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Glimmer of light for closed astronomy centre

Feds’ answer to funding Centre of the Universe could come by January
Centre of the Universe final day
Nine-year-old Graysen Frederiksen and his dad Kevin check out one of the many displays at the Centre of the Universe on its last day of operation in August. MP Randall Garrison is trying to pressure Ottawa to restore funding to the astronomy education centre.

Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison is optimistic he can help persuade the federal government to reinstate funding to Saanich’s Centre of the Universe.

The National Research Council’s interpretive centre at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory atop Little Saanich Mountain shut its doors in August after the feds cut some $250,000 in funding to the site.

NDP MP Garrison helped launch a petition in the summer to restore the funding, alongside Saanich South MLA Lana Popham and federal science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart.

“We got a really, really positive response; I don’t know how many signatures – staff are right now counting and validating them – but it was extremely popular,” Garrison said.

“I talked to lots of people who signed the petition who said (after going to Centre of the Universe) ‘It was the first time I took science seriously,’ or ‘It was the first time I had a hands-on astronomy experience.’”

Garrison, who spoke with the News one day after Gov.-Gen. David Johnston’s throne speech, said the reason he’s optimistic about reinstatement of funding is a claim the Conservative government made in the throne speech.

“The government said that they were committed to science and technology. We have to ask them to demonstrate that by funding things like this,” Garrison said.

He said the petition should be certified within 10 days, after which he and Stewart will table it in the House of Commons.

Then it’s the responsibility of the government to respond within 45 calendar days.

“That means we should have a sense, really, by January,” Garrison said. “Obviously the real deadline is the next budget. Budget planning starts now in all the government departments, so I’m hoping to get it back into the budget. They still won’t have finalized budgets (in January).”

The Centre of the Universe facility – which housed such historical artifacts as the original 1.8-metre mirror from the Plaskett Telescope and ran historical tours, multimedia shows and youth programs – costs about $277,000 annually to operate and brings in about $47,000 in revenue. The closure would save the NRC $230,000 per year.

Between 8,000 and 10,000 people – many of them school kids – have visited the national historic site each year since the Centre of the Universe opened 12 years ago.

“For you and me, $200,000 is a lot of money,” Garrison said. “In the overall scheme of federal funding programs, it’s a very small item, but it’s a very big loss.”