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How I 'Demonized' David Suzuki

And the screaming-mad results.

Bill Tieleman 9 Jun

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Tieleman can be heard Mondays at 10 a.m. on the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980 or at E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog at

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Fighting words.

Arrogance diminishes wisdom.

-Arabian proverb

Last week, I discovered that the nature of things can be extremely unpleasant when you challenge the wisdom of the arrogant.

I was attending a reception when suddenly the host of CBC TV's The Nature Of Things was in my face.

"I want to talk to you!" a red-faced and agitated David Suzuki said, finger pointing at my chest.

"You have no right to demonize me!" he yelled, causing people around us to back away.

How did I manage to "demonize" the internationally known celebrity scientist?

Pen is mightier than the sword

Apparently it's not that hard. All I did was write a column in 24 hours and online at The Tyee on April 22 saying that Suzuki, Tzeporah Berman and other environmentalists had launched a "well timed attack" on the New Democratic Party over its opposition to the BC Liberal carbon tax as the provincial election began.

Here's what Suzuki said, April 17: "If [B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell] goes down because of axe the tax, the repercussions are the carbon tax will be toxic for future politicians. No politician will raise it. That's why environmentalists are so upset."

I wrote: "Neither Suzuki nor Berman have yet endorsed Campbell outright but they knew their assault would hurt the NDP and help the BC Liberals."

Scientific assault

Hardly rocket science, but perhaps Suzuki was more upset that I quoted Alexandra Morton, the respected biologist who is fighting BC Liberal expansion of fish farms that destroy wild salmon with sea lice.

"As the living systems of this part of the world are under the final assault by the BC Liberal government, you make headlines. You seem to have no idea of what Gordon Campbell is bringing down on us," Morton wrote to Suzuki and others in an open letter.

Morton's first angry response to Suzuki was followed by another less-publicized but equally strong criticism.

"What concerns me is the larger enviro groups have become an unelected bureaucracy that consults no one," Morton wrote. "Both the recent Great Bear Rainforest announcement and the incredibly stupid headline threatening to Punish Carole James are two points on a continuum which seem aptly explained below."

'Do or die'

"Clearly everyone has figured out this election is do or die for our province and while we can create change, we can't do it if the environmental bureaucracy supports Gordon Campbell. You guys have made our job nearly impossible," she said.

"The folks doing this no doubt think this is the way to save earth, but unless they are blind they know others have already thrown their weight in the opposite direction. And so this tack of greening Gordon Campbell is going to produce a standstill. You folks who are supporting Campbell have not factored in the power that the rest of us have and that will negate your own results," Morton wrote.

"Salmon farms in B.C. are a thing of the past, as they do not even own their fish now, but they are sitting pretty under a green umbrella and weathering this storm in comfort and with Campbell elected they will metastasize and don't think for a second that the wild salmon can take this forever," Morton concluded.

In my own column, I also argued that Suzuki and others were assisting a BC Liberal government that: "Promotes offshore oil and gas drilling, privatized rivers and streams for power projects, slashed wildlife protection, ended a ban on trophy hunting for grizzly bears and offers hundreds of millions in tax incentives for fossil fuel exploration."

Green allies

But Suzuki didn't see it that way, obviously. "I've always been an ally of the NDP!" Suzuki claimed.

"No you haven't," I replied, noting his endorsement of Campbell's unfair gas tax and several other facts.

Certainly if Suzuki has been an "ally" of the B.C. NDP, there's no sign of it through personal financial contributions -- none were made in Suzuki's name in the 2005 election year.

Nor in this election did Suzuki endorse the NDP's Mel Lehan, a well-known environmental supporter who challenged Premier Gordon Campbell in his own riding.

And as I reminded Suzuki, back in 1996 he played word games when Jim Green, the former city councillor, ran against Campbell in Vancouver-Point Grey, saying only that he would be "voting Green" in the election, an obvious sop to the Green Party.

It's 'mutual'

After more of Suzuki yelling and me responding calmly but pointedly, he tried to put me in my place.

"I don't give a shit about you..." Suzuki almost screamed.

"Then that's completely mutual," I interrupted before the great man could say more.

Suzuki spluttered, threw up his hands and rushed away, leaving the event immediately.

Ironically, the reception was for a book about conducting good public relations -- something Suzuki clearly has yet to learn.

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Read more: Politics, Environment

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