Danielle Smith: David Suzuki honorary degree enrages Albertans

Click to play video: 'University of Alberta defends decision to give honourary degree to David Suzuki' University of Alberta defends decision to give honourary degree to David Suzuki
WATCH ABOVE: Philanthropists are now pulling donations from the University of Alberta, protesting the university's decision to bestow an honourary degree on David Suzuki. However, the university is standing behind its decision despite the backlash. Fletcher Kent reports – Apr 24, 2018

I don’t know about you, but I stopped thinking of David Suzuki as a real scientist about two decades ago.

I was on the editorial board of the Calgary Herald and he came in for an editorial board meeting. There were two things I found the most memorable about the meeting. The first was that he casually dropped the f-bomb in conversation, which I thought was odd and disrespectful in a formal on-the-record meeting with people he didn’t know. The second was when my editorial colleague had him pinned to the wall unable to answer a series of basic questions on climate science.

He shut the conversation down by saying he wasn’t a climate scientist; that his area of expertise was the genetics of fruit flies.

READ MORE: Notley calls U of A Suzuki decision ‘tone deaf’ but supports university independence and debate

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I was reminded that his level of knowledge hadn’t progressed at all when a listener sent me a story about his embarrassing appearance on an Australian talk show in 2013, where he pretty much gave the same answer: “I’m not a climatologist.” He appeared befuddled by the scientific questions posed to him.

I accept that climatology wasn’t Suzuki’s principal area of scientific study. But, since he has made his entire career talking about the threat of climate change, is it too much to ask that he would have bothered to learn something about it in the last 50 years?

LISTEN: Moody’s Gartner is withdrawing financial support for the University of Alberta as a result of Suzuki’s honorary degree

According to the University of Alberta’s (U OF A) website:

A University of Alberta honorary degree is intended to recognize and honor [sic] outstanding individuals whose significant achievements and contributions are worthy of the university’s highest honor [sic]. The awarding of an honorary degree is intended to encourage a standard of excellence which is exemplary to students and to society. Honorary degree recipients embody the university’s vision to inspire the human spirit through outstanding achievements in learning, discovery and citizenship in a creative community.”
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Suzuki can’t answer basic questions about science, completely dismisses the discipline of environmental economics as irrelevant, likens development of the oilsands to slavery and suggests those who disagree with him should be thrown in prison. This is the “standard of excellence” the U of A chooses to honour?

When I first entered the media, I learned the discipline of good journalism was to be fair, accurate and balanced. That’s what the public expects of those who strive to have credibility in delivering news and information that shapes public opinion.

READ MORE: ‘Universities must not be afraid of controversy’: U of A president on Suzuki degree

LISTEN: Lorne Gunter with the Edmonton Sun explains why he feels Suzuki’s honorary degree is so controversial

I would go so far as to say the standard should be even higher in academia, since this is the group of people training and influencing the next generation of thought leaders.

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Suzuki is not fair: he has shown no interest in considering alternative viewpoints. Suzuki is not accurate: he spouts off platitudes and mistruths with no regard for facts. Suzuki is not balanced: he dismisses those who disagree with him as redneck, immoral or criminal.

It’s no surprise to me that U of A graduates and donors are outraged.

The University of Alberta has diminished itself. First, in its failure to live up to its own standards and second, by refusing to acknowledge its mistake.

READ MORE: University of Alberta’s decision to give David Suzuki honorary degree criticized

LISTEN: Cody Battershill with Canada Action discusses the petition against Suzuki’s honorary degree

Albertans have been sending the message loud and clear: Canada Action’s petition calling on the U of A to rescind the award is at 13,000 and growing. Sign your name if you agree. Rally 4 Resources is also hosting a rally against Suzuki’s honorary degree on the same day the university will be presenting him with it.

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Danielle Smith can be reached at


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