Where is the Globe and Mail, the National Post, federal Opposition leader Andrew Scheer?
After all, they were all such convincing defenders of intellectual freedom on campus when the barbs were being directed at Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto professor who is “the Darth Maul of tenured campus bad boys,” as one wag deconstructed the Youtube phenomenon so beloved by the right for his “to-do list for a generation of tiki torch-wielding neo-Klansmen.”
But now that many oilpatch dependents, egged on by the deans of such coddled business-supported faculties as engineering and business, and oil industry Astro-Turf goups, are howling for the University of Alberta to snatch back the honorary degree it promised to environmentalist and scientist David Suzuki, these defenders of intellectual freedom are nowhere to be found.
All we hear from them are crickets!
Yesterday, an alarmingly thin Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s Opposition United Conservative Party Opposition, joined the chorus of rage against the honour and went full-tilt Rebel Media on Dr. Suzuki, complete with a video plea to sign a petition and thereby get on the UCP’s fund-raising list.
I don’ wanna go to convocation … no, no, no, wailed the former college dropout who made it big as a social conservative politician (I’m paraphrasing him) in a social media video of his own.
Actually – apparently channeling the late William Safire, speechwriter to the brightest stars of the Nixon Administration – Mr. Kenney accused Dr. Suzuki of “a campaign of calumny against our core employer.” (Since calumny is defined as “the making of false and defamatory statements in order to damage someone’s reputation,” it would be fair to say Dr. Suzuki could probably offer a pretty persuasive defence against this characterization, although for the moment he has chosen to maintain a dignified silence.)
“This is not somebody deserving of an honour from a great Alberta institution like the University of Alberta,” Mr. Kenney harrumphed, before moving on to his real agenda.
You see, the Opposition leader revealed, it’s not just Dr. Suzuki – whom he obviously aspires to make the most hated man in Alberta, the better to tie him to Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP – there are too damn many progressives altogether getting honorary degrees from the U of A!
Getting anyone to see the Alberta NDP as allies of Dr. Suzuki is not an easy task these days, what with Ms. Notley and her cabinet acting more like Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives of yore on the pipeline file, if not quite like Mr. Kenney’s alt-right edition of Alberta’s putative natural governing party.
Nevertheless, I guess we have to give Mr. Kenney, clever lifelong politician that he is, props for finding a way, if only by whinging about the progressive credentials of some of the other honorary degree recipients.
“There are a lot of worthy recipients of honorary degrees this year,” he pronounced piously, “but all of those with a political pedigree happen to come from the left of the political spectrum. Helen Clark, a former Socialist Party leader in New Zealand, Raj Pannu, the former NDP leader in Alberta, Nettie Wiebe, a former union president and NDP candidate.” (Ms. Clark, by the way was the Labour Party prime minister of New Zealand for almost a decade, but … whatever.)
“This suggests a troubling level of politicization at one of our major institutions that has no place there,” Mr. Kenney huffed, thereafter making his segue into the Rebel-style pitch.
It’s becoming apparent the whole effort to defame Dr. Suzuki is a rather lame partisan effort to attack the Notley Government. The fact Dr. Suzuki has no time for the policies of Ms. Notley’s NDP hardly matters if the accusation is repeated enough times. Nor does the reality so many of Mr. Kenney’s accusations are plucked right from misleading videos on the thoroughly discredited Rebel “news” site.
Other than Dr. Suzuki, perhaps, the only person to emerge from this brouhaha looking halfway respectable is U of A President David Turpin, who basically told his rebel deans and their Astro-Turf chorus to take a hike, metaphorically speaking.
“We will stand by our decision because our reputation as a university – an institution founded on the principles of freedom of inquiry, academic integrity, and independence – depends on it,” Dr. Turpin wrote yesterday in response to the deans’ sniping.
“Stifle controversy and you also stifle the pursuit of knowledge, the generation of ideas, and the discovery of new truths,” he said. “Take uncomfortable ideas, debate, and conflict out of the university and its fundamental role in society disappears.”
Well, good for him, although I imagine already having had the experience of a spat with the NDP’s minister of advanced education over his salary, that the university president doesn’t really relish another one with the leader of the Opposition about intellectual freedom. After all, it’s a concept that’s often honoured in the breach here in Alberta.
What Dr. Turpin needs to understand is that political interference in the granting of honorary degrees at the U of A is a dubious Alberta tradition that goes back to the 1930s. So he needs to brace himself because the Conservative rage machine has been revving up to attack him on social media, raising suspicions about his past employment at universities in – quelle horreur! – Ontario and B.C.
Not quite a year ago, the university gave an honorary doctorate to Douglas Goss, the former U of A board chair.
Alert readers of AlbertaPolitics.ca will recall how Mr. Goss and four other prominent Edmonton-area businessmen called a news conference four days before the election in the Jasper Avenue boardroom of Melcor Developments to beg their fellow citizens not to do anything so foolish as to elect an “amateur” NDP government. They suggested instead that smart Albertans would stick with the “solid” track record of Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice.
For the record, notwithstanding that blunder, the provincial government and the Alberta blogosphere had no problem with the honour awarded to Mr. Goss. Neither did Mr. Kenney, of course. Well, that was then, and this is now.