Sixteen years ago, James Moore was a University of Northern B.C. student with political aspirations.
Today, he is a retired Conservative MP who held several cabinet posts in the Stephen Harper government.
In May, he will be sworn in as the sixth chancellor – and the first alumni chancellor – in UNBC’s history.
Moore, 39, said he sees the position as an opportunity as a way to give back to both the community and university.
“It was transformative in my personal development and it’s a great school with 25 years of remarkable accomplishments that has led to their top ranking in Maclean's magazine,” said Moore in reference to UNBC ranking No. 1 for the first time in the “primarily undergraduate" category.
Moore had yet to officially graduate when the 24-year-old upset first-term Liberal MP Lou Sekora on Nov. 27, 2000 to win the Port Moody-area riding for the Canadian Alliance party.
It was the product of a two-month campaign that made Moore the youngest MP in B.C. history. He spent the summer of 2000 considering his run and started campaigning in September while finishing his course work.
“I was doing the big think of ‘What am I going to do next? … I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I run? If I won I’d be on to a new adventure and if I lost then I’d go to grad school,” said Moore, who served seven years in cabinet as a bilingual minister of several portfolios, including industry and Canadian heritage.
“I ended up deciding to run and 15 years later here I am,” said Moore, who announced in June he would not be running for re-election due to personal reasons. In early November, Denton, a global law firm, announced he would be working out of its Vancouver offices as a senior business advisor.
By the time the young Moore was turning his attention to political office, he had already spent some time in Ottawa as communications advisor to former Reform leader Preston Manning. He took the post after the June 1997 federal election until the summer of 1998 when he decided to finish his political science degree.
He came to UNBC in August 1998 after studying economics at Douglas College.
“I really thought (UNBC) would be an enriching experience to live on my own in my early twenties and to be on my own in the north and to learn about another part of the province,” Moore said. “It was entirely the case.”
While at UNBC, Moore was president of the Political Science Students Association and worked part-time with CKPG as a radio commentator, filling in for the late Ben Meisner on his morning talk show also and doing a Sunday program called Behind the Headlines.
Moore experienced his first Canadian winter in Prince George.
“I remember not appreciating that and putting a flat of pop in the back seat of my car after doing a Costco run and having it explode overnight and blanket the entire cover of my car with 7Up ice inside of my car because it dropped to minus 30,” Moore said with a laugh.
“And that was my introduction that this place can really be cold.”
But the moment Moore truly knew he was in the north was his first drive to campus. As he turned onto University Way, a moose blocked his path.
“It was standing in the middle of the driveway, just staring at me through the windshield, very unimpressed.”
He remembered immediately calling his dad and saying: “‘You won't believe it there’s a moose! ... This is really a different and unique place but I think it might be kind of cool.’’
John Young, one of Moore’s political science professors, met Moore a few weeks after that encounter.
He recalled the young Moore walking up to him after that first lecture and peppering him with questions about U.S. politics.
“Clearly he was very, very passionate and very well read on a number of political issues,” said Young, who in June was named president and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
Young said Moore was a memorable person, someone who was a “very engaged student, both curious and studious.”
Thursday’s announcement of Moore as chancellor was a good move for the university, he said.
“I think it’s a reflection of UNBC’s growing maturity that we have a former student now who has gone off and done some significant things and brings an interesting skill set to be of help to UNBC,” said Young, also pointing to board chair and alumnus Ryan Matheson as another strong example.
“That’s a pretty dynamic luxury to have as still a young university that we’re already at that level where our alumni can step into those roles. It’s phenomenal.”
For his part Matheson said having Moore’s name attached to the university is exciting news.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for UNBC to have that wealth and depth of knowledge,” Matheson said.
“He is a true example of the leadership quality that the institution can develop and instill in people and have their careers be leveraged by going to UNBC. I think it’s an incredible story.”
Moore called the Maclean’s No. 1 ranking a “genuine feather on (UNBC’s) cap” and one of several things he’ll focus on as chancellor.
“Building on reputational bounce in order to draw more student attention to the north is important; to support the faculty and the research that they’re doing is important; to make sure the provincial government keeps looking north and keeps supporting the university in substantive ways,” said Moore, calling Daniel Weeks a successful president with “a very ambitious agenda.”
He declined to comment on the binding arbitration ongoing between the faculty association and the university, deferring to president Daniel Weeks as university spokesman.
Matheson said he has the “same story” as Moore, in that they both moved from the Lower Mainland to pursue academics up north - and that message seems to be one both are trying to champion.
“I would hope that more British Columbians look north and see the university as a genuine opportunity for personal and academic and professional growth,” Moore said.
— with files from Citizen staff