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Commentary: Time for University of Alberta to drop senseless initiative to honour anti-oil zealot Suzuki


What a strange world the University of Alberta’s president and vice-chancellor appear to inhabit.

David Turpin’s venerable institution decided – apparently right out of the blue and without any reasonable explanation – to honour a divisive, zealous opponent of Alberta’s most important sector.

Now Turpin, the school’s highest-ranked staffer, has staked U of A’s pristine reputation with his following through giving an honorary degree to Canada’s doctor of doom, sultan of smear towards Alberta, the infamous Alberta oil sands hater, propagandist, David Suzuki.

There is no good time to honour the person that wants your province’s central industry outlawed. But I’m pretty sure honouring him in the middle of an intergovernmental battle for jurisdiction is the worst timing possible.

Here’s a newsflash for the president: Not all publicity is good publicity; some is very bad indeed.

So, it was no surprise, thousands of Canadians collectively sat up in their chairs over the last several weeks, took a look at this ludicrous initiative, and then reached for their personal devices. Whether educators or executives or workers and their families, Canadians lit up Twitter and Facebook in a discussion of the pros and, mostly, the cons of Suzuki’s future degree.

U of A’s engineering dean, Fraser Forbes, said the issue had become “a direct and alarming threat to our Faculty of Engineering and the worst crisis, a crisis of trust, that we’ve faced in more than three decades.”

Its dean of business, Joseph Doucet, apologized “most deeply and sincerely to our alumni and supporters who understandably feel disappointed and betrayed by this situation.”

Even the school’s high-profile energy economist and business professor, Andrew Leach, an architect of Alberta climate policy and often a defender of environmentalism within the energy sector, seemed aghast on Twitter.

Donor companies withdrew financial support to the school. Alumni complained in tones that conveyed horror, anger, disappointment and feelings of betrayal.

 

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Turpin, perhaps not a great communicator, appeared to have logged onto his keyboard as well. After such a public hammering, surely, he’d soften the school’s commitment to celebrity worship while he looked for a pragmatic off-ramp.

No such luck, Canada. Bracing his institution for a huge public backlash, Turpin is committed to prolonging the pain. His school’s misguided decision to suck up to the industry’s consistently most vicious verbal abuser is all good:

“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.”

Is that right? Your reputation depends on giving your school’s highest honour – for no apparent reason – to the archenemy of your province’s very life-blood? And you’re defending your actions with a simplistic appeal to academic freedom? How does this ill-conceived honour support academic integrity? The U of A’s school motto is, quaecumque vera, meaning “whatsoever things are true.” David Suzuki practices overt propaganda, preforms stunts, and exercises hyperbole rather than scientific facts to advance his causes’ arguments without regard for truth.

And what about Turpin’s refusal to reconsider? Is that really a shining example of integrity?

It’s possible Turpin was effectively deaf to the decades of Suzuki’s hateful statements in which he likened any economic discussion of CO2 emissions reductions in the oil sands to perpetuating the slave trade.

Maybe Turpin just feels it’s a fun idea to celebrate the man who called fossil fuels inherently unethical, especially if the university doing the celebrating also supplies the province’s largest economic sector with petrochemical engineers, chemists, geologists, administrators and the myriad of sustainability practitioners the sector now employs.

On second thought, ignore the last point about the sustainability practitioners in Alberta’s energy sector. In spite of the great environmental gains made in energy exploration, development and transmission in our province, for Suzuki economic prosperity and sustainable resource development can never co-exist. Ever.

In short, it seems U of A President David Turpin just doesn’t get it. Suzuki isn’t some academic that, through his selfless pursuit of the greater good, has offended a few sensibilities along the way. This is a zealot who wants nothing more nor less than a quick end to Alberta’s most vital industry.

For U of A not to consult its alumni, benefactors, faculty, staff and current and future students on such a reckless squandering of its moral and academic leadership is truly shameful.

It’s no wonder in excess of 24,000 individuals have signed our petition urging the U of A to reverse this wrong-headed decision.

We once again implore the U of A leadership to change its mind, scrap the plan for this absurd honour, and move on – for the sake of your university, your province and your country.

Cody Battershill is a Calgary realtor and founder/spokesperson for CanadaAction.ca, a volunteer organization that supports Canadian energy development and the environmental, social and economic benefits that come with it. Sign our petition!



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