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Politicians launch petition to save the Centre of the Universe

Public outreach and education at Dominion Observatory to end in August
Science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart (MP Burnaby-Douglas)

The official opposition may be used to being the centre of attention, but this week NDP politicians are calling on the federal government to preserve the Centre of the Universe, as it's known.

Science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison and Saanich South MLA Lana Popham gathered on Friday to launch a petition to restore funding for public outreach in astronomy and astrophysics at the Centre of the Universe at Saanich's Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

The astronomy interpretive centre, adjacent to the observatory, will close its doors to the public on Aug. 24, due to governmental cost-cutting measures that will see $245,000 saved in wages for three staff — one full time and two part time — plus $32,000 in maintenance and utilities. The centre opened in 2001 as an educational arm of the observatory, a national historic site. Last year, the centre attracted nearly 10,000 people.

“There is a real value to our education system that is being lost here,” Popham said. “This is science that is right in front of our children's eyes – it's not something they are just watching on YouTube, and it's an opportunity that not everyone has. It's hard to really grasp how this will impact people, and I know a lot of people are in disbelief.”

While there are no current plans to repurpose or remove the centre, staff have expressed that in the absence of the centre, young people will have access to astronomy websites and smartphone applications. The move, Stewart says, is a grave loss.

“We're losing our scientists by the dozens … saying this is an attack on science sounds like rhetoric, but it isn't,” said Stewart. “If we're not training our kids, or giving our scientists a place to grow, then we are halting our own knowledge economy.”

The written petition will be available at all south Island NDP MP and MLA offices and at public events throughout the summer.