David Suzuki’s departure from his foundation questioned

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The decision by David Suzuki, the face of Canadian environmentalism for decades, to quit the board of the foundation that bears his name is sparking debate over the direction of the movement he helped foster.

Suzuki, a zoologist by training and popularizer of science when he was host of CBC's The Nature of Things, announced last week he stepped down from the board of the David Suzuki Foundation to avoid being a lightning rod for criticism and government attacks that would undermine his work, the Globe and Mail reported.

In an open letter on the charitable foundation's web site, Suzuki, 76, said he's "fiercely proud" of the foundation's work.

"I want to speak freely without fear that my words will be deemed too political and harm the organization of which I am so proud," he said.

Governments, industries and special-interest groups have worked to silence the foundation, threatening to challenge its charitable status, Suzuki wrote, referring to Conservative government plans to look at the status of charitable groups deemed to be involved in political activities and the extent to which they get money from foreign sources.

"This bullying demonstrates how important it is to speak out," he said.

Stepping down from the foundation will allow him to "fulfill my personal mission" while the foundation continues its work, Suzuki said.

"We're seeing a very difficult period of time in terms of the rhetoric and the tone of what's coming out from the government," Peter Robinson, Suzuki Foundation's chief executive, told The Globe and Mail's editorial board last week.

Suzuki, an outspoken critic of government policies on climate change, told the Globe the foundation was being targeted because of his personal views and actions.

"Every time I shot off my mouth, the foundation got blamed for my remarks as an individual and I thought, 'I can't stand being a liability,' " Suzuki said.

But Globe columnist Margarete Wente, who sat in on his session with the paper's editorial board, said Suzuki's unhappiness reflects a fundamental split in the environmental movement between those who want and end to fossil-fuel development and others who believe some closely-managed development is OK.

"If he had his way, all the (oil sands) bitumen in Alberta would stay in the ground, forever," Wente wrote Saturday.

Suzuki and his supporters believe continued exploitation of new petroleum sources such as oil sands and shale gas are a ticket to catastrophic climate change, she said.

"Yet, the problem isn't that the environmental movement has failed to explain this message," Wente argued. "It's that people have rejected it ... Doomsday cults have been wrong throughout history, and this one will be no exception."

National Post columnist Kelly McParland also questioned the logic that by divorcing himself from the foundation that carries Suzuki's name, critics will no longer link him to it.

"And the foundation will somehow be cleansed of its Suzukiness by this action, even though the entire foundation appears to be one big testament to the personality, vision, goals and cult of David Suzuki?" McParland blogged.

His photo appears on almost every page of the web site, his blog and writings are heavily promoted, his life is extolled and "his guiding presence is everywhere," McParland observed.

"The very essence of the David Suzuki Foundation is the fact that it's the cherished offspring of David Suzuki."

"But he won't be on the board any more. Oh, well that changes everything."