Tag Archives: Scott Harris

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.

#InsiderBaseball: NDP government shuffles ministerial Chiefs of Staff

Rumours that the NDP government was shuffling its senior staffers appears to be true. Sources confirm that three ministerial Chiefs of Staff have been shuffled into different offices and two new Chiefs of Staff have been hired.

Chief of Staff Bill Moore-Kilgannon will move from the Office of the Minister of Health and Seniors to the Office of the Minister of Human Services, Scott Harris will move from the Office of the Minister of Agriculture to the Office of the Minister of Minister of Health and Seniors, and Tony Clark will move from the Office of Human Services to the Office of the Minister of Agriculture.

It was also noted that Andrew Tarver has been hired to succeed Jessica Bowering as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Justice and Aboriginal Relations, and Miriam Rycroft was hired to succeed Robin Steudel as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure. Ms. Rycroft previously served as a Ministerial Assistant in the same office.

It is unclear why the three senior political staffers were shuffled, though there is a chance it could simply be a human resources decision.

Tory lobby firm hires more Tories

In the world of lobbyists, the Tory-connected Canadian Strategy Group announced today that former Progressive Conservative MLA Rick Orman and former Conservative MP Brian Storseth would join its payroll. Located in Ottawa, Mr. Storseth served in the government backbenches as the MP for Westlock-St. Paul from 2006 to 2015, when he resigned and later sought the PC nomination in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills (he was defeated in the nomination). Mr. Orman was the MLA for Calgary-Montrose from 1986 to 1993 and ran for the PC Party leadership in 2011.

 

Alberta’s new political insiders mostly come from outside Alberta

Edmonton Journal report Karen Kleiss published a story this week naming the new Chiefs of Staff hired to advise Alberta’s twelve NDP cabinet ministers and manage their offices at the Legislature. The new government has faced criticism for hiring too many staff from outside of the province and Premier Rachel Notley‘s NDP have responded that the new government needs to hire the best people for the job no matter where they come from (even Alberta’s premiere Tory lobbyist companies are hiring British Columbia New Democrats to advise them about Alberta’s new political landscape).

The criticism is valid. A balance of experience and local knowledge is required within the senior ranks of the new government, and as a Alberta’s first new government in 44 years, there might not be many operatives in-province with non-Progressive Conservative governing experience to rely on.

As previous premier’s Alison Redford and Jim Prentice discovered, filling senior political jobs with outsiders who may not be familiar with the provincial political environment can alienate party loyalists and MLAs and lead to embarrassing mistakes.

List of Alberta’s Ministerial Chiefs of Staff

Lisa Blanchette, Education, Culture and Tourism: Former organizer for ACTRA Toronto, previous employee of SEIU, and national political action coordinator for the United Steelworkers.

Jessica Bowering, Justice and Solicitor General and Aboriginal Relations: Lawyer and former director of Legal Services for the British Columbia Nurses Union.

Tony Clark, Human Services: Former research for the Alberta Federation of Labour and staffer for the NDP Opposition Caucus.

Brent Dancey, Environment and Parks and the Status of Women: Former Special Assistant to Premier Greg Selinger‘s Office for Manitoba Hydro.

Scott Harris, Agriculture and Forestry: Former Political Research Coordinator in Office of the Leader of the NDP Official Opposition in Ottawa.

Graham Mitchell, Energy: Former Director of Training and Leadership at the Broadbent Institute and former Executive Assistant to Toronto City Councillors Jack Layton.

Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Health and Seniors: Former Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, President of the Riverdale Community League.

Nathan Rotman, Finance and Treasury Board: Former National Director of the NDP, former campaign manager for Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, former national director of  Political Action and Campaigns at the Canadian Labour Congress.

Nathaniel Smith, Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta: Former organizer for the NDP in Halifax, former executive assistant to NDP cabinet ministers in Nova Scotia.

Steve Stringfellow, Innovation and Advanced Education and Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour: Former CUPE National Representative in Alberta and BC NDP campaign manager.

Robin Steudel, Infrastructure and Transportation: Former Principal Secretary to the Alberta NDP Caucus, former Communications Officer at the NDP Official Opposition in British Columbia, former spokesperson for the Yukon NDP, and federal NDP communications officer.

Brian Topp, International and Intergovernmental Relations (Premier): NDP campaign manager, former federal NDP leadership candidate, deputy chief of staff to former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow.

Journos flee the fourth estate for NDP jobs

Intrepid CBC reporter John Archer announced this week that he has accepted a job in the Premier’s Media Relations Office. Mr. Archer is one of a handful of journalists who have recently accepted jobs with the new NDP government, including Veronica Jubinville and Laura Tupper from CTV, and Jeremy Nolais and Leah Holoiday from Metro.