Letter: The AMS is hiding important bylaw changes in referendum question one

From Monday, March 5 to Friday, March 10, students will be voting for five new AMS executives, six SLFS Board directors, five senators-at-large and two student governors. Among all of these individuals vying for elected office, it’s easy to miss some of the referendum questions on the ballot this year.

One of the four questions being posed to students includes the question "Do you support and approve amending the AMS Bylaws in accordance with the changes presented as ‘Bylaw Changes 2023 - Indigenous Constituency and Miscellaneous Changes'?”

On March 1 at the annual elections Indigenous forum, the AMS Indigenous Committee spoke in support of the referendum. The new constituency would allow for Indigenous students across campus to connect and collaborate and allow for more support for all of those groups within a constituency structure.

This is a long overdue task for the AMS and one that I believe students should support unequivocally. That’s not the problem.

This referendum item groups governance changes that should be made clear to students with the creation of the Indigenous Constituency.

“Miscellaneous Changes” are included in this governance package, showing clear politicking within the AMS. Among items that aim to reduce the size of AMS Council, these changes will expand the influence of the AMS President’s Office.

“Bylaw Changes 2023” will give the AMS president the opportunity to liaise with constituencies and manage the vice-presidents, according to The Ubyssey. The changes also add the word “manage” to the bylaw which then allows AMS presidents to “assist, advise, and manage the Vice-Presidents in the duties of their offices.”

This blatantly ignores the principles of democracy and responsible governance, and the ability of students to choose the direction of the AMS.

Every elections season, we hear from candidates on the direction they plan to take their respective office in if they are elected. We cast our votes based on whose platform we believe is most beneficial for our student society, and we expect AMS Council to hold our executives accountable to their campaign promises by way of their executive goals.

These governance changes give the AMS president oversight that students do not elect them for. According to this year’s Guide to Elections, the president is “responsible for ensuring everything at the AMS is running smoothly,” while being the key AMS spokesperson for students. Presidents are not elected to institute their external advocacy policy or to personally and unilaterally manage our student funds. That is the role of the vice-presidents.

This bylaw change would grant the president control of all aspects of the executive team. This calls into question why we have individual elections for vice-presidents in the first place, if the president can ultimately control each portfolio. It’s undemocratic and contradictory to the AMS’s supposed devotion to proper student representation and advocacy.

Students should be given the opportunity to vote on large-scale changes to the AMS — especially changes to the role of executives — individually from other referendum items. The wording of the referendum question as “miscellaneous changes” and “bylaw changes” ignores the significant structural changes this referendum will bring, which shows a lack of transparency toward constituents.

I would like to reiterate the creation of an Indigenous Constituency is a great step forward for the AMS and UBC-at-large, and furthering collective goals of Indigenous representation and reconciliation. The issue here lies separately from discussion of the possibility of an Indigenous Constituency. The sole problem with this referendum is with its “miscellaneous changes,” which are not miscellaneous in any sense. The AMS’s hiding of important code and bylaw changes behind matters of reconciliation is unacceptable. The aforementioned bylaw change is one I feel all students should be made aware of.

We elect these students and we, at the very least, should be afforded transparency in how our student society is managed.

Daniel Anene-Akosa is a second year commerce student, former member of the CUS First Year Committee and serves on the SLFS board.

This is an opinion letter. It does not reflect the opinions of The Ubyssey as a whole. You can submit an opinion at ubyssey.ca/pages/submit-an-opinion.