He has become the Canadian lead in our version of the surreal drama that is the presidential election south of the border.
Suzuki plays Canada’s mainstream media like a cheap fiddle. He’s the master square-dance caller when he wants them to do-si-do around his views of the country’s petroleum sector.
He lays out for media consumption outlandish and provocative declarations, like his most recent assertion that Saskatchewan is in a carbon crisis and that its premier is a carbon denier.
It brings to mind Suzuki’s feat of fancy last fall: comparing the oilsands sector to 19th-century southern slavers based on the flimsiest of links. That tenuous tie: both slavers and oilsands supporters put economic arguments in front of moral imperatives in defending their industries.
What? Oilsands operators are just like southern slavers? Who knew?
Why, you can hear the whips crack north of Fort McMurray all the way to Calgary.
What headlines! What soundbites!
Even social media can’t make this stuff up.
The media laps it up like free soup at a service club luncheon.
Now Suzuki is stirring things up in Saskatchewan.
Here’s the problem with a go-to source like a Suzuki. Each time he’s interviewed, the outlandish threshold is set higher because, after all, who wants to hear the same old, same old?
In many respects, Suzuki talking these days is somewhat akin to Donald Trump debating himself: rich in metaphor, poor in fact.
Indeed, Suzuki is so secure in the delusion that he has ordinary Canadians in his camp, he can say what he says and no one steps up to say, “Hey, wait a minute. …”
It’s actually kind of sad.
Suzuki was once a commentator worthy of the gravitas he was accorded. He heightened consciousness at critical junctures and gave the environmental movement a much-needed credibility.
He was once iconic.
At a time when Canada needs builders around the critical debates we need to have about energy, the environment and the economy, Suzuki is a destructive rather than productive force.
Even Suzuki’s utility as a check on the petroleum sector’s imagined evils has a tainted, detrimental quality.
He’s turned into a querulous old armchair critic, a relic of environmental discourses of days gone by. Young Canadians seeking role models to define how they will approach climate and carbon should look for alternatives.
Media, which is still sorting out where it wants to land on the environment, exacerbates the problem by treating him with the respect accorded old curmudgeons who are still capable of pounding the floor with their walking sticks to get attention.
Of course, the interviewers ask him the ‘tough’ questions but, like Trump, Suzuki dances and deflects his way through the discussion because he is, after all, David Suzuki.
What the mainstream media should understand – if its various forms want to build their own credibility with Canadians to play a productive and responsible mediating role – is that some people just don’t deserve time in front of a microphone.
It’s not censorship, it’s just good judgment. Media needs to know when someone is adding value to critical discourses – or when they’re eroding them.
So it’s astonishing to see Canadians show such consternation at presidential events south of the border when we have our own lamentable laugh-fest north of the 49th.
Except it’s hardly funny. And yet Suzuki persists – and too many Canadians keep paying attention.
Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.
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