Looking beyond the taglines

When the election dust settles, ‘character of those seeking office’ is more important than ‘polished election speeches or big ideas’

Outgoing AMS executives (from left to right) VP (University Affairs) Mori, VP (Operations) Minns and President Carman light cigars for incoming President Heisler, VP (Operations) Bonikowski and VP (University Affairs) Cocker. Team HBC won the student vote in 2000 with a campaign tagline: “The JDUC sucks!”
Outgoing AMS executives (from left to right) VP (University Affairs) Mori, VP (Operations) Minns and President Carman light cigars for incoming President Heisler, VP (Operations) Bonikowski and VP (University Affairs) Cocker. Team HBC won the student vote in 2000 with a campaign tagline: “The JDUC sucks!”
Journal File Photo
Ahmed Kayssi
Ahmed Kayssi


AMS elections are a busy time on campus. Classes are frequented by campaigning teams eager to
garner votes with carefully-crafted sound bites. Flyers and glossy posters are printed and distributed by the thousands, reaffirming the candidates’ love and enthusiasm for all things Queen’s.

In most jurisdictions, elections are issue-driven. On our campus, however, they tend to be more a
test of the candidates’ popularity than their policy goals for the student movement. In a way, that’s
not such a bad thing. That’s because, as every newly minted AMS executive soon finds out, our student government already has a sophisticated policy framework that, for the most part, works well.
What’s more, the most difficult situations in which our student leaders will inevitably find themselves are the ones they could not have possibly foreseen. No one could have anticipated crises like the Aberdeen Street car-flipping and burning affair in 2005, or last summer’s furtive attempt by the academic deans to confiscate the administration of non-academic discipline from students.

What matters most in our student leaders is not their capacity to organize suave election campaigns or articulate grand visions, but their strength of character, work ethic and ability to deal with complex situations as they come up. The most successful AMS executive to do this in my time here was team Heisler Bonikowski Cocker (HBC), who ran the AMS during the 2000-01 academic year. Before winning the election, all three members of HBCworked for the student television show StudioQ. They thought of campaigning as a joke team, and even came up with an animated fruit called Ghandi Cantaloupe to dispense free wisdom to voters. Just before the election began, however, HBC decided to put on a serious performance. They organized a hastily-conceived campaign with a simple tagline:
“The JDUC sucks!” For the next couple of weeks, HBC’s main promise to students was to make the JDUC and AMS more accessible and friendly to students.

By the time their year in office was over, we had a new coffee shop (the Common Ground), completely renovated AMS offices, and an entire JDUC floor of office space dedicated to student clubs
and organizations.

HBC’s greatest success, however, was in their unmatched ability to motivate and inspire students. They really understood the diverse issues on our campus, and had a knack for knowing when various student groups were in need of help. Bart Bonikowski, now a Princeton PhD student, told me that, once elected, his team focused on reaching out to as many students as possible. They regularly showed up to faculty society meetings and campus events, and took an active interest in traditionally under-represented groups, particularly in residences. And they were also unafraid to fight hard when necessary. The Common Ground was strongly resisted by several prominent administrators, but HBC’s
unyielding commitment to the project eventually paid off. HBC were unlikely candidates for AMS executive. None of them were AMS council members or had an intimate knowledge of the student government’s workings. Their election plans were hatched at the last minute and seemed disorganized at first. What won them wide student support was their humility and vibrant personalities, which made it really easy to look up to them. That’s why I don’t put much stock into polished election speeches or big ideas. Experience has shown that the character of those seeking office is far more important.

So over the next couple of weeks, try and converse with the candidates competing for your vote. If you find them inspiring, then they’ll probably have a similar effect on other students, and you’ll know that you’ve got a winner. When considering your vote, think about which candidates could best reflect your views to the Principal, the mayor of Kingston or to our provincial and federal politicians. If there was a crisis on our campus, which team can you see speaking on our behalf to the national media?

Finally, which team do you think can motivate and inspire the 500 AMS employees and more than 1,000 volunteers who diligently serve our community, while simultaneously reaching out to the entire
student body? These are the qualities that matter, more than any campaign promises or expertise in
AMS policy.

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