UBC Student Union block BC Liberals from participating in debate

Yesterday, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver held an all candidates debate. Considering that a provincial election is getting underway a university hosting a debate is normal, but nothing about how this debate was handled was “normal”.

Why? Because the AMS barred the BC Liberal representative from participating in the “all-candidates” debate, because they claimed they only wanted candidates from Vancouver-Point Grey: meaning Premier Christy Clark or no one.

Let’s accept for a moment that the Premier has the ability to schedule and commit to such an event (even though no Premier – Socred, NDP or Liberal – has ever participated in a local all candidates debate), how much notice would you expect the AMS to give? 2 days? No, of course not. You would expect notice to be given 2 months in advance. However, the AMS emailed the Premier’s constituency office over the Easter long weekend to confirm her attendance at the all candidates debate that happened yesterday (Tuesday).

I don’t think anyone would assume that work emails are checked over the long weekend. So, the AMS essentially gave same days notice. To be fair, the AMS says that they had sent an email 3 weeks ago, but that their servers ended up blocking it. The mistake was noticed, and so as mature individuals the story should end here, but it doesn’t.

Christy Clark could obviously not make the all candidates debate with same days notice; however, in the email the AMS sent over the weekend they had asked for either the Premier to attend OR for a designate. This is standard practice.

Even though they only had an afternoon’s notice the BC Liberals arranged for Vancouver-Quilchena candidate Andrew Wilkinson to attend as Premier Clark’s representative. Considering at this point that the AMS had made several mistakes you would think that they would be grateful that the party was being accommodating and trying to make the event a success. That’s what any rational person would do. It doesn’t seem that the AMS was in a rational mood.

The AMS decided that their previous email (sent two days prior) was void and that it was Premier Clark or nothing. So when Dr. Wilkinson came to the all candidates’ debate to represent the BC Liberals he was told that he could not participate. Instead, he sat in the audience as every other political party had representation on stage, and had to listen as they bemoaned the lack of BC Liberal participation.

The AMS says that they exclude the BC Liberals to uphold the integrity of the debates. This argument makes no sense. Integrity would be allowing for students to get exposure to the opinions of all parties’, to ask questions of all parties’, and to see each party’s stance in juxtaposition to one another. The moment that the AMS decided to be politically discriminatory the all candidates’ debate became an absolute sham.

Some people may take seriously the boundary divisions of candidates – where they represent their riding – but to exclude political participation on such a narrow idea is inconsistent with modern democracy. During the debate Shane Woodford (of CKNW) tweeted that when David Eby, who represents the BC NDP, was asked about the BC Education platform, Eby’s response was that he would have to wait for the BC NDP party platform to be released before answering.

I am not criticizing David Eby’s response, because until the platform has been decided nothing that Eby says will have any real meaning. I use this exchange to illustrate that even if you get the politician from a specific riding it doesn’t mean that they will give a more substantial answer than a candidate from the neighboring riding. Now, this statement should be taken within reason – if Dr. Wilkinson was from Maple Ridge he might not understand anything about the UBC experience; however, his riding is Vancouver-Point Grey’s and UBC’s neighbour, and as such Dr. Wilkinson represents a plethora of student issues – transit along 41st is an issue for thousands of students, and education (which is honestly something that matters to every student across the whole province). I cannot see how being dogmatic about restricting political representation based on a narrow definition of a riding (such as Point Grey) helps students. It seems like nothing more than trying to justify political discrimination.

All BC NDP, BC Liberals, and BC Greens candidates will be representing their respective party platforms in debates, to expect anything else is to be in denial of how our democratic system operates. Now, you could take issue with this reality, but I don’t think anyone would argue that the debates would have been more productive had the BC NDP not been able to participate. The point of the all candidates’ debate is to have these platforms articulated and questioned so that citizens can draw their own conclusions. When you take out representation of a specific political party from this part of the democratic process you remove the legitimacy of the all candidates’ debates. In the end citizens lose. In this case, the AMS’ actions disregarded all UBC students, and robbed them of what might be their only chance to question the BC Liberals. Such a disgrace should not be tolerated.

The AMS should feel ashamed of themselves. I know from experience, I served as the UBC AMS VP External for one year, that the organization’s thinking and culture tends to be insular. However, students should demand a certain level of professionalism, diplomacy, and respect from their elected officials. This wasn’t about student politics; it was about helping UBC students engage in the democratic process. The AMS and its executives should only facilitate the interaction between students and democracy, to do anything otherwise is reprehensible.


Written by Katherine Tyson, a Guest Contributor to Vancity Buzz. Katherine currently studies at the University of British Columbia. She was the former President of the BC Young Liberals and the Vice-President External of the UBC Alma Mater Society. You can connect with Katherine on Twitter at @KatherineTTyson.

Featured photo credit: Diamond Isinger


The response from Twitter throughout the evening: