An “amicable divorce.” This is what UBC VP External, Legal and Community Relations Stephen Owen is calling the most recent development in the university’s battle with Metro Vancouver over land use on campus. Decisions on property development will no longer be made by Metro Vancouver, but will now rest in the hands of the provincial government—something that UBC is more than pleased about.

If Bill 20 (see Part 3—Community and Rural Development Amendments), which is going through Parliament at the moment, passes, the decision-making power on land-use planning at UBC will be transferred to the province’s Ministry of Community and Rural Development. From there, the province will engage in a consultation with stakeholders (me, you, a dog named Blue and your neighbours in the University Neighbourhoods Association) to develop an appropriate governance model for UBC. This could mean more autonomy for UBC, and that it can control where and when it wants to build various projects on campus—instead of it operating like a city, as it does now, it could be a city.


I don’t want to take up your time with background, but you can read The Ubyssey‘s coverage of it here, here, here and here.

The university published two press releases on the issue in November. The first expresses their frustration by Metro Vancouver’s proposed zoning laws, and the second is on their refusal to participate in a working group with Metro Vancouver and other interested bodies.

UBC, as a university, is a public institution, and accountable to the provincial government. However, it often operates as a pseudo-city, as it controls a large amount of land, has an on-campus RCMP detachment and generates its own revenue. In recent years, UBC has moved to develop its land for non-academic use—market housing, or what we see on campus as condos and apartments.

What does this mean?

Although the issue of governance at UBC doesn’t hit students as hard as, say, a complaint to the United Nations, changes could mean big things for the university. According to Owen, the province has said they would like to partner with UBC on sustainability initiatives. This could mean more sustainability-themed projects and research. In addition, Bill 20 is an interim solution, while the province and UBC work out a more long-term governance model. Metro Vancouver, of course, would still be the regional government if a more democratic governance model is adopted at UBC, and a representative from UBC would sit on the board (currently Maria Harris).

UBC has been trying to grab for power for years, as they generate a lot of their own revenue and host residents and property. Chair of the Metro Vancouver Board Lois Jackson said that she feels stakeholders on campus should be a place where its people are “traditionally democratically represented.” One could say it makes sense that UBC should have a more formalized structure, as it is known colloquially and operationally as a city (see: parking tickets fiasco). [Odd fact: you cannot get in trouble with the law for not stopping at a stop sign on campus, as UBC does not have a model of governance/reinforcement.]

On the other hand, the worry with UBC gaining autonomy is that it, well, has the freedom do do whatever it wants. Don’t like the condos on campus? UBC could build more without restrictions from the province. (UBC could also, on the other hand, build more student housing). This could also put UBC in charge of regulating anything and everything on campus. It could make its own set of laws and rules—from there the possibilities are endless.

For now, this is all speculation until the consultations begin to take place and the province discloses their thoughts.

Sam served as The Ubyssey‘s News Editor for the 2009/2010 year, and has now joined UBC Insiders.


4 Comments so far

  1. Anonymous on May 4, 2010 10:17 am

    This is good news, so long as UBC is transparent and held accountable by the AMS and other pertinent groups.

  2. J on May 4, 2010 11:43 am

    Regardless of what happens, there should be much more formal cooperation between the UNA, AMS, and UBC BoG. If this legislation goes through, I’d like to see the creation of a University Advisory Board with members elected (or appointed) from constituent groups, whose mandate is clearly defined, and whose responsibilities coincide with those of the BoG.

    Ultimately final decision will always remain with the BoG, but a formal multistakeholder advisory board is something this campus has been needing for a very long time.

  3. Charles Menzies on May 4, 2010 12:59 pm

    What is needed is a real municipal council to represent people who live here.

    Academic decisions should have a wider involvement that prioritizes direct users of the university (students, staff, faculty).

    However, decisions that affect the quality of life of residents need to be made by residents.

  4. governance is important! on May 13, 2010 7:27 am

    “Although the issue of governance at UBC doesn’t hit students as hard as, say, a complaint to the United Nations, changes could mean big things for the university.”

    I really hope that was a joke…

    How this all plays out is EXTREMELY important for students at UBC. Student leaders generally, and the AMS specifically, should be coordinating a campaign to educate students about this issue and produce a lobbying document that outlines students’ needs and interests in the various governance models.

    The student voice will need to be present at all meetings and in all the media around this issue, and that will need to be an informed student voice.

    The University created a mini-city up on the hill and hopes to make that city even bigger over the next decade. The people who live in that city have the right to real, legislative authority (enforcing parking bylaws is an obvious example, but there are many, many others) and a democratically elected governing body.

    UBC should NOT be the body with the authority to create bylaws. In other words, it would be REALLY bad for students if UBC became a municipality, because more power would be given to those who have an address in that jurisdiction, completely marginalizing the other 30 000 students who have a claim in governance but don’t live up on the hill.

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