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Hopes and prayers, Ontario … Now, let's get back to Dr. Suzuki and the honorary degree

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University of Alberta campus. Photo: Bill Burris/Flickr

Premier Doug Ford.

You have our hopes and prayers, Ontario. Our hopes and prayers.

And I'm sorry for my friends and readers in Ontario … so sorry to have gotten your hopes up by saying I thought the Ontario NDP would win. You should have known better than to listen to some guy from Alberta prognosticating about Ontario politics.

As for the Tory tweeters who are gloating at me tonight, enjoy yourselves. You deserve it. (I mean that! You deserve Mr. Ford and his Progressive Conservatives in particular.) As Mr. Ford himself said just this evening, "the people of Ontario have spoken." And, boy, did they ever! And what they said, many of us will agree, was not all that smart.

I know I don't have to tell you this, but it's gonna be a bad movie, and a bad movie we've already seen. So, we already basically know how it ends.

OK, let's change the channel.


David Suzuki got his honorary degree from the University of Alberta today. It was the 30th honorary degree for the prominent Canadian environmentalist, scientist and broadcaster, and by all accounts he accepted it with modesty and good grace, refusing to gloat at the oilpatch lobby group and opposition politicians who tried to turn getting his honour revoked into a way to attack Alberta's NDP government and, for reasons that are less clear, the university administration.

It's a sign of the times that such a thing is even possible, when the decision to award the degree was made by the U of A Senate with no input from the government, which wasn't all that happy about it, but there you go. It's the zeitgeist, and it's only going to get worse.

Dr. Suzuki, who is a youthful seeming 82, gave what The Globe and Mail termed a "moderate" speech, which means he didn't yell, I guess, but behaved with the dignity that befits the recipient of such an honour. Without directly addressing the controversy, Dr. Suzuki reminded the graduating science students at the ceremony in Edmonton that "we live in a world that is shaped and constrained by laws of nature. … They're fixed. We can't change them, so we have to live within them." (And for those Alberta politicians who disagree, that is actually a pretty scientific analysis.)

"We have created concepts and structures of government and business that we then try to force nature to conform to, rather than shaping our creations to fit the needs of nature on which we are utterly dependent," he said. "We have to find ways of living that do not undermine the very things that keep us alive," he observed, according to the CBC's account of yesterday's events.

The University of Alberta also behaved with appropriate dignity, insisting despite the best efforts of the people determined to exploit the controversies associated with Dr. Suzuki's views in Alberta that the degree, having been offered, would be granted, as the institution indeed had little choice but to do.

University President David Turpin reminded the graduates, "we need independent thinkers."

That is not the view of the Alberta Opposition, of course, which abhors independent thinkers, especially when they don't think everything the fossil fuel industry does is peachy, so the United Conservative Party continued to carp about the award yesterday.

"This is an individual who has spent considerable time attacking our largest industry and attacking by default the people that work in it," complained UCP House Leader Jason Nixon.

Opposition Leader Jason Kenney produced one of his trademark Rebel-Media-style social media videos, misrepresenting past statements by Dr. Suzuki and making such dubious comments as "I understand that U of A grads and others have withheld millions and perhaps more in donations from the university," which sounds very much to me as if he was trying to encourage Albertans not to support the U of A.

Because the university is a public institution, we may get an idea soon of how much anticipated donated revenue has been actually been lost, as opposed to imagined gifts from donors who may or may not exist. I doubt it will be anything like what Mr. Kenney has suggested.

The number of demonstrators who actually turned up to protest against Dr. Suzuki's award is probably a more accurate indication of the public opposition to the honour. There were about a dozen opposed to the degree, according to the CBC and other news organizations who were there, and about the same number supporting it, some of them carrying signs making fun of the opponents. One photograph shows about 20 people holding signs.

Well, we've all had our fun and that should be the end of it. Here is why:

Historically, U of A honorary degrees have not been granted to public figures who were particularly controversial. It's unlikely the idea of stirring up a controversy was the intention or expectation when Dr. Suzuki's name was proposed. Given the grief experienced by the university, it is highly unlikely anything like this will happen again for a very long time. So Mr. Kenney, despite his demand that the university administration should have to "wear this" -- wear in with honour, I say! -- has really gotten his way now.

However, if he continues to attack the U of A, all Mr. Kenney will be doing is damaging a great and valuable Alberta institution that belongs to us all, hurting especially the young Albertans who have worked hard and saved to study there.

This would be very much like what Mr. Kenney accuses Dr. Suzuki of doing when the scientist criticizes and proposes limits on the oil industry and the politician infers that this is the moral equivalent of attacking the people who work in the oilpatch. The difference is that there's really no foundation for Mr. Kenney's criticism of the U of A.

So if Mr. Kenney continues, since a repetition of this brouhaha is so unlikely, it will be obvious he is doing it strictly for his own political gain.

If he is the true Albertan he says he is, someone who is here for Alberta and Albertans, he will drop this now. If it turns out he's just a transplanted Ontarian who's here for himself, we'll know it when we keep on hearing the same words, won't we? We might even be able to revive the hashtag somebody, somewhere, cooked up for something … #DidntComeBackForYou.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Bill Burris/Flickr

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