Dr. David Suzuki signing copies of his book at a 2013 event in Calgary (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Good news for Alberta taxpayers! The University of Alberta has not sought, is not seeking, and will not seek a “bailout” – or anything like a bailout – from the taxpayers of Alberta.

Let’s say it again: Hasn’t happened. Isn’t happening. Won’t happen.

CTF Alberta Director Colin Craig (Photo: Screenshot of CTF Youtube video).

I mention this because of the startling headline on a Canadian Taxpayers Federation news release that showed up on social media yesterday morning: “Albertans say ‘no’ to bailout for U of A.”

WTF, I thought when I saw that. Since when was the U of A seeking a bailout?

It’s not, of course. And that’s official. Yes, I checked with the university.

The highly tendentious news release, which was sent out by Colin Craig, Alberta Director of the self-described “tax watchdog,” goes on to say this: “The Canadian Taxpayers Federation released poll results today that show 65 per cent of Albertans oppose a government bailout for the University of Alberta if its donations continue to suffer due to its decision to give David Suzuki an honorary degree.” (Emphasis added.)

Dr. Suzuki is the well-known Canadian biologist, author and broadcast personality whose views about the Alberta oilsands were controversial in this province even before the U of A decided to award him an honorary degree, which is scheduled to be presented on Thursday.

The CTF news release goes on: “‘The university should take note that Albertans don’t support bailing it out if it proceeds with giving an honorary degree to anti-Alberta activist David Suzuki,’ said CTF Alberta Director Colin Craig. ‘Suzuki is a guy that routinely attacks Alberta’s energy industry while flying all over the world and telling Canadians to watch their carbon footprint. He’s the last person the university should recognize.’”

This much from that passage is verifiably true: There is a public opinion poll. Much of the rest is a stretch.

The news release begins by spinning one question on the poll, which was done by Ipsos Public Affairs for the CTF and didn’t mention the University of Alberta but asked if respondents agreed with the statement, “Federal and provincial governments should not bail out public institutions who lose private donors due to their decisions to grant honorary degrees to controversial figures.”

UCP Leader Jason Kenney, a former CTF operative (Photo: David J. Climenhaga)

Regardless of what one thinks of his view of oilsands development, it is certainly false to say, as the CTF release does, that Dr. Suzuki is an “anti-Alberta activist.”

As for calling Dr. Suzuki the last person the U of A should recognize, that’s an opinion to which Mr. Craig and his colleagues at the CTF are entitled, even if some of us respectfully disagree.

In its own press release, Ipsos stated more accurately, “The poll reveals Albertans’ views about the topic are diverse and highly divided.” Nevertheless, I was surprised a respected public opinion firm like Ipsos took part in a project of this nature, since the thrust of some questions could be interpreted by a fair minded person as an effort to push respondents toward certain conclusions.

For example, in one, respondents were asked if they agreed with the statement, “Governments should review the funding of Canadian public institutions who offer honorary degrees to controversial figures who do not align with the public mission and principles of the institution.” Couldn’t this be taken in context as a suggestion the University of Alberta was not acting in accord with its public mission in the case of Dr. Suzuki’s award?

In another, respondents were asked if they agreed, “I will have a worsened impression of the University of Alberta if they follow through and award an honorary degree to David Suzuki.” Interestingly, nearly half the respondents disagreed with that statement, suggesting Dr. Suzuki is far more popular in Alberta than the CTF would like us to believe. The CTF’s news release, by the way, didn’t mention that, only that 41 per cent agreed.

Certainly, before asking the question, both the CTF and the pollster should have asked the university if it was in fact seeking a “bailout” or some other replacement for funds that may have been withdrawn by donors protesting Dr. Suzuki’s honour.

I cannot tell you with certainty they did not, because neither Mr. Craig nor Ipsos Vice-President Jamie Duncan, listed on their respective news releases as contacts for media, responded to my queries yesterday. If they did, however, they didn’t speak to the same university official I did.

One of the questions asked by the pollster made reference to “the public mission and principles of the institution.” In its mission statement, the U of A lists its values in part as “intellectual integrity, freedom of inquiry and expression” and “academic freedom and institutional autonomy as fundamental to open inquiry and the pursuit of truth.”

On those grounds, an honorary degree for Dr. Suzuki seems reasonable.

As for the university, even if there were a serious drop in donations as a result of the award, it will not require a bailout from taxpayers because donation funds are not used by the U of A for day-to-day operations. One Calgary law firm is known to have pulled $40,000 of a $100,000 commitment. Other than that, it’s not at all clear there’s been much impact.

Why a supposed “tax watchdog” would be interested in this story is not clear until we recall that despite its claims of non-partisanship, the CTF generally provides partisan support to right-wing political parties. This of course includes Alberta’s United Conservative Party, headed by Jason Kenney, a former CTF operative and executive.

So the explanation for the CTF’s interest in this situation, and its not-very-credible efforts to spin the poll results, may be tied to Mr. Kenney’s statements in February attacking the Alberta Teachers Association for inviting Dr. Suzuki to speak at a meeting. A column by a Calgary Sun columnist repeating Mr. Kenney’s talking points, interestingly, uses very similar language about Dr. Suzuki as yesterday’s CTF news release.

The Sun’s stenography may also provide a hint why some mainstream media outlets continue to report statements from the CTF that are clearly without much merit.

The U of A has courageously stuck to its decision to award Dr. Suzuki the honorary degree. Dr. Suzuki is expected to attend the ceremony on Thursday to accept it.

Join the Conversation


  1. If universities had to dance to the tune of donors, where would that lead us?
    Which donors? All sorts of people donate to the university. People with a wide range of views.
    How could universities operate if they had to conform to the will of all their donors, subject themselves to their every whim, and toe the corporate line of the day?
    The right-wing’s agenda for universities spells the end of academic freedom and leads to chaos.

  2. There are so many reasonable arguments against honouring Dr. Suzuki and his questionable foundation it makes one wonder why Kenney and his ilk jump on the anti-Alberta thing. Perhaps we should question the funds received by the foundation from large Canadian banks? Oh wait these are the same banks the Harper gov’t gave the power to take customer deposits in a Cyprus style bail in scheme. Can’t open that can of worms it might wake people up.
    Maybe the funds received from large multi-national NGOs should be questioned? No that may cause a close look at these same NGOs and how they fund help for migrants crossing into Europe. It may raise the question as to why Libya was destroyed, something fully supported by Harper’s government causing the migrant crisis.
    There are other examples of course but the bottom line is it is much easier to put together a biased poll. Sowing the seeds for an early 90’s style war on the public service no doubt. A lot of Albertans see through Suzuki’s for profit environmentalism the same way they see through the UCP’s fake conservatism, people are waking up just very very slowly.

  3. There are currently 2 petitions at change.org about this issue: one opposing Dr. Suzuki’s award and one supporting it. The opposition petition has 256 supporters, the one supporting it has 568.

  4. Mr. Craig also wrote an editorial for the Edmonton Journal recently complaining about Alberta School Boards Association’s lack of transparency in spite of the fact they are indirectly publicly funded. While his point had validity, it would have had a lot more validity if the CTF engaged in the same transparency they called for with regards to their own funding. Who exactly is paying for the policy proposals the CTF is calling for?

    1. Why, their members… all six of them, who – if I’m not mistaken – also comprise the bulk of the board of directors.

  5. Thanks for this story David. More Suzuki is always better than less, I say!

    I wonder if these nutbars gather in some cave somewhere, or perhaps, under a bridge and chortle amoungst themselves as they describe their rhetorical assaults on their betters.
    I just have a picture of a pack of Smeagol’s whenever I hear one of these goofs.

  6. That U of A “bailout” seems to be news to everyone. However, I suppose it is a free country and the taxpayers federation can waste its members (sorry, I mean supporters, they have no vote for what they pay) money on whatever frivolous hypothetical poll questions they want. After all they are only really accountable to their six or so members. I don’t think their supporters or donors or whatever they call them, even get financial statements, audited or otherwise.

    It wouldn’t take a poll to tell anyone Suzuki is controversial in some circles – he has opinions, he is outspoken, some people like him, some don’t. However, I don’t think controversial is factor in getting an honorary degree. The great thing about polls, which are partly art and partly science is you can often get whatever result you want by how you word the question. I am sure support is much lower for something when you use the word “bailout” in the question as opposed to say government funding. Also, I am not sure the government can bail out something it is required to fund anyways, like post secondary education, as opposed to something it is not require to fund, like a private business, but I suspect the taxpayers federation worded the question more to get the result they wanted, rather than out of a concern for accuracy.

    Lastly, I have to wonder about the motives for the taxpayers federation in doing this poll, given there was no public discussion or debate about any “bailout” before it did the poll. I suspect they are obviously trying to influence or create a political debate, where none seems to exist. It might also be part of an effort to intimidate, bully or influence the University . Whichever brilliant right wing operative came up with this idea probably realized it could blow up on them, so better to cover their tracks and have the Taxpayers Federation do it. After all, none of its six or so members are likely to object to it. Also, perhaps any supporters who are put off by this waste of money will forget by the time their annual membership, oh sorry I mean supporter-ship (or whatever one should call it) is up for renewal.

    1. Amazing that the Taxpayers Federation, UCP or Jason Kenney have locked their lips about the NDP fixing many extraordinary salaries doled out by previous PC governments for school superintendents and government CEO’s. One would think they would praise the NDP for saving taxpayers money and in particular the Taxpayers Federation (what good do they provide Alberta taxpayers). Not even a whimper from these so called concerned citizens and politicians who are worried about saving Alberta from tax waste.

  7. Off-topic, but I will bet our kind host’s indulgence, because what I’m about to say is relevant to many not previous posts on the blog.

    I wonder how many here saw this? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2018/06/04/koch-network-announces-plan-to-oppose-trump-tariffs/

    Here we see that Mr Climenhaga’s bêtes noirs, the extreme right-wing Koch brothers, are actually taking a strong stance against their nutbar Republican-in-name-only President and his absurd steel and aluminum tariffs, imposed on the risible grounds that Canadian metal exports to the US pose a “national security” threat to the United States. You might be a supporter of trade agreements like NAFTA, or an opponent, but I can think of nobody in Canada who would support these specious tariffs.

    Just goes to show that bizarro politics like what we see south of the Medicine Line these days really does make strange bedfellows.

    As one of the Farmer commenters (I can’t recall which one … ) usually says, “enjoy your day”.

  8. If in fact Suzuki is wealthy, it just proves that oil is not the only driver of an economy and that people can make a living off a eco friendly economy.

    The CTF is only a front designed to churn out propaganda for an extreme right wing party like the conservatives under whatever name is useful to them. Its six members have proven that they can make a good living by writing rather than working in the oil industry.

    Suzuki is an honest scientist who has been trying for over fifty years to make people aware of the need to live in sync with nature.

  9. Has Mr. Suzuki received other honorary degrees? If so it might help the more calm monkeys, if we told them that the UofA is in good company. Let’s say UBC, UVIC, Cambridge, Harvard, etc. Tout his bona fides!

  10. So, I am going to go off topic a little bit, but I will beg the indulgence of our kind host because the topic I’m going to comment on is relevant to many many previous posts on this blog.

    I wonder how many regulars readers of this blog saw this headline and story in the Washington Post this morning? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2018/06/04/koch-network-announces-plan-to-oppose-trump-tariffs/

    Here we see a couple of Mr. Climenhaga’s main bêtes noirs actually taking a strong stance against the Trump administration’s tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. Regardless of your opinion about trade deals such as NAFTA, it’s clear that Trump’s risible accusation that Canadian steel and aluminum exports pose a “national security“ threat to the United States is completely specious, and is making the USA a laughing stock.

    1. Apologies to everyone for being so slow posting comments today. I have been in meetings or on the road throughout the day and have only just now looked at the website, a little after 10 p.m. For that reason, I will not be publishing a post tonight. I thought two things when I saw another version of the story cited by Jerry early in the day: one, that having the Koch Bros. defending “trade deals” tends to reinforce my prejudice against them, and, two, that if the Kochs are turning on him, Mr. Trump is probably not much longer for politics. For an interesting alternative view on this topic, a suggestion about what Mr. Trump may be up to, let me recommend Duncan Cameron’s piece in Rabble: http://rabble.ca/columnists/2018/06/trump-turns-canada-why-ottawa-surprised DJC

      1. Hi. Sorry, I ended up double posting. There was a technical glitch & I thought my comment didn’t get saved … i..e I didn’t get te usual “awaiting moderation” message. So I tried again, and both versions ended up getting posted. Oops …

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