So, I’m still in a little bit of an awe at this, hopefully some of you sages can provide insight and calm my nerves. Stephen Owen’s website confirms that “Stephen Owen, Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra, announced today that he will be resigning his seat effective July 27, 2007 to join the University of British Columbia as Vice President, External and Community Relations.” (link)

While I would like to think that propriety calls for our university administrators to remain at arms’ length with federal/provincial political parties, this recent development compounds to paint the following picture:
– Stephen Toope is a founder and former chair of the Pierre Trudeau Foundation. While “non-partisan”, it’s Pierre Trudeau, Mr. Liberal posterchild from the glory days and perhaps a major reason why some individuals still support the party.
– Stephen Owen quits his Liberal MP post to join the UBC administration.

Is it just me, or is our University too close for comfort in arms with the Liberals? We have a conservative federal government, making my point that perhaps we, as a public autonomous institution, should remain appropriately outside of the realm of blatant partylines. I expect Matthew Naylor to post with vigorous defense.

Full media release from the UBC Website behind the jump:

Media Release | Jul. 5, 2007

Stephen Owen Appointed Vice President, External and Community Relations

The University of British Columbia Board of Governors today approved the appointment of Stephen Owen as Vice President, External and Community Relations.

Owen, a UBC alumnus who is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra, the Vancouver constituency that includes UBC, will resign his seat July 27 before assuming his new UBC position August 15.

“Stephen Owen brings to UBC uniquely broad insight and experience developed through a distinguished career of public service that has been a hallmark of integrity,” said UBC President Stephen Toope. “His decision to join our university underscores the paramount importance we place on effective relations with our communities as UBC, already one of the world’s 40 best universities, prepares to enter its second century of service to British Columbia, Canada and beyond.”

The position description for Owen’s responsibilities states: “The External and Community Relations Portfolio is responsible for guiding and enhancing engagement with government at all levels — municipal, provincial, national and international. It develops community relationships with civil society, neighbourhood associations and social movements; enhances cultural aspects of university life related to staff, faculty and students studying, living and working together; and builds a sense of belonging to form a vibrant and cohesive community.”

“I am thrilled to return to my alma mater as a member of Prof. Toope’s executive team,” Owen said. “UBC’s strategic plan, Trek 2010, lays out an ambitious plan for the university to become one of the world’s very best. I am thankful for the opportunity to lead the communication effort around the truly compelling story of teaching and research excellence that UBC has created in the last 100 years.”

UBC units Owen will oversee include: Ceremonies and Events, Community Affairs, Government Relations, the Learning Exchange, Public Affairs, University Counsel (legal office), and university operations at UBC Robson Square.

Owen, 58, was born in Vancouver. He and his wife, Diane, a UBC alumna and a UBC online instructor in intercultural communication, have two sons. Owen received his Law degree from UBC in 1972, his Master of Law from the University of London and his MBA from the University of Geneva.

Owen’s career has taken him from legal advocacy work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, through a variety of high-profile senior provincial positions such as Ombudsman and Deputy Attorney General, and forward to the national and international stages.

Following election as MP for Quadra in 2000, he served as Secretary of State for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Minister of Public Works and Government Services, and Minister of Western Economic Development. From 1997-2000, he was David Lam Professor of Law at the University of Victoria, and he has consulted internationally on a variety of human rights issues.

A complete CV is available at:

Owen succeeds Dennis Pavlich, who resigned in June to take on the presidency of the Great Northern Way Campus, a consortium of BCIT, Simon Fraser University, the Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design and UBC. The new institution has a focus on arts and culture, urban sustainability and digital media.


29 Comments so far

  1. Anonymous on July 5, 2007 9:20 pm

    I’m talking to Gina about this over Google but I may as well make my thoughts public:

    1. Government relations at this university are appallingly bad right now; effectively there is nothing going on in this area. An experienced politician will be good for helping navigate the political side, hiring a good AVP Government Relations and having something happen on this front.

    2. I don’t think Toope’s relationship with the Trudeau Foundation is a problem but I agree that such an obviously political person is a problem. At least Lloyd Axworthy took an academic appointment before taking the University of Winnipeg presidency. Owen’s appointment isn’t even a problem from a day-to-day relationship perspective (the federal government has issued directives to political staffers that university requests will be given top priority) but that it stands as a mini slap to the face of the government. Frankly, that’s not helpful for a university to take that position.

    3. If Owen assembles a government relations team of mixed partisanship or non-partisanship, it won’t end up being a problem in the long-term.


  2. Maayan Kreitzman on July 5, 2007 9:25 pm

    Why so incredulous Gina? He seems like a good person to deal with government.

    Anyway, here’s a question to all and sundry Liberaux: why oh why has Stephen Owen (so well respected! so loved!) been nudged out of his comfy Quadra riding? He coud probably win election upon election there without end, no?

  3. Tim Louman-Gardiner on July 5, 2007 10:10 pm

    1) The most interesting question is how they’ll re-jig the job. Owen’s skills don’t match the way the portfolio currently runs. Quite clearly, Toope intends to change this.

    2) On partisanship: remember, Owen’s pre-Liberal background is as an NDP-appointed civil servant. As well, most people in the real world, if not student politics, are mature enough to look past someone’s past political affiliation. Good people are good people; being in politics shouldn’t tar them. And he’s got experience in “non-partisanship,” having been BC’s Ombuds.

    3) Maayan: politics is a lot less fun when you’re not in government.

  4. Le Grand Gateau on July 5, 2007 11:17 pm

    Honestly Gina I feel like this is an over reaction.
    Presumably all educated and involved members of society have a political bias which should not impact their eligibility for a position. There’s just no end to the hole that digs, should a conservative have been hired in order to “balance out” Toope, and if so, is that not pandering to the current regime? / What about students who strongly disagree with conservative values being represented by one via the VPX position. -etc etc etc.
    He seems qualified for me, and probably more aggressive for implementing change than previous holders of the title.

    just a thought.

  5. Fire Hydrant on July 6, 2007 1:49 am

    OK, my turn.

    The political thing was an obvious issue that was brought up repeatedly in the hiring process. Stephen 2’s response was that we should ask MPs in other parties whether he was non-partisan. We asked a selection of MPs from all parties, indluding cabinet members and most if not all of the party whips. They said he was non-partisan, and most of them went further than that in saying that he kept himself out of partisan squabbles and is generally admired. Before running for Parliament, Stephen 2 was strictly non-partisan (e.g. BC Ombudsman).

    I don’t know exactly why he soured on politics (being out of government would likely be part of it), but he’s really excited at this job, which is why he’s resigning to take the job right away, rather than waiting for a general election.

    And, to Tim, he’s VP External & Community Relations, which should suit him quite well (campus development is moving back under VP Admin & Finance).

    — Darren

  6. Tim Louman-Gardiner on July 6, 2007 1:52 am

    I echo what Shawn and Darren said.

    And have one thing to add: it’s a good hire. UBC can use another ‘star,’ someone to take to the community and will draw people, besides just Toope. He’s got lots of respect, has tremendous UBC roots, and, I think most importantly, comes from OUTSIDE the University world (academia). Sure he taught for a bit, but he’s not a part of the academic-industrial complex.

    Those are two attributes UBC needs right now.

  7. Patrick on July 6, 2007 2:47 am

    I wish this writeup had some degree of integrity or common decency.

    Come on Gina, lay off the crap against Naylor, we all know you hate him. You dont have to take every opportunity you can to make a cheap jab.

    Relative neutrality and showing both sides of the issues is why I, and I suspect many others, came to read this blog.

    Im dissappointed that youve turned so far away from that and into the realm of cheap shots and unfair assumptions about peoples character.

    As for the appointment itself, on the face of it, it seems to be alright. I dont like the idea of just simply jumping out of politics and into a new job (be it any job), but, it seems alright.

  8. Vancentrist on July 6, 2007 7:27 am

    Stephen Owen has already made his intentions to leave politics clear, presumably before he was hired for this position. He said in a previous report that the atmosphere during Question Period was one of the reasons he was leaving. And really, who can blame him? During his time as an MP he was used to a much more civil atmosphere than there’s been since the Conservatives were elected. That takes away much of the speculation about whether he was recruited to begin with.

    And if he was, really, there’s nothing original. People are “asked” or “suggested” to apply for or consider positions all the time. If one’s worried about political affiliations at a University, you might as well blast the University of Toronto for making Michael Wilson, Brian Mulroney’s finance minister, now-former chancellor of Trinity College (Bill Graham will take up the reigns next – just another example.)

    Just because someone came from a political party doesn’t right away mean that the University is acting in a partisan manner. Stephen Toope’s position as the head of the Trudeau Foundation is a very weak connection to make to UBC’s alleged partisanship. Generally I think this opinion could have taken a little more research at other universities.

    And one more thing.

    “Im dissappointed that youve turned so far away from that and into the realm of cheap shots and unfair assumptions about peoples character.”

    That’s nothing new for Gina. She’s turned away from nothing, she just hasn’t posted the majority of it here. You can reference her quarrel with certain people at the Ubyssey to support this.

    – Jesse Ferreras

  9. Matthew Naylor on July 6, 2007 1:47 pm

    I have to say that I, in some degree of confirmation of Gina’s suspicions, support the appointment. However, it’s only because I think he’d do well at the job.

    He’s respected on the Hill, and knows his way around. I really don’t see problems with partisanship arising out of this. People can and will put aside partisan interests to do a job. I’m sure our President and our Board would not have hired him had they not had confidence in his non-partisan abilities.

    I’m sure people will be watching for any instance of him putting party over position. I don’t think that they’ll find it. (I don’t think that you could find one with me, either. Come talk to me if you have…)

  10. Gina Eom on July 6, 2007 3:02 pm

    quote: 1) The most interesting question is how they’ll re-jig the job. Owen’s skills don’t match the way the portfolio currently runs. Quite clearly, Toope intends to change this.

    Tim, what do you mean by this? The former title was VP External and Legal Affairs if I’m not mistaken, which seems to have transformed into VP External and Community Relations. I assumed automatically that the portfolio would be shuffled around, especially congruent with the former University Counsel (Hubert Lai) taking a new executive post in the office.

    I suppose your question could mean who will now be looking at campus development now that the portfolio focusses on GR “at the municipal, provincial, national an international level”.

    To Vancentrist and Patrick Meehan, according to Darren’s post the hiring process was thorough in establishing the degree to which partisanship could affect Stephen 1’s job. I do believe this measure was taken due to the same concerns which I raised, and I for one would not consider them frivolous nor unnecessary despite of his record as a less petty politician which was known to me for some time.

    PS. Perhaps Mr.Naylor should clarify my relationship with him for those who seem to keep a file on it.

  11. Anonymous on July 6, 2007 6:55 pm

    I just want to say that Darren’s post rendered moot any minor concerns that I had.


  12. Paul on July 7, 2007 2:38 am

    I think someone has already hinted at this, but in response to Mayaans query about Owen being “nudged out” – he wasn’t. Quite the opposite in fact. You’re right to speculate that he would have stood an excellent chance to be reelected. It is for that reason, along with his outstanding rapport with the riding, that a lot of people were saddened to hear he’s stepping down. Winning the riding come next election will certainly be a challenge for liberals now that he isn’t the candidate.

  13. Anonymous on July 7, 2007 9:23 pm

    Firstly, how can you really seperate politics from university? Do you suggest that no appointments could be made of former politcos? Or are you suggesting a mixed representation of politicos?

    Secondly, you are right about Matthew Naylor. He is consumed by the Big Red Liberal Machine. He is a careerist and constructs his positions based on partisan and personal interests rather than for what’s best for the community.

  14. Vancentrist on July 8, 2007 10:17 am

    That’s a heck of a bold statement to be making about Matthew Naylor. Yes, he’s a Big Red Liberal Machine. Neither he nor anyone else will dispute that. But to say that he makes decisions based on partisan reasons without regard for the interests of the community is a downright myopic criticism without providing either an example to back it up or a name to hold you accountable, ANONYMOUS. It’s perfectly characteristic of the kind of chicken-shit commentary one finds on the web by people too scared to be called out for their opinions and too lazy to do their research.

    I can’t help thinking that the hate being directed against Matt Naylor has less to do with him being a Liberal than a widespread hate of his party in the wake of the 2006 election. You can piss on them all you want, and you have a multitude of reasons to do it: the sponsorship scandal; Shawinigate; peddling influence with major Canadian media; a smoke-and-mirrors approach to greenhouse gases. Lots of Canadians are angry with the Liberals, and for a number of them, that’s why they voted Conservative. But taking out your anger on a member of the party is not only inflammatory – it’s futile. And not having the gall to say who you are is just pathetic.

    Not only that, it’s completely beside the point of this post, which is to determine whether the decision to hire Stephen Owen was politically-motivated. I think we’ve established that he was hired because he’d be good for the job, and for the university. Whether the candidate was a Liberal or a Conservative is of no consequence if members of our Board of Governors (not exactly the dumbest hiring committee you could find) determined he was non-partisan.

    Note: UBC business law professor Deborah Meredith has been signing up Conservative members in Vancouver-Quadra, usually a signal of an intention to stand for election. Maybe you’d like to probe the university for its Tory affiliations, too?

  15. Matthew Naylor on July 9, 2007 9:51 pm

    I applaud you making that charge against me anonymously. Come talk to me or email me first before making those allegations. It’s pretty serious when you’re accusing me of breaching my fiduciary responsibility as a director and executive of this society.

    Don’t hide behind a blank name – my phone number is 604-822-2050, and my email is, and I’m always happy to talk to my constituents.

  16. Anonymous on July 9, 2007 9:51 pm

    Actually, that’s not why I’m fuming. Naylor is a profile-builder, people that run for the AMS are looking to pad their resumes. The fact that he is ALSO a high-profile registered young Liberal is a conflict of interests. Either uphold the AMS or the Liberal party. His response tot the appointment of Stephen Owen shows he is all about the Liberal party before the AMS. Why? Because he talks ad nausaum about how he first cast his vote for Owen etc. That’s a pretty partisan response to the appointment if you ask me. The fact he runs a REGISTERED liberal blog ( shows that he has not severed ties from the Liberal party. How can we expect him NOT to be partisan when he is so explicitly illustrating his political stripes.

    As to you vancentrist, you haven’t given me a single reason to believe Naylor is not partisan in his actions.

  17. Peter on July 9, 2007 10:21 pm

    I don’t think its really reasonable to require someone to be literally non-partisan in order to hold a position such as an AMS exec. Its actually a ridiculous demand. Why? Because anyone with an iota of interest in playing a political role has an interest that reaches outside the reach of their arms. Thus, they are likely to have opinions on a wide range of social, political, economical and global issues. This means that more often then not, they are likely to identify or support a leading political party to one degree or another. To ask for a completely non-partisan individual for such a political role is simply unreasonable. Not to mention somewhat dumb. I’d like my VPX to be educated, opinionated and passionate about things. Odds are that a completely non-partisan individual is none of these things.

    Quite frankly, I think its a little scary that someone can be attacked based on their political affiliations. It really smacks of Mccarthyism to me.

    Judge Naylor on the merits of his accomplishments (or lack there of) as VP External and not on his affiliations with political organizations. In my view, he has never tried to mislead, hide or denounce his support of the Liberal Party during or after his campaign. I may or may not agree with his political views, but I nonetheless give him the benefit of the doubt with regards to doing his job.

    If you would like to criticize his performance, actions as VPX or the like, please feel free. This could include “Owen once punched me in the face. Naylor supports Owen’s appointment to UBC. Naylor wants to punch me in the face also. Naylor is thus a jerk.” But to argue that Naylor supports such an appointment solely on his partisanship is to beg the weighty questions: “So what? What’s your point?”

    Lastly and, I think, most importantly, I strongly disagree with your view that “[all] people that run for the AMS are looking to pad their resumes”. Some certainly do (I’m looking at you Lougheed the Barbarian), but certainly not all and, I’d say, not even most. I certainly didn’t.

  18. Anonymous on July 9, 2007 11:32 pm

    Sorry, didn’t see Matthew Naylor’s response. Since he has requested not to debate whether or not he is non-partisan on this forum, I will refrain and choose to use the channels of communication that he has listed if needed.

  19. Vancentrist on July 10, 2007 12:14 am

    One more note: Holly Foxcroft, former president of the UBC Federal Young Liberals, served in that regard before being elected to the 2003/2004 AMS executive on the SPAN slate. She was a bright light on that council and was widely regarded for doing a good job. I heard none of the attacks against her that I hear today.

  20. Matthew Naylor on July 10, 2007 4:54 am

    Ad nauseum: To be subjected to an argument or statement at such lengths to induce nausea.

    I suggest Dimenhydrinate.

    Incidentally, I never suggested that this not be discussed or debated. I just suggested that perhaps people should also contact me when they have concerns, as you clearly have, or, alternatively, that you put a name to your allegations.

    As to my relationship with Gina, I believe it could best be described as a complete political disagreement, coupled with no personal distaste. But I could be wrong… Ms. Eom?

  21. Gina Eom on July 10, 2007 4:55 am

    No disagreement on this one Mr. Naylor. It might be a first, hehe.

  22. alougheed on July 10, 2007 7:32 pm

    1. Onus of proof is on the plaintiff.
    2. Concerns of partisanship can also be directed to the members of the AMS Oversight Committee, a committee responsible to assure search a standard. I’m a member of this committee.

    – Alex, translator to Lougheed the Resume Padding Barbarian.

  23. Anonymous on July 12, 2007 7:06 am

    i think an oversight committee ought to be created to oversee the oversight committee (it sounds scary). the oversight-oversight committee.

  24. Anonymous on July 12, 2007 7:30 am

    Tristan Here:
    there will be much more to say about this in the future.

    generally, most of the above comments are silly.

    owen will not lobby anyone for anything. if the university ever “lobbies” (which is the wrong word for their capitulation) it is against, not in, our interests.

    owen is basically presented as an indian agent who will come and civilize the “indians”.
    great. he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, though (because!) he was once minister of indian extirmination.

    it does not matter if he is “nice”. i bet he is not nicer, on average, than anyone else. you could randomly pick someone from a bus, and the odds are they would be just as nice.

    he will do nothing to slow the privatization of PSE.

    basically, if you think that UBC is headed in the right direction, then you will be glad, because owen will continue the trend.

    if you want things to change, then begin to analyze the structure, and don’t be deceived by any liberal figurehead, toope or owen.

    sugar-coated bitter (poison?) pill.

    ps. i predict he will unleash hell in regard to aboriginal relations.

  25. Anonymous on July 12, 2007 7:34 am

    sorry; got cut off:

    yes, and by hell i mean continued hurtful denial of the reality of
    the history of the ground right under your feet, right now.
    denial is hell, if any there is.

  26. Patrick on July 12, 2007 7:45 pm

    You know, Im pretty sure the people (and their descendants) that were sexually assualted, harrassed, abused and generally treat as less than human by indian agents just MIGHT be offended by the flippant use of it to describe university/student relations…

    When was the last time the university physically raped someone?

  27. Anonymous on July 12, 2007 8:53 pm

    Quite frankly, judging from that article alone, Tristan’s attacks on Owen are nothing short of hateful and downright stupid.

    The man seems qualified, educated and reasonable. He was Ombudsman for the entire province for goodness sakes! His educational background also seems fairly impressive. Once again, you’re unfounded and unsupported exclamations do not speak well for you.

    Tristan, seriously. You seem to have had a bad night last night with 3 virtually identically rabid, angry, insulting and frankly foolish posts. Its not very becoming of you at all.

  28. tristan on July 31, 2007 5:36 am

    i figured that there would be a response like that last two.

    1) he WAS the minister of indian affairs. that bureau is no more and no less than a collection of indian agents or their modern incarnations. there have been individuals in charge of the ministry who tried to change it, especially in the 80s, but they were purged.

    2) go back and read my post: there was nothing “rabid” in there. i did not attack mr. owen unfairly. i did, however, say that the VP External and Community Relations position operates to counter student interests (make the university academic rather than development focused), and it would take an individual of great courage to turn that around. i don’t think that owen has shown that in any way. furthermore, even if he did have a record of defending student interests, we should not assume he will continue to do so in his new position. keep your eye on power. i guess we’ll see whether i’m wrong to question the benevolence of these structures.

  29. tristan on July 31, 2007 5:43 am

    furthermore, it really seems like the last two posters do not understand what i was saying at all. my comments were actually not too bad, now that i look back on them. you just can’t seem to understand them because for some reason you are determined to defend “owen” (who i don’t really care about, it’s the structure and the naive faith that i think is silly) at the expense of thinking critically about the structure (job description, legacy, etc.)
    oh well. go on defending the status quo. you’ll get paid more!

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind

Spam prevention powered by Akismet