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David Suzuki slams corporate profiteering at Occupy Vancouver

Not even Canadian icons get a free pass at Occupy Vancouver.

Much loved environmentalist, activist and elder David Suzuki was welcomed with a roar of applause when he finally stepped up to the microphone on the chilly, rain washed steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery this Saturday. But that didn't happen without a short, spirited debate within the crowd about whether to allow him to speak.

Some voices in the crowd challenged letting a celebrity break the rhythm of the general assembly's consensus building process. However, the dispute was soon settled, the meeting of the general assembly deferred, and Dr. Suzuki was invited to the mic.

"Whew. For a minute there I thought I was going to be voted off the island," Suzuki laughed.

Invited to address the week-old Occupy Vancouver tent village (created last week as part of a global network of demonstrations and occupations in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement), Suzuki emphasized that he spoke in a personal capacity and not for any organization. He then delivered a short, punchy speech denouncing corporate greed, the influence of powerful corporations on shaping national policy and the remarkable impunity of corporate criminals.

"Terrible things have been done in the name of greed," he told the enthusiastic, all-ages crowd that stood shoulder to shoulder among the tents and placards in the October mists. "Exxon is still fighting, after all these years, not to compensate the victims of the Exxon Valdez tragedy. Why has no one gone to jail over the BP spill in the Gulf? Does money talk? Just ask Monsanto," he jibed.

Suzuki reminded the crowd that the Greek word "ecos" lay at the root of both ecology and economy. "Ecos means house or home," he said. "The big question in life is 'what is our home and how can we live in it sustainably?'" Suzuki said the Occupy movement around the world is fighting to "put the 'ecos' back in the economy."

Prime Minister Harper, Suzuki told the crowd, has it wrong when he gives the economy priority over the ecology. "Money may not talk," he laughed, "but it sure sets the agenda for governments too often."

Suzuki also issued a passionate plea for changing Canada's first-past-the-post election process, which he said undermines democracy. He favors proportional representation, the electoral norm in most countries, which allots each party representation in Parliament equal to the share it receives of the popular vote.

In closing his speech, Suzuki turned to the question of economic inequality, one of the key themes of the Occupy movement around the world.

"Societies with vast disproportions of wealth are not sustainable," he told the cheering crowd. He also called for reforms in campaign financing.

"Rich corporations shouldn't be allowed to finance elections. We should all do that together with our taxes," he argued.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your story tips and feedback here.

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