Sunday, 23 June 2013
Albertans are spitting mad at David Suzuki. The famous environmentalist and CBC host wrote a column yesterday tying Alberta flooding, in which three died, to his favourite hobby horse, climate change. “Too soon, Dave?” was a common comment heard in Tim Hortons across the province yesterday, uttered by Albertans reeling from the worst flooding in recent memory. Over 75,000 people evacuated from Calgary, much of Canmore and High River completely under water with local infrastructure destroyed or severely damaged,
Too soon, indeed.
As thousands of Albertans huddled in evacuation centres and contemplated the loss of their homes and belongings, the last thing they needed to hear was David Suzuki using their pain as a pretext to preach about climate change. “Can we say the recent flooding and extreme weather in Southern Alberta and B.C. were caused by global warming? Maybe not, but we can say we should expect more of the same – and worse if we don’t do something to get our emissions under control. As many scientists warn, climate change isn’t coming; it’s here,” he wrote.
Suzuki’s use of so much personal tragedy as a platform to promote his political agenda is repugnant. Am I surprised? No, because I have a personal history with Suzuki that offers a bit of insight into his judgment on these kinds of issues.
It was 1992 and I had just set myself up as a one-man public relations agency in Prince Alberta, Sask. My phone rang and it was a colleague asking me if I would help out the Meadow Lake Tribal Council with a sticky issue in their forestry operations. MLTC had recently bought a big sawmill in Meadow Lake. As part of the deal, the Tribal Council received a forestry licence that included re-foresting obligations. Some of the First Nations band members objected to the MLTC forestry company’s harvesting and silviculture methods, and had occupied a logging road, refusing to let workers and equipment onto the harvesting area.
Acting upon bad advice from their lawyer and a big Vancouver PR firm, the MLTC chief and council kept their head down and refused to talk to media. Well, after a couple of weeks the story was completely out of control and was leading national newscasts. Naturally, David Suzuki injected himself into the controversy. He flew out to Saskatchewan, met with the protesting elders, and dominated the news cycle thereafter. Desperate to turn things around, MLTC asked me to help. I asked them one question: Do you have good stories to tell?
This was the height of the “BC is the Brazil of the North” campaigns (funny how BC is now a model of great forestry practices, eh?) and the Oka standoff was still fresh in everyone’s memory. The last thing I wanted was to be helping bonafide land rapers, even if they were First Nations. Our silviculture practices are world-class, we plant more than we harvest, and we do everything we can to protect the land, I was told. Their foresters backed up the story with data and examples. Soon MLTC was telling its story to Canadians via the national media. And a good story it was, too.
As part of my efforts, I reached out to David Suzuki. He needs the forestry data and information as much as the media, I thought. We had a cordial discussion, I sent him the info and we agreed to meet at his next press conference at the logging road blockade. I showed up a few days later, the lone company representative amongst a large group of protestors, a number of them armed young men with covered faces a la the Oka images we all remember so well. Suzuki began the press conference. Now that the had the other side’s information, with plenty of evidence about their responsible harvesting and silviculture practices, I thought he would moderate his tone and the protest would head in a different direction. Talk about naive.
He launched into a blistering attack on MLTC, completely ignoring the evidence that didn’t jibe with his conclusions. Then he did something I’ll never forget. He announced that Markham Hislop, a representative of MLTC, was in the crowd and pointed me out. Immediately, no doubt choreographed ahead of time, a number of large and armed men surrounded me, leaning in in a very threatening manner. They remained that way for the remainder of the press conference. Some of them muttered very nasty things in my ear.
Intimidating? You bet. I was shaking when I finally got back to the car.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t think of Suzuki as Saint David. The man has a nasty, ruthless streak and he’s willing to take advantage of others if it furthers his greater cause. One, incidentally, I usually have a lot of sympathy for. So, the willingness of David Suzuki to exploit the suffering of Albertans came as no surprise to me. Perhaps he even thought of it as a form of cosmic revenge, since Alberta is the home of the Canadian oil and gas industry, and Calgary is the Houston of Canada. Whatever the case, his column was in very poor taste. And Albertans were not amused.
An apology from Suzuki is in order.