Environmentalist David Suzuki (Photo: David J. Climenhaga) Credit: David Climenhaga / albertapolitics.ca

What is it about David Suzuki that makes Alberta’s Conservatives lose their minds? 

On Saturday, the high-profile Vancouver-based scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster spoke at a protest in Victoria where he warned of the possibility of violence if politicians keep failing to act against climate change.

During the “funeral for the future,” Suzuki gave a short interview to a Victoria TV station in which he asserted that “we’re in deep, deep doo-doo. And they’ve been telling us, the leading experts, for over 40 years.”

“This is what we’ve come to, and the next stage after this is, there’re gonna be pipelines blown up if our leaders don’t pay attention to what’s going on.”

Even though the interview has been clearly edited — we don’t hear the question Suzuki was asked, and there is an obvious edit between the two statements transcribed above — it’s patently clear he was warning of the danger of violence, not advocating it.

Readers can watch the CHEK News clip here for themselves. 

News coverage by the Postmedia newspaper chain, however, spun the environmentalist’s words to give the impression he was advocating violence. 

“‘Pipelines will be blown up,’ says David Suzuki, if leaders don’t act on climate change,” screeched the headline in Postmedia’s National Post, and in identical coverage in the U.S.-owned newspaper chain’s smaller regional Postlets. 

In case readers were too thick to get the false inference Suzuki was threatening violence, not warning about it, a subhead says, “Critics called the statement ‘dangerous’ and ‘reckless’.” The reporter trowelled the implication on by referring to Suzuki in his lead as, “the godfather of the Canadian environmental movement.” (Emphasis added.) 

Whether it was the tendentious headline or just the fact anyone would dare to oppose a pipeline project, this quickly sent the usual suspects in Alberta politics over the edge. 

“This incitement to violence by David Suzuki is dangerous, and should be condemned universally,” Premier Jason Kenney tweeted, providing a link to the Post story. “In Canada we resolve our differences peacefully and democratically, not with threats of terrorism or acts of violence,” he added piously.

As an aside, in Canada we resolve serious and obviously false defamations like this one through the civil courts. Suzuki would be within his rights to consider a defamation action against the premier for his false and defamatory statement. 

“Environment” Minister Jason Nixon — sorry, but the first word of his title screams for scare quotes — got up on his hind legs in the legislature and accused Suzuki of advocating “ecoterrorism.” 

“David Suzuki is so out of touch with the real world that he advocates, Mr. Speaker, for ecoterrorism towards Canadian people and industries,” Nixon told the House. “This is completely unacceptable and extremely reckless.”

Of course, Suzuki cannot pursue a legal case against Nixon for the falsehood he uttered in the Chamber, where absolute privilege reigns. The minister went on to accuse the NDP of “collaborating” with Suzuki, although this seems like a more pardonable lie, all part of the game played in the Legislature. But if Nixon were an honourable man, he would withdraw his calumny against Suzuki and apologize. 

Not so long ago, when W. Brett Wilson, the well-known oil billionaire and social media nuisance, called for environmentalists to be hanged for “treason” – that is, for advocating against further expansion of the fossil fuel industry — Kenney had nary a word to say in condemnation. 

It is fair to say that calling environmentalists, as Wilson tweeted, “Bastards. Slimy bastards. Hang them for treason….” is an actual incitement to violence that should be condemned universally. 

Condemnation from the Kenney government was swift, however, when an anti-vaxx protester left a noose outside a United Conservative Party minister’s home. “Intimidation and threats of violence are never acceptable,” tweeted Justice Minister Kaycee Madu at the time, as self-righteously as the premier. 

Nor was there such a hysterical reaction back in the 1990s when someone was actually bombing natural gas pumping sites in northern Alberta. Politicians here remained calm even when Wiebo Ludwig was identified as a suspect, arrested, tried and sent to jail. 

Well, times were different then. The Conservatives of the day styled themselves progressive, and were unchallenged by a large and effective Opposition in the House. They were, in fact, for the most part reasonable people. 

That too was before North American conservatives routinely winked at calls for violence against their political enemies. 

Moreover, despite Ludwig’s opposition to the impact of the fossil fuel industry on the Christian community he led near Hythe, he was not so different in ways such as his religious convictions and complexion from the Conservative base. 

Ludwig died of cancer a decade ago, and his transgressions are all but forgotten in Alberta politics today. 

But as for Suzuki, he lives in the heads of the oil evangelists of the UCP.

Who can forget the screeching hysteria in 2018 when the University of Alberta dared to grant him an honorary degree celebrating his distinguished academic career. Kenney put out a social media video calling him “a multi-millionaire who regurgitates the same message of defamation against what is the most ethical oil industry on earth.”

Despite the abuse the university suffered, it bravely granted the degree — no doubt prompting the Kenney government’s ongoing vendetta that continues to kill jobs and programs at the respected institution today. 

But Suzuki — like the Energizer Bunny — is unstoppable. He still generates headlines and lends credibility to his cause, driving Alberta Conservatives around the bend. 

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...