Alberta Opposition leader Jason Kenney in his video attacking environmentalist David Suzuki (Photo: Screenshot).

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.”

Environmentalist David Suzuki.

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.)

Former U of A Board chair Douglas Goss.

“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.)

Former Alberta NDP leader Raj Pannu (Photo: Dave Cournoyer).

“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.

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

“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 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.

Join the Conversation


  1. There is a sense on the conservative right that their “frustration and anger” over failed pipeline projects and climate change debate is somehow a “normal” reaction. It’s not.
    Any more than cotton plantation owners of 200 years ago and their descendants today getting angry over protests against slavery. Or some WASP getting all frustrated about women “taking jobs” from deserving men. There’s more; a sad, sad legacy of brutal, mean-spirited, ignorant drooling conservatives.
    I’ve read that “Albertans are being made to feel like climate-change pariahs”. Nobody is doing that to them, they are managing to do that to themselves all on their very own. Most people in this province are way outside, and offside, the level of knowledge and understanding of climate change. Including btw, our Premier and her entourage.
    Dr. David Suzuki is a national treasure, one of the very best things Canada has produced. As an educator he has opened the natural world around us to generations of Canadians who would never know otherwise. And he has emphasized curiosity and discovery in a way that too many of us disparage. As a role model; if our children and new Canadians took on only one or two of his character traits the effects would better them and their communities forever.

  2. Another great article, David. Thanks for writing it.

    I followed your link (e astroturf organizations) to the Action Canada website. The group really does need to try and get control of its bots – a huge number of the ca 400 people commenting wrote exactly the same thing.

  3. FWIW… below is a tweet, from a regular AB Twitterer, which I think does a good job of capturing the ‘unpatriotic to AB and AB oil’ critique implied in the attacks on anyone, including Suzuki, who has the temerity to question anything about AB’s oil industry and/or the political serf-like relationship to oil we’re all apparently supposed to adopt, according to Kenney/UCP.

    Vic L McConought
    ‏ @VicForAlberta
    11h11 hours ago

    WILL this University confirm before The Committee on UnAlbertan Activities that all recipients of degrees have been tolerant, kind, and consistent in dogma and belief?!?! WHY NOT?!

    ((McConought’s satirical tweet above was in response to this actual serious tweet below. SVG))

    Syxxx Dxxxxy
    ‏ @SxxxnDxxxxy

    Bingo. Given the irrelevance of the degree itself, I’m mostly upset with the damage this decision and subsequent mismanagement is causing my alma mater. Those responsible should be held accountable.

  4. It never ceases to amaze (and discourage) that so many Albertans have gasped for air beneath the sinker of big oil and gas! This will undoubtably go on for quite a while yet, further lessening the imagination and spirit of those who recognize that tar sands product is not really wanted around the world. Alternatives to economic well-being shalt not be considered!

  5. Of course, the Regressive Conservatives would complain about ‘progressives’ being recognized in the academic world. If course, the comedy writes itself. ‘Progressive’ attitudes should be lauded – no? Isn’t that the essence of learning? Progressive thought? New ideas? An attitude of inclusion and concern for all of society, not just right-wing causes?

  6. As a U of A alumni, I do take the Suzuki controversy seriously. It is up to the University to give honorary degrees to whomever they choose and academic freedom is important, political considerations should not be an important criteria. However, it is also well within the rights of the faculty and others to have opinions on the particular choices too.

    Mr. Kenney is not a U of A alumni, so I am not sure he much if any emotional investment in the success of the institution like some of us do, but I suppose he is free to have opinions on the choices too. However, Mr. Suzuki got honorary degrees from a number of other Canadian Universities, including I believe the University of Calgary, so I do wonder if the U of A is being singled out unfairly here. Also, I find Kenney’s message is getting a bit muddled. It seems to have started out against Suzuki, but Kenney now seems to be questioning the political affiliation of other recipients. Usually he is a bit clearer in his communication, I do wonder if he really is not feeling well.

    The drastic weight loss is noticeable and I am not sure what to make of it. Did Kenney get his stomach stapled? Is he on a food abstinence pledge in a quest to make himself more attractive to the ladies, as finding a wife might benefit him politically? Has he stopped going to those delicious ethnic community dinners, now that he is in Alberta and not in Federal politics? Does he have some serious health issue that we should be aware of, as he aspires to lead our province in a year or so? I know Canadian politicians have generally been fairly reticent on this topic, unlike our American neighbours where it sometimes seems easier to get politicians doctors reports than their tax returns. However, maybe there is something more we should know here. Kenney said not so long ago on another political issue that it is not good for children to keep secrets from their parents, so presumably he would agree it is also not good to keep secrets from the voters. Hopefully this mystery will be resolved soon by Mr. Kenney.

    1. If my memory serves, Dr. Suzuki was dean of the Biology Dept. back when the study of genetics post Watson and Crick was only 15 or so years old (apologies to Fr. Mendel). You can find his picture (Suzuki’s not Mendel’s) among the past Departmental Deans in one of the lecture halls.

      Dr. Suzuki is a man with deep Alberta roots we should all respect and the U of A should be commended for recognizing him with an honorary degree.

  7. The “chorus of rage” noted above could be suffering from a collective bout of bowel blockage. “Trusted treatment for Constipation for 100 years, the ex-lax brand provides gentle, dependable, overnight relief.”

  8. Anything that Jason Kenney is against, any right-thinking person is in favour of. Good rule of thumb, and it’s nice to have it empirically verified here.

  9. I’m concerned about the Premier’s milqtoast response to the controversy (at least what I heard on the radio)…the NDP I’ve always respected wouldn’t stand for these shenanigans for a moment and would be in there like a dirty shirt in support of David Suzuki. Now, it seems like any dirt on their shirt is from the oil (we used to all happily call them ‘tar’ back in the day) sands.

  10. Personally I think the U of A can bestow an honorary degree on anyone they chose. I also think that those who make donations to the University can decide at any time to withdraw their support. My sister obtained her PHD from the U of A and there is no doubt that we view the world differently. She is much more accepting of big government than I. Having not attended the U of A all I can say is that I have always had a great deal of respect for its reputation. While I am not a fan of David Suzuki I am having a hard time trying to figure out what is being gained by raising such strong public objections to this honorary degree. Enjoy your day

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