Photo courtesy Stephen Michael Barnett

David Suzuki adds U of A honorary degree to collection

By Matty Hume, June 7 2018 —

On June 7, famed broadcaster and environmental activist David Suzuki was in Edmonton to receive an honorary science degree from the University of Alberta. It’s Suzuki’s 30th honorary degree — including one from the University of Calgary which he received in 1986.

The honorary degree sparked controversy in the province, mostly regarding Suzuki’s criticisms of Alberta’s oilsands. Premier Rachel Notley has publicly expressed disappointment with the decision to award Suzuki the degree.

“I’m not a big fan of this decision,” Notley said in April. “If I’d been on the [university] senate, I wouldn’t personally have voted for it.”

In Suzuki’s address to U of A following his acceptance of the honorary degree, he told an anecdote about meeting with an unnamed oilsands CEO and his attempt to come to an agreement with the CEO that things such as water, soil and air are “sacred responsibilities to protect.”

“[But] he couldn’t or wouldn’t shake hands, because he came as the CEO of a company,” said Suzuki.

He continued to explain that humans should be “shaping our own creations,” such as corporations and a capitalist economy, to fit the needs of nature instead of the other way around.

Protesters from pro-industry groups such as Canada Action and Rally 4 Resources stood outside the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium during the ceremony, holding pro-oil and anti-Suzuki signage. In April, Canada Action began a petition for the U of A to reverse its decision to award Suzuki with the degree. The United Conservative Party started a petition with the same goal.

Thirty-two years ago, the Gauntlet reported that the U of C would be awarding Suzuki with an honorary degree.

The Gauntlet, May 1986

The Gauntlet, May 1986

In an article published in June 1986, the Gauntlet wrote that while Suzuki was in Calgary to receive that degree, he criticized the structure of universities, saying that the specialization of different degrees make it difficult for students to critically engage with topics outside of their majors. He also criticized media outlets, saying they only exacerbate the fragmentation of information.

Suzuki is only one of the many honorary degree recipients in Alberta this week. Others include a Bachelor of Health and Physical Education/Physical Literacy from Mount Royal University awarded to Bret “The Hitman” Hart.

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