Race: VP External

The Vice-President External, is the person who, if doing a good job, isn’t around on campus much. Responsible for advocating to the provincial and federal governments as well as other student societies, the VPX is one of the most difficult roles to enter in to without a strong understanding of the Canadian student movement and provincial/federal politics.

Included under the portfolio are things relating to the life of a student that government exercises quite a bit of control over. Included are: transportation (U-Pass), University financing and access (financial assistance, tuition), childcare (split with the VP Academic), cost-of-living.

Last year’s issues seem to have been smoothed out. The Olympics, well, they happened and won’t be happening again soon. Rather than flip-flopping yet again on CASA membership, the AMS is will be hosting the next CASA general meeting in March. The foundation for a new BC lobby group, the Alliance of BC Student Associations, has almost been laid, and building this group up will take a lot of work, but if all goes well, will pay much higher dividends in future years.

The UBC Line project will still need a lot of work. Should the next VPX continue the strategy of arguing that the Surrey and UBC lines should be of equal priority and should be viewed as complementary projects, this will require twice the work, as it means being closely involved with all of the Surrey skytrain planning as well. The second round of both consultations are upcoming. However, it could be decided that a new direction is needed to give the campaign another kickstart. On the other side of the coin, improving transit now means working with the City of Vancouver to coordinate light cycles and increase HOV lane hours (like during the Olympics) to reduce congestion and improve travel times along the Broadway corridor.

On the provincial level, the new VPX will get a fresh start given all the upheaval that has happened. This isn’t necessarily good, since lobbying takes time and previous efforts mostly go out the window. Most of the work happening now, however, is trying to get pledges on post-secondary education from the leadership hopefuls. Candidates have made various promises regarding post-secondary education but the place where everyone seems receptive has been the issue of student loan reform. Continuing to carefully press ahead on that is the best hope for some short-term success. How to deal with the province now that they directly oversee governance on the campus should also be a priority, which is why we asked the candidates (answers below).

One final note: we’d still like to see the return of a Policy Analyst to the AMS. The last one… well, HR issues are supposed to be discussed in camera. The policy analyst position has been vacant for almost a year, but just because the person is gone doesn’t mean the position should be.

Candidate Profiles

Name: Mitch Wright
Age: 21
Year: 4
Faculty and program: Arts, Political Science
Years on campus: 4
Past campus involvement: AUS General Officer (2007-08), Arts AMS Rep (2008-2009), AMS VFM Administrator (2009), Research Assistant (Dr. Chris Kam, Poli Sci, 2009-2010), UBC Spectator Editor (2009-2010), AMS AVP External (2010-Present).
Past non-campus involvement: Used to volunteer on the occasional federal NDP campaign until 2nd year when I decided to cease party politics. I was also a President of a local Amnesty International chapter when I lived in the United States, but have regrettably not been as involved with the organization since.

1) It’s reasonably likely that a new BC student organization, the Alliance of British Columbia Student Associations, will soon become a reality. As VP External of the largest BC student union, what do you foresee being your role within ABCSA?

Our External office has spent the past months working with other schools to set up this group, and I myself have been involved in preparing original, in-depth research on key issues that affect the cost of education. I look forward to sharing this crucial lobbying framework with other schools and creating comprehensive material to bring to government officials to fight to make education more affordable and accessible not only at BC, but across the province.
We are certainly not alone in the financial difficulties we face as students, and I’m very excited to partner with other student unions to make our case on issues like tuition, child care, student financial assistance, and transit. Policy-makers can easily ignore groups that present no compelling case for reform, but armed with nuanced, unique lobbying documents outlining the simple fact that education is more expensive than it has ever been in BC will allow ABCSA to be remarkably effective at achieving the goals that we decide to push for.

2) What is the role of the AMS on the federal stage? On the provincial stage?

On the federal stage, we have to continue the healthy relationship we have with CASA. Our relationship with them became strained under a past AMS Executive team, and it put us in a much weaker position for federal lobbying. We are a crucial member of CASA, and the group is in a much more advantageous position to effect change in federal policy than we would be on our own. Additionally we need to work closely with local MPs and ensure they not only have an understanding of the issues affecting the affordability and accessibility of UBC, but that they are willing to be advocates on our behalf in Ottawa.
The provincial stage is a different story, with the CFS as the sole lobby group that BC student unions can opt to join. As mentioned above, the AMS has been heavily involved in setting up a new lobby group that will treat its members with greater respect, and allow for better dialogue in crafting lobbying strategies and research. The AMS needs to ensure that this group gets off to a great start and I have confidence that it will become a crucial player in shaping post-secondary education policies for years to come.

3) How does the AMS’s relationship with the provincial government change given that they are now directly in charge of municipal governance at UBC?

Now that the Board of Governor’s is effectively a city council for UBC, with oversight from the Ministry, we no longer have an accountable, democratic body (Metro Van) to work with to ensure governance issues take into account the interests of students. With the Ministry able to rubber-stamp the decisions of the Board, we need to establish effective working relationships with the Minister, Deputy Minister and staff.

It is this small group of people, unfamiliar with issues like housing and changing bylaws, that the AMS must cooperate with to ensure that the decisions of the Board of Governors do not go against the interests of students. We have the opportunity to inform them, through both the offices of the VP External and VP Academic and University Affairs, of what governance issues affect students the most, and what the Ministry can do to help students.

Name: Katherine Tyson
Age: 21
Year: 3rd Year
Faculty and program: Arts, Honours Political Science with International Relations, minor in
Past campus involvement: Two term Arts AMS Rep; University and External Relations Committee Chair; Two term AUS Councillor; AUS VP Finance committee; 2010 AUS Budget committee; VP External of the PSSA; 1st/2nd year Rep PSSA; Debate 101 workshop coordinator; 2011 MNATO Delegation; Liu Institute: Member and volunteer for Transitional Justice Network, International Development Research, and Coordinating Team Volunteer for Corporate Social Responsibility; Work Study with UBC Career Services as Employment and Campus Relations Assistant
Past non-campus involvement: Equal Voices member and mentorship program; Member of Amnesty International; Member of the Canadian International Council; University Model Parliament: current Vice-President, 2010 Secretary, 2009 Treasurer; Volunteer with UNICEF; Lobbying for Sustainable treatment plant in Victoria; President of the Gay and Straight Alliance; Internship with the Department of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages in Ottawa

1) It’s reasonably likely that a new BC student organization, the Alliance of British Columbia Student Associations, will soon become a reality. As VP External of the largest BC student union, what do you foresee being your role within ABCSA?

The formation of a BC student organization is dependent upon a number of factors, but chief among them is the financing necessary for its implementation. If the funding structure can be secured it would be a beneficial organization to be part of, but the University and External Relations Committee and AMS Council will need to see if there is the available monetary support for the Alliance of British Columbia Student Associations. We will also need to look at the partner schools and their willingness to contribute funds for this union. UBC can be
a leader in the ABCSA, but cannot be a leader of one. It is necessary to have equal levels of contributions for there to truly be a partnership between the schools, which would then translate into an appropriate and democratic working relationship. As VP External, I will promote the founding of such an organization, but only in so far as it is an effective and useful tool for furthering the policies that are important to the students of the province and of our university.

2) What is the role of the AMS on the federal stage? On the provincial stage?

Provincially, the AMS represents a significant plurality of students in BC. This provides us with the leverage necessary to implement reforms that lift the burden off of students. Establishing and maintaining a dialogue with the provincial government is a necessary part of our work but this year, and in future years, we must push for a truly beneficial system where the seriousness with which our voice is taken reflects the large, diverse and important constituency we represent. Our role this year must be lobbying for reform to the Student Loan Program, securing funds for the future UBC Line, a governance structure that involves students, increased investment in childcare infrastructure, a greater amount of student housing, streamlining of visas for International Students, more research money for our graduate students, and better financial assistance for both domestic and international students.

Federally, we have benefited from increased information from our involvement in CASA and had opportunities to pressure the government to transfer more educational funding to BC. This should be our focus on the federal stage, but given the current financial situation of the AMS our lobbying efforts will need to be reevaluated to guarantee that we are getting the best results for our money.

3) How does the AMS’s relationship with the provincial government change given that they are now directly in charge of municipal governance at UBC?

After the split with Metro Vancouver last year the provincial government has become our interim governmental oversight as they establish a new governance model at UBC. As was done with the Land Use Plan, any complaints that the AMS has about how the university is functioning can be delivered to the provincial minister. The greatest change with the province being our oversight and creating a municipal governance model is in how the AMS lobbies for the creation of this governance structure. The AMS must make sure that the province has adequate student representation at all stages of developing this municipal governance system. There needs to be strong lines of communication with the province to ensure that, in the coming years, a governance model is created that has strong student representation.

Editor’s Note

The third candidate, Rory Breasail, did not submit a profile in time.


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