From Jamie Cassels announcing his impending resignation to Justin Trudeau promising millions for transit in Victoria, the past four months had it all
Although many students were away from campus this summer — visiting home, on co-op, or traveling to exotic places — that didn’t keep UVic, Victoria, and President Jamie Cassels from announcing several major changes.
Whether you’re back on campus for another semester or just starting your degree at UVic, here’s the biggest stories you may have missed from the last few months.
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, visited UVic in June to announce that the Federal government would provide over nine million dollars for UVic to construct the first National Centre for Indigenous Law.
This new centre will be built as an addition to the existing Fraser Building, and is set to hold lecture halls, an elder’s room, offices, and space for ceremonies and gatherings. No timeline for the construction was mentioned, and in UVic’s 2019/2020 Five Year Plan the university said it needs a total of $27.1 million to complete the project.
“This announcement … is something that’s been a lifelong dream for me — to see [that] Indigenous law is taken seriously, not only within our communities or in the legal profession, but coast-to-coast-to-coast,” said John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law and one of the individuals who helped to create the world’s first Indigenous law degree at UVic.
Bennett said that this contribution will help satisfy one of the 94 recommendations made in 2015 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, along with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UN Call of Action 50 called on Canada to fund the creation of an Indigenous law institute that would develop, use, and increase the understanding of Indigenous laws.
UVic’s 2017 decision to build a downtown condominium and graduate student housing complex on Broad Street was reversed in May, when the university announced the three-storey property will be converted to a hotel with retail and office space instead.
The university first announced the construction of 108 units of condominiums on the Broad Street property in September 2017, with the promise of 59 units of market rental housing that would give preference to graduate students. This student housing project would have addressed the tight rental market in Victoria, which is a challenge for many students looking for affordable housing. As of October 2018, the vacancy rate in Victoria was at 1.2 per cent.
According to Peter Kuran, President and C.E.O of UVic Properties, the change in direction came from community feedback during the project’s rezoning. Kuran said that after consultation, he felt that the original plan may never be approved by Victoria’s City Council.
The property is currently occupied by the three-storey Ducks Building, which was built in 1892. The building was gifted to UVic in 2001 by the late Michael Williams, along with several other downtown properties. These properties are managed by UVic Properties, whose net proceeds go back to the university to support students and student services.
The new proposal will take approximately 18 months for rezoning, and is anticipated to start construction two years from now. The 135-room hotel will have a 99 year lease, similar to the long term land leases offered at properties owned by UBC and SFU.
In June, UVic President Jamie Cassels announced that he will be stepping down from his position at the university next year, on June 30, 2020. As his contract requires, Cassels has given the Board of Governors one year’s notice to give them time to find a new president.
When asked his reason for leaving office, Cassels said he is ready to move forward and feels confident with the strong and stable position in which he is leaving UVic. After he steps down from the presidency, Cassels said that his current plan is to return to teaching and his academic pursuits before retiring.
According to the university, the search for Cassels’ successor will begin in the fall of 2019.
Cassels stated that his priorities over the next year include ensuring a smooth transition for his successor, and continue working towards meeting the university’s goals.
“I’ve been at this for a long time and feel that by the end of next year, after 20-plus years of senior leadership, I’ll be ready for a change,” said Cassels in an email. “I am enthusiastic to move to a new phase, starting with a return to my academic pursuits.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to Victoria in July to announce the federal government, provincial government, and various municipal partners would contribute $79 million in joint funding to enhance the province’s public transit.
This funding includes approximately $31 million from the federal government, $31 million from the provincial government, and $16 million from municipalities.
The funding will allow for 118 new buses to be introduced throughout the province, 10 of which would be electric. BC Transit previously had one electric bus in service, which joined the fleet for a trial period from July 2018 to September 2018.
Although Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps previously indicated that she believes Victoria would be an excellent trial area for an all-electric fleet — and the Victoria Regional Transit Commission (VRTC) voted to work towards total electrification by 2030 — Trudeau’s promise didn’t equate to that. B.C. Premier John Horgan said that 10 of the new buses province-wide would be electric, 26 would be compressed natural gas, and did not specify what the other 82 will run on.
The new buses are anticipated to either replace existing buses at the end of their life cycle, or provide additional buses along busier routes to ease congestion.