Several hundred of Winnipeg’s environmentalist types convened last Thursday at downtown’s Metropolitan Entertainment Centre to hear scientist, broadcaster and “greatest living Canadian” David Suzuki in conversation with the University of Winnipeg’s Ian Mauro.
The event was a fundraiser for the Blue Dot movement, a campaign to recognize the right to a healthy environment in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Harvest Moon Society, a Manitoba initiative for equitable local food systems.
Suzuki spoke eloquently about learning from indigenous communities, re-evaluating our collective commitment to economic progress and reconsidering the value of the unlimited information at our fingertips. He reminisced about his early days on television, and lamented how his show, The Nature of Things has been shortened for commercials and watered down for mass appeal.
Yet his demeanour wasn’t what you might expect from a white-goateed Canadian celebrity. He presented what felt like an unplugged and off-the-record version of himself, sharing perspectives more contentious than one might expect from Canada’s most beloved TV scientist.
“As elders we don’t have any hidden agendas,” he said. “We don’t have to kiss anybody’s ass because we want a job, or a promotion or a raise, so we’re free to speak the truth from our hearts, and if that offends people that’s their problem, not ours.”
The federal election impending, Suzuki went on several tirades against Stephen Harper’s Conservatives before he committed to catching a one-way flight to Mars and “shitting in cups” if the sitting prime minister were re-elected.
As Mauro put it, “This isn’t the host of The Nature of Things, this is the real guy.”
No doubt, Suzuki’s fervour garnered much applause (and probably some book sales) at Thursday’s event, and in all likelihood there were some hardcore activists in the crowd who were buoyed by Suzuki’s passion, but it was clear that Suzuki was preaching to Winnipeg’s choir of the already environmentally concerned.
With displays from local wilderness and sustainability groups, crowded bicycle parking outside and a $25 cover charge, this was clearly an event for middle-class folks who were already nervous about climate change and political conservatism.
Unfortunately Suzuki’s message won’t likely gain much traction beyond the walls of the Met. One needs to look no further than the Winnipeg Free Press online comments to see that his status among many locals has devolved to that of a hypocritical, lefty wingnut.
Suzuki’s persona as that friendly scientist from the CBC may be palatable to the average Canadian, but it’s Thursday evening’s riled-up, anti-corporate near-octogenarian that we really need to hear from on a national scale.
If Canada is going to do more than sit back and watch the world’s ecosystems collapse, policy makers and the Canadian public would do well to hear his voice.
Tim Runtz is the comments editor at The Uniter. When he’s not at The Uniter he works at Geez magazine and moonlights as a bicycle mechanic.