pass transit service review meeting with Translink; meeting with SFSS; reviewing U-Pass subsidy applications; going to have awesome halloween costume

Pavani’s Prose
Helping with thrive week, suicide awareness; Wrapping up 2009 Shinerama; 2010 Student leadership conference planning; Met with AMS, GSS and UBC Advocacy/Ombuds offices.

Student Legal Fund Society
Matt Naylor, the AMS rep on the SLFS gave an update to mention that they had approved a funding application from the BC Civil Liberties Association in the amount of $18,550 to partner with them for Know Your Rights seminars and Legal Observer training for the Olympics on campus. The SLFS is funded by a $1 student levy. More coverage coming, hopefully.

Minutes and Discussion

Passed some minutes, and then had a discussion period about electoral reform. The two major issues were 1) Do we want to continue the ban on slates and 2) Should we do away with paper ballotting?

On the first issue it was of course mixed. Dave Tompkins and Sheldon Goldfarb gave some history and perspective of what life was like in the slate era. Andrew Carne, the one spearheading the look at electoral reform, made it clear that the slates issue needed clarification regardless of what happened. It was just a matter of what direction to go? Ban slates and work on better defining what exactly a slate is? Or allow slates but make sure they are somehow formalized. A straw poll showed 11 councilors in favour of removing the slate ban, 8 against with 4 abstaining. Certainly not much help in what direction to go.

On the second issue, there was broad support for getting rid of paper balloting, provided the money saved could go to more advertisement and awareness. It was also proposed to continue to set up tables to provide visibility with computer terminals for voting. The visibility would be very useful, but without having to produce and count ballots would still save a large chunk of resources.

A second discussion period was initiated to prod people to participate in the Campus Plan Consultations, which ends tomorrow.

Adjournment right at 10, without any need to extend. Sweet.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. You can never completely do away with paper balloting, for accessibility reasons, and because it would disenfranchise some AMS members (VST, Reagent, who do not have CWLs).

    It would save the Elections Committee a lot of logistical grief, but I’d have to look at the numbers to see whether or not it’d be worth it.

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | October 22, 2009, 2:26 am
  2. I’m going to really quickly comment on the elections reform as that’s what I know best. This comes out of the fact that I was on the Elections Committee when we brought back paper balloting to replace mobile laptop stations back in Jan of 2006.

    I think having the paper ballots is fully justified (or at least was after our run with it) based on weighing its cost versus its relative benefit. Granted, it costs more than online polling, but it also brings in far more people, and far more marginalized students, over a given time then does online polling. Laptop stations had been tried before and they hadn’t had a similar result.

    As for cost, running laptop stations (for which you need computers, tables, power cords, volunteers, security, etc) is not much cheaper than having paper ballot stations (for which you need volunteers, tables, paper ballots, and a ballot counting room in the SUB). In our year everything was run through volunteers who performed admirably. Also, paper ballot stations have the flexibility to be placed anywhere, including outside, where they are more visible and ‘in people’s way’. You can’t really have a voting station with laptops beside the bus loop.

    Then, Alex is also right in noting that you still need paper balloting for the non-CWL people. So, in the end, all you’ll really be saving is some overhead in terms of paper ballot quantity.

    I actually still have my 3,194 word report that I wrote at the end of my time as the Events and Logistics Officer (I was also the guy that crated that title due to my fondness of a band with the same acronym :P ). If anyone is interested in getting it and reading it, just let me know (Alex can contact me if you guys have no idea who I am). I have no idea if the AMS kept the hard copy that I submitted or if it is at all available to Council, but the more you know, the better. I hope.

    Posted by Peter Rizov | October 22, 2009, 6:08 am
  3. In March, 2003, the United States spent a lot of time publicly hand-wringing and pretending to question whether or not to invade Iraq. There was a show “meeting” at the UN where Colin Powell set out his “evidence”, and there was a consistent mis-information campaign designed to convince the public that Iraq was a threat. At the same time, the U.S. completely failed to consider, in good faith, a diplomatic solution, and avoided taking any steps that could have averted war. Naturally, Congress nearly unanimously voted to invade.

    Over time, people began to wonder what the actual motive was for invading Iraq, as it was clear that the flimsy rationale (WMDs) was unsupported. Some surmised that certain elements in the administration just wanted revenge and were driven by personal grudges; others pointed the finger at groupthink. People were legitimately divided on the issue of whether or not Iraq and the world was better without Saddam Hussein, but they all agreed that the U.S. handled it wrong. They should have been forthright from Day 1 about their real reason for wanting to go to war so badly.

    Now, six and a half years later, I suspect the U.S. people wish that the “invade Iraq” resolution passed by Congress had been revocable.

    I have no idea why that story came to mind. Sorry for such a profoundly irrelevant comment!

    Posted by Anon | October 22, 2009, 6:56 am
  4. Peter, you or anyone else interested in the electoral reform issue should comment here, or send feedback to Andrew Carne. His contact is on the sidebar and is eager to receive feedback.

    And Anon, you rock.

    Posted by Neal Yonson | October 22, 2009, 8:01 am
  5. I hope we have Peter’s report in the Archives. If anyone wants me to look for our copy, I can do that.

    As Peter indicates, there was a time when I ran elections (mostly) without paper balloting. We did have provision for paper voting for those who for whatever reason were unable to cast a vote electronically (firewalls on their computer; no computer; whatever). And yes, the Regent and VST people at one point had to have a special paper voting station because we couldn’t set up voting for them electronically through UBC’s system, but I thought that problem had been solved and that Regent and VST students are now able to vote electronically. Chris Eaton would know.

    Posted by Sheldon | October 22, 2009, 4:29 pm
  6. That’s an interesting Freudian slip I produced: I didn’t intend to say that I ran elections (Heaven forbid).

    Posted by Sheldon | October 22, 2009, 4:30 pm
  7. Why hello there, I was prompted by a friend to take a look at this conversation. Fascinating discusssion you’re all having; I shall refrain from commenting on any of it except to answer the good Dr Goldfarb’s question.

    I have no idea what the authentication capabilites of the AMS’ elections system are; years ago we did have a way of allowing VST and Regent students to vote online via the UBC webvote system though by using their own student numbers and assigned passwords via a different login page than that used for UBC students.

    Posted by Eaton | October 23, 2009, 2:04 am
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