Far be it from me to pee on anyone’s retirement parade — seriously — but a bit of setting the record straight is required on the Liberals’ history with respect to TRU.
Contrary to the opinions of his detractors, Kevin Krueger has been an excellent MLA in many ways, which perhaps we’ll go into at a later time. I made note, however, of his comments when he announced recently he won’t run for another term.
His proudest accomplishment as MLA, he said, was getting Thompson Rivers University. ”When Claude Richmond and I walked away from the announcement (that the University College of the Cariboo would become a full-fledged university), I said, ‘I doubt we’ll ever get a bigger thing done.’”
While getting university status was, indeed, quite an achievement, the record shows Krueger initially didn’t want it. Neither did then-advanced education minister Shirley Bond, and neither did Gordon Campbell.
Only when a well-organized community campaign made enough noise did they come onside. Business leaders, faculty members and municipal politicians had to fight for it, and eventually the Liberals were convinced.
In September of 2001, a few months after the Liberals gained power, Krueger was on the record as saying university status was not a priority for the new government.
The following spring, Campbell said, “It’s time university colleges and colleges were celebrated. I don’t think everyone has to be a major research university.”
Bond took up the “don’t worry, be happy” stance, too. “… We think that university colleges have a very special role to play as part of post-secondary education in B.C.,” she said during a stop in Kamloops.
After Bond’s comments, a disappointed UCC board chair Ron Olynyk more or less threw in the towel, saying the board would “move on.”
But UCC president Roger Barnsley and the Friends Of UCC committee headed up by people like Al McNair, Bob Ryan and Anthony Muzillo refused to give up, gathering thousands of supporters.
The UCC governors continued to back them, and even Krueger came aboard, promising to promote university status with Campbell and Bond. (Unfortunately, Krueger later ungraciously and unfairly disparaged McNair’s role as chair of the Friends.)
In December of 2002, an independent report to the government recommended university status for Okanagan University College but not for UCC.
The negative report only made the community more determined than ever not to be left out. You know the rest of the story — Campbell flew into Kamloops one September day in 2004 and announced to a packed room at UCC that it would soon become Thompson Rivers University.
There’s nothing wrong with MLAs or governments changing their minds in the face of public opinion and political reality. If the Liberals hadn’t listened to the public, the Coquihalla Highway would have been leased to a private operator for 55 years and tolls raised to $13.
The B.C. Liberals aren’t the only governing party that has changed its mind on major issues of public importance — governments of all stripes have been doing that since democracy was just a concept.
We should give politicians — including Krueger — credit for being swayed when the public benefits. But it’s also appropriate for politicians to keep those decisions in context and to share a little of the credit with those who did the swaying.