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Faculty of Law

NEXUS Magazine

Fall & Winter 2023

In the last issue of Nexus, in referring to UNB Law’s recent successes, I wrote: “Stay tuned; the best is yet to come.” I was of course foreshadowing—perhaps at the risk of jinxing it—our Justice Building Project, which was not yet finalized, but had been in development for nearly a year. The reason I was so confident in the outcome, despite many ups and downs along the way, is the outstanding people, many of them UNB Law alumni, who helped get this deal done—the largest public investment ever in a Canadian law school. 

Further in this issue, you can read about the transformational impact that our renovation of and relocation to the Justice Building in downtown Fredericton will have, not just on UNB Law, but the administration of justice in New Brunswick and legal education in Canada.

This is a long-term project that is not without its risks. Like any major capital project, it may take longer and cost more than expected. In our case, the project is contingent on the completion of the new Fredericton Courthouse (a project that has seen its own setbacks), as well as the continued support of all three levels of government. Despite these complexities, I want to share with you why I am so confident in the outcome.

The project was not my idea. In the spring of 2022, I felt like we had hit a wall in terms of the implementation of our Strategic Plan. We had spent a year working with an architect to figure out how to adapt our existing building to accommodate our plans for the future. The price tag was a staggering $32 million and that would still leave unaddressed several key issues like making the Law School accessible to the legal profession and members of the public. I was advised that there was no realistic prospect of raising that kind of money for this project, whether from the public or private sector.

Then I met with a UNB Law graduate, and everything changed. In a move that probably didn’t inspire confidence, I told them about how we’d run out of space, we wouldn’t be able to achieve our goals in our existing building, and we had no hope of renovating it or building a new one. We also needed to invest in our academic mission—a graduate program, legal clinics, research centres, enhanced student services—but space was the limiting factor and it risked devouring all conceivable resources.

“Don’t worry Michael,” said the alum. “UNB Law will get a beautiful building and you’ll still have money for academic excellence.” I thought my friend was just trying to cheer me up.

A few weeks later Jane and I had dinner with the alum and their spouse. It was the spouse who floated the idea of moving to the Justice Building. At first, I thought it was a strange idea. Anyone close to the courts in New Brunswick knows that the Justice Building is in a terrible state, prone to flooding, full of asbestos, infested with pests, inaccessible, and outdated. “That’s an interesting option,” I said, smiling politely.

The next morning, I took my girls to their dance class, which coincidentally takes place in the back of the Justice Building. After dropping them off, I looked at this large, majestic building from a new perspective. Could this really be UNB Law’s new home?

It has all the space we need; it’s within close walking distance of the new courthouse, the legislature, government agencies, and legal employers; it would be easily accessible to the clients of our legal clinic; it would bring the law school closer to the legal profession, making it a resource for lawyers and judges; it would give students, faculty, and staff more options for dining and socializing; it has stunning views of the river in all three directions; and it was built as an institution of higher learning—the Normal School in 1876—and then housed the courts, so UNB Law would harness its original design and unify its historical purposes. Aside from the building’s condition, the concept made a lot more sense than I initially thought.

And since the building’s future was a problem for both the Province and the City, and the federal government was focused on infrastructure investments with a climate change adaptation angle, there was an opportunity to align interests for government funding. Maybe the Justice Building’s problems were actually an opportunity...

Apparently, conversations along these lines were already underway within the Government of New Brunswick. A few weeks later, I received a call from the Hon. Jill Green (BScE'95), then Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. Minister Green said she heard we were struggling with our existing space and asked me what I thought about moving to the Justice Building once the courthouse was completed. I said that I was open to the idea, but not without a major renovation, which was likely way beyond our means. We agreed to continue the conversation.

The next step was to get the President’s blessing before going any further. One of the things I appreciate most about Dr. Mazerolle is his ambition. He wants to do big things for UNB and he’s not afraid of being unconventional or taking calculated and strategic risks. (These qualities are quite rare among university presidents.) The UNB Law graduate and I met with Dr. Mazerolle and floated the idea. “That’s an iconic project, a once-in-a-century opportunity for UNB,” he said without hesitation.

Despite Dr. Mazerolle’s positive reaction to our pitch, I was concerned because he had never been inside the Justice Building and wasn’t aware of all its problems. So, we arranged a tour for him. Our guides took us into parts of the building that likely shortened our lifespans; it was that bad. I thought for sure we had lost the President. “So, what do you think, Paul?” I asked sheepishly. “Let’s do this,” he said.

It was a remarkable commitment to our Faculty on Dr. Mazerolle’s part. The University has many opportunities and this one wasn’t straightforward a year ago; it still isn’t today. But he was willing to bet on us and for that we are very grateful.

Shortly after the tour, we had a meeting with representatives from all three levels of government, including the Hon. Dominic LeBlanc (LLB’92), then federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities. We reached an agreement in principle to pursue the project. But UNB would have only eight months to determine whether the project was viable and put together a fully costed proposal.

That we met this tight timeline is attributable to the many highly skilled and devoted people who rallied around the “once-in-a-century” opportunity. They include the members of the Dean’s Advisory Council; Mary Jane Adams, UNB’s Associate Vice-President (Capital Planning and Operations); Ali Ferris, UNB’s Associate Vice-President (Finance); and Jacques Pinet. In addition to Minister Green, the Hon. Ted Flemming (LLB‘78), New Brunswick’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, was a champion of the project at the provincial level, as was Mayor Kate Rogers (BA‘92, MA‘95) at the City of Fredericton. All these people, and many more, deserve our admiration and appreciation for their confidence in UNB Law. 

The reason I am so optimistic about the culmination of this project, despite its complexity, is the story of how it came to be, the one I just told. Making the Justice Building UNB Law’s new home wasn’t the idea of one person, one faculty, or one government. It was a bi-partisan effort, endorsed by all three levels of government, with the full backing of UNB, and enjoying the strong support of alumni, faculty, staff, students, and the community. It is one of those rare ideas that just makes sense to everyone who takes the time to think about it.

On June 28, 2023, the project was announced, including major financial commitments by the federal and provincial governments—$45.6 million in total. As a result of this historic investment, UNB’s cost is projected to be $16.6 million, half of what renovating the existing building would have cost for 30,000 more square feet and a prime downtown location.

Since the announcement, and the national media coverage it received, a few of my counterparts at other law schools have asked me how we pulled it off. In my view, the Justice Building deal is an achievement that reflects the uniqueness of UNB Law as a community. I’m referring especially to the strong affinity of our graduates for their alma mater, our history of service and connection to the province, and our pragmatic and collegial approach to problem solving. These defining qualities converged with an opportunity to make history.

These are the same qualities that will drive the Justice Building project to completion. And these qualities will endure for generations to come in our new home.

Fall & Winter 2023


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