Honourable Ross Fitzpatrick
Honorary Degree Recipient
UBC Okanagan

Convocation ceremonies:
Thursday, June 7, 2012

I can think of no greater honour than one received in one’s own community.  I am a proud graduate of UBC and even more proud to receive an Honorary Degree from UBCO which has become such an important part of our community.

When my grandfather settled here just after the turn of the last century Kelowna had a population of 600, the agriculture potential was just being recognized, the treasures of the natural environment were just being discovered and the Okanagan Valley was a community of very small communities.

Today the communities are much larger with a total population of nearly 325,000, agriculture has changed and is not the predominant industry and parts of the natural environment are threatened.  All of these changes have brought new challenges.

My full realization of what a special place this is did not register until I spent time away so when I returned I felt compelled to focus on value added agriculture and when I had the honour to serve in the Canadian Senate I had the opportunity to contribute to initiatives to meet some of the environmental, economic and community challenges of the Valley.

One was the establishment of the Okanagan Partnership Society, a grass roots organization led by local business leaders supported by UBCO, Okanagan College and funded by the National Research Agency and the Provincial Government.  It focused on how to build a competitive and sustainable Okanagan and its efforts were grounded in a commitment to create tangible solutions to current and future quality of life issues.  Some of the ‘flagship’ initiatives that it advocated were to have engineering, management and medical programs located here at UBCO; others were improved transportation infrastructure and reducing the transportation footprint on the environment; supporting a collaborative approach to managing water quality and quantity; and supporting the development of knowledge services and ideas developed in the Okanagan.

The Okanagan Partnership was a beginning but there are a number of environmental and social issues are on the horizon and they will require you – the next generation of leaders – to develop, implement and enable partnerships to effect the application of knowledge to solve them.

In the short time I have I would like to touch on just one environmental issue that I have been involved in for 10 years which will require future leadership and collaborative dialogue.  And that is the proposed South Okanagan Similkameen National Park.   This Okanagan basin is home to Canada’s only desert ecosystem – one of the highest priorities for conservation in Canada.  Over 1/3 of BC’s threatened and endangered species live here – birds, mammals, and plants found nowhere else in Canada.  Shrub-grasslands and ponderosa grasslands are found in no other Canadian national park.  National parks contribute $1.2 billion to the GDP each year and the establishment of the Park in the South Okanagan Similkameen would have a major positive green sustainable economic impact on the Okanagan Similkameen.

After an eight year process that included First Nations engagement, stakeholder and community consultations, Parks Canada has just released a Feasibility Study concluding that a National Park in the South Okanagan Similkameen is feasible but the British Columbia government has advised it is not prepared to proceed with the Park at this time. 

So I encourage you – the graduating class of 2012 – to get involved, make your own assessments and be part of a network of globally aware citizens who act locally and apply your knowledge to solving issues like this that we face as a community.

In conclusion, it is a great honour to be here with you today – celebrating past accomplishments and future opportunity. 

I would like to thank University of British Columbia for this special recognition – I am grateful to Chancellor Sarah Morgan-Silvester, President and Vice Chancellor Stephen J Toope, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Doug Owram, the Board of Governors and in particular past Chair Brad Bennett and Vice-Chair Theresa Arsenault for their leadership and engagement.

To you the graduating class of 2012 – I sincerely wish you success in all of your future endeavors.