Tag Archives: National Energy Program

Knickers in a twist over David Suzuki’s University of Alberta honorary degree

Photo: Environmentalist, scientist, author, and broadcaster David Suzuki (credit: David Climenhaga)

The decision by the University of Alberta‘s volunteer Senate to present an honorary degree to high profile environmentalist, scientist, author, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient Dr. David Suzuki has aroused much outrage from conservative partisans, Postmedia columnists, donors and U of A staff. It even earned an embarassingly entitled response from the Dean of Engineering Fraser Forbes, who said he was “deeply sorry” and “ashamed” of the decision.

Good grief.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with Suzuki’s political positions (most notably his controversial comments about Canada’s oil sands) or have had poor personal experiences with him (which many people seem to have had), it is impossible to deny the huge contributions he has made to the popularization of sciences in Canadian culture.

As host of the Nature of Things and Quirks and Quarks, a generation of Canadians were introduced to the sciences through Suzuki’s broadcasts.

The U of A responded with it own statement in defence of Suzuki’s honourary degree, but it appears one statement may not have been enough to appease angry critics. Suzuki has been demonized by the political right for years, including a recent attack from United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney.

Politically manufactured outrage toward Suzuki, who already has an honorary degree from the University of Calgary and nearly 30 other universities, could also be pointed at previous honourary degree recipients.

Albertans outraged about Suzuki’s honorary degree might be surprised to discover that a U of A honorary degree was given to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1968. The U of A also bestowed an honorary degree to Maurice Strong in 1973, three years before Trudeau appointed him as head of Petro-Canada, the now privatized crown-corporation decried by Conservatives of the day. Unthinkable!

Only five short years after he was in charge of enforcing the much-derided National Energy Program as federal minister of energy, Jean Chretien was given a U of A honourary degree in Spring 1987. Blasphemy!

And Mel Hurtig, who later became the country’s loudest crusader against free trade with the United States in the early 1990s, was given an honorary degree in Fall 1986. Unbelievable!

As a U of A alumnus and former member of the U of A Senate, Suzuki’s honourary degree does not particularly bother me more than some previous choices.

Back in 2012, I was not pleased to learn that the U of A Senate had granted an honorary degree to Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chair of Nestlé, the largest multinational food and water corporation in the world.

As Scott Harris wrote in back in 2012, Nestle had been the “target of international boycotts stretching back decades for its marketing of breast milk substitutes … in violation of international standards, widespread labour violations and links to slave labour in its chocolate production, and its environmental impact and strong-arm tactics with communities opposed to Nestlé’s exploitation of groundwater for its bottled water division.”

That is offensive.

At least the U of A administration cannot be accused of not being consistent in their defence of the Senate’s choices for honorary degree recipients.

It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction Suzuki’s opinions will generate from the audience of U of A Science graduates and their families. Will he insult them by criticizing the oil and gas industry and calling to stop climate change? Will he call for an end to or insult our oil pipelines? Should the U of A give a platform to someone who will likely voice opinions that those sitting in the Jubilee Auditorium might find offensive?

It would not be the first time.

I am told that some parents of graduates refused to applaud former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Stephen Lewis when he delivered a call to action against climate change as he accepted his U of A honourary degree a few years ago.

Albertans are free to criticize the U of A Senate’s choices of honourary degree recipients, and we should probably even criticize the sometimes silly exercise of granting honorary degrees.

But the U of A should not shy away from controversial choices.

The University should resist pressure from external donors and internal voices like Forbes to withdraw Suzuki’s honorary degree. As my colleague David Climenhaga writes, doing so would “be a black mark on the intellectual reputation of the U of A, a great university, and it will be a great victory for those who would, “without fairness or justification,” turn all Albertans into climate-change pariahs.”


Luckily for U of A grads in 2018, along with Suzuki the honourary degree recipients speaking at their convocation ceremonies will include farmers’ union activist Nettie Wiebe, CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada Louise Bradley, historian, playwright and composer France Levasseur-Ouimet, particle physicist Brian Cox, human rights scholar David Matas, former Alberta MLA Raj Pannu, former premier of the North West Territories Stephen Kakfwi, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, and respected foreign correspondent Nahlah Ayed.

Suzuki will receive an honourary doctor of science degree from the university on June 7 at 10 a.m.

Pierre Trudeau Peter Lougheed Alberta NEP

The rise and fall of (Pierre) Trudeaumania in Alberta

Trudeau's Tango Alberta Darryl Raymaker

Trudeau’s Tango

There is perhaps no greater myth in Alberta politics than that the National Energy Program, which all Albertans are told to believe brought untold devastation to the oil sector and salted the earth for the federal Liberals in this province for decades to come.

Looking beyond the myth, most Albertans might be surprised to learn that by the time the NEP was launched, it had already been twelve years since the (Pierre) Trudeau Liberals had last elected an MP in Alberta.

Long-time Calgary Liberal Darryl Raymaker does his share of myth-busting as he delves into a period of political optimism, generational changes and missed opportunities that swept through Alberta in the late 1960s and early 1970s in his new book, Trudeau’s Tango. Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

An active member of the Liberal Party of Canada at the time, Raymaker’s book is rich with stories and anecdotes from the offices of party insiders and the trenches of the campaign trail during the Trudeaumania election of 1968. That election saw a federal Liberals breakthrough in Alberta, with four MPs elected, but a long-string of missteps and mistakes led to the party being shut out in the province four years later (and not electing another MP from Alberta until 1993).

Raymaker provides useful insight into the fraught relationship between the four Alberta Liberal MPs and their Ottawa masters, between Trudeau and Calgary’s nouveau rich oil industry, as well as the federal party’s reaction to the shifting ground that led Peter Lougheed‘s Progressive Conservatives to unseat the long-governing Social Credit Party in 1971.

One of the most fascinating stories Raymaker includes in his book is about the failed attempt to negotiate a political coalition between the federal Liberals and the provincial Social Credit Party. The political coalition was an attempt to solidify federal Liberal gains and keep Lougheed’s Tories at bay. The marriage negotiations failed, and as Raymaker argues, helped drive many traditional federal and provincial Liberals into Lougheed’s big-tent PC Party.

The institutional memory that Raymaker shares in this book is invaluable to anyone wanting to understand the politics of a period that had a significant impact on Alberta’s politics in the following decades.

While the context may be different, the book provides some parallels to today’s Alberta politics –  the electoral breakthrough by the (Justin) Trudeau Liberals in 2015, Trudeau’s friendly relationship with the government of NDP Premier Rachel Notley, and the ongoing political battles over oil pipelines and climate change.

Darryl Raymaker will be launching Trudeau’s Tango in Edmonton on Tuesday, at a free event open to the public at Audreys Books on Jasper Avenue. Edmonton-Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault will be sharing a few words at the event and facilitating a discussion after Raymaker’s talk.

Edmonton Book Launch of Trudeau’s Tango
Audreys Books, 10702 Jasper Avenue
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

NEP what? Trudeau Liberals dominate Oil Capital Fort McMurray

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was once despised in Alberta. This doesn't appear to be the case for this son, Justin.

Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was once despised in Alberta. This doesn’t appear to be the case for this son, Justin.

Preliminary results from last week’s Fort McMurray-Athabasca by-election show that federal Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha dominated in the industrial capital of Canada’s oil economy.

According to an initial breakdown of the results by polling station, Mr. Harrietha earned 46% of the votes cast (2,560 votes) in the northern region the riding on June 30, 2014, which includes the Municipal District of Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan and Wabasca.

Kyle Harrietha Liberal Fort McMurray alberta

Kyle Harrietha

The winner of the by-election, Conservative David Yurdiga, earned 36% (2,012 votes) in the same area and NDP candidate Lori McDaniel garnered 11% (660 votes). Mr. Yurdiga solidified his win across the riding in the southern reaches, where he won 57% of the vote in the more traditionally Conservative voting Athabasca, Slave Lake, High Prairie and Lac La Biche. In the south, Mr. Harrietha trailed with 23% of the votes cast on election day and Ms. McDaniel earned 12%.

It should be earth-shattering that a Liberal candidate could win more votes in Fort McMurray than the Conservatives, especially considering Mr. Harrietha’s campaign was bolstered by multiple visits from Justin TRUDEAU.

Justin Trudeau Alberta

Justin Trudeau

A diverse population, a strong Liberal candidate, grievances with the federal government’s lack of investment in public infrastructure and an unknown Conservative candidate certainly contributed to the results. But perhaps we have finally reached a point in our history when the long-cancelled National Energy Program and deceased boogyman Pierre Trudeau, vilified by Conservatives for decades, are now part of an antiquated national mythology, like the log driver or the Social Credit Party.

Regardless of the low voter turnout, which is a concern for anyone interested in a healthy democracy, it cannot be ignored that droves of Conservative voters chose to stay home rather than vote for their party’s candidate.

Perhaps realizing that the Conservative’s tiresome fear ads targeting the likeable younger Mr. Trudeau have not had their desired effect, the Ottawa Tories are now claiming Canada is “Better with Harper” as Prime Minister. After eight years in government, the Tories have become arrogant and too comfortable in Ottawa.

Mr. Harper likes to brag about his party’s support of the oil sands and the energy industry, but perhaps that Fort McMurrayites turned to a Trudeau in this by-election will also convince him to also support the community of people who call the region home.