2008 General Assembly
June 27 – 30, 2008
Report By Chris Gainor
The 2008 General Assembly of the RASC will be remembered both for decisions that moved the national society through a troubled period and for a program that featured a first-rate set of astronomical speakers.
The GA marked a first in that it was sponsored by three centres – Toronto, Hamilton, and Mississauga – rather than one centre. Among other things, the GA celebrated the centennial of the Hamilton Centre.
2008 has already been an eventful year in the history of the RASC in that a number of problems came to a head this year and were dealt with by the executive, National Council and the Annual General Meeting on the last day of the GA.
First, dues. RASC members at the AGM endorsed National Council’s decision to raise dues by $8.00 to $67.00 a year to deal, once and for all we hope, with the national society’s long-running fiscal crisis brought on by the loss of revenue from sales of the Observer’s Handbook caused by the increase in the value of the Canadian dollar.
The dues will be divided with $44.00 going to national and $23.00 going to the centre the member belongs to. This division of fees is being formalized as a result of another crisis RASC national faced this year resulting from recent changes to federal tax laws that affect registered charities such as RASC national and the Victoria Centre. Funds cannot be shared as easily as in the past between a registered charity and other organizations, and so another motion passed at the AGM brings the RASC national constitution into line with Canadian law.
The organizational changes passed at the AGM are quite similar to the “decoupling” proposals voted down at the Montreal GA in 2002, but now the law requires these changes. The national executive and council, assisted by the Board Pilot Committee elected last year, helped bring the RASC through the difficulties caused these legal changes. More work needs to be done on questions such as the future status of life members of the society.
The AGM also passed a number of procedural changes, and heard reports about the new IMIS membership management computer system being installed at national office that will streamline procedures for membership renewals and purchases from the society.
National council was told that the experiment with the Board Pilot Committee will not be continued. While the committee, which was set up last year, gave a great deal of assistance to the executive in dealing with this year’s many challenges, the committee did not succeed as hoped in streamlining the work of the executive and national council.
Council also got an update on problems at the national headquarters at 136 Dupont in Toronto. The building has had a tenant for a number of years and the rent has helped subsidize society operations. This year, the tenant’s behaviour took a turn for the worse that resulted in his eviction from 136 Dupont that took effect during the GA. Before the eviction, the tenant caused damage to the building, including flooding of the basement, that forced the staff to move to a temporary location elsewhere.
Bonnie Bird, who has served as the RASC’s Executive Secretary for 12 years, began her retirement at the GA with best wishes from members for her hard work. Bonnie has been succeeded by Jo Taylor, who has already become well known to members as she learned the ropes of her new job. As well, a new executive was installed at the GA, headed by President Dave Lane of Halifax. Dave actually took office in April when Scott Young resigned as national president before the end of his two-year term.
At each GA, RASC awards are given out, and this year the Victoria Centre’s Gary Seronik won the Simon Newcomb Award for outstanding work in writing and communication on astronomy. Gary, who received the award in person, is well known to us all for his writing in Sky and Telescope and Skynews magazine.
While the 2008 GA dealt with a great deal of heavy business, astronomy remained front and centre. Through the business and astronomy portions of the meeting, there was a great deal of discussion of plans for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009. Our own Dr. Jim Hesser gave the GA’s keynote speech on the IYA, and his talk featured the work under way in Victoria for the IYA. Among the other presentations and discussions, Victoria’s Malcolm Scrimger made a presentation on his ham radio project for the IYA.
Other featured speakers included author and editor Terence Dickinson and Phil Plaitt, famous for his website and book on “Bad Astronomy.” Plaitt gave two highly entertaining talks, including one previewing his new book, “Death from the Skies.” Among the many other speakers was the writer of this article, who presented an update on activities of the Canadian Space Agency.
Delegates also visited local observatories, the MD Robotics plant where the Canadarm was made, and the Ontario Science Centre, which is presenting “Facing Mars,” an exhibition on the problems facing anyone who wants to visit the Red Planet.
The theme of the GA was “Astronomy Night in Canada,” and as part of this hockey theme, a game of floorball took place. Malcolm Scrimger was a member of the Western All-Star team in the match. The GA dispensed with some traditions such as Murphy Night and the pyramid, and instead put on the first National Member’s Night, which included many interesting presentations on astro-photography, equipment, and reports on trips to observatories in the United States. The organizers of the GA headed by Denis Grey did a tremendous job putting on the meeting.
Next year’s GA will be different in may ways from previous GAs. Instead of being held in an urban area, the 2009 GA will take place in the Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park and Dark Sky Reserve in Saskatchewan. The GA is set for August 13 to 16, 2009, during the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, instead of the usual May or June GA dates. This GA will celebrate the IYA by putting astronomy front and centre. More information is available at www.rasc.ca/ga2009/. And in 2010, the GA will take place in New Brunswick.