There are few Canadians who have been sainted more than environmental activist David Suzuki. Suzuki's charitable foundation does considerable work advocating for all sorts of environmental causes. His CBC program The Nature of Things has inspired thinking in this country about the importance of sustainability. Make no mistake, the David Suzuki brand is big business in Canada and around the globe.
In my quest to understand the way money moves in, out and around BC for political & eco-activist causes, I've come across a complex web of players, charitable foundations and millions changing hands in support of a multitude of causes. It all astounds even a semi-jaded political veteran like myself. Someone who came on my radar as a result of this research was a woman by the name of Vivian Krause.
Krause comes from an interesting background. She's a mom who has seen too much poverty around the world and here at home in British Columbia. Coastal aboriginal communities were particularly hard hit by the inability to generate a local economy. She was told by Chiefs that their quest was at least one job per household, and "a reason to get out of bed in the morning".
One way these communities could get ahead according to her was through aquaculture, and by farming salmon on BC's coast. But there were a few hurdles to this, she says, including an astonishingly well-funded and well-organized smear and fear campaign around farmed salmon. Krause, at apparently great personal sacrifice to herself, sought out to understand who and what was behind the campaign to destroy coastal salmon farming businesses.
Which brings us back to David Suzuki. Last night Krause attended a grad ceremony in downtown Vancouver for her daughter. For years she had been writing Suzuki, presenting her research and looking for some kind of response from Canada's masterful environmentalist. She knows a lot about Suzuki's work, having uncovered over $10 million worth of donations from US-based foundations that have flowed into his organization. In a strange twist, it turns out that Krause's daughter was a friend of Suzuki's granddaughter. As fate would have it, the two would finally meet at this formal dress occasion.
On her blog Krause describes the scenario:
As we walked in to Cafe Crepe, I happened to notice Dr. David Suzuki sitting alone, having a bite to eat. For three years, I have been writing letters (see below) and trying unsuccessfully to communicate with Dr. Suzuki so I thought that perhaps I could just briefly introduce myself and give him a friendly handshake to go along with my name. As politely and as respectfully as I know how, I approached Dr. Suzuki to take the liberty of introducing myself...
"Dr. Suzuki, I wonder if I might introduce myself," I said, or something like that. "I'm Vivian, Vivian Krause," I said. He kindly stood up to shake my hand, I believe, but my name didn't seem to ring a bell so I added, "I've been trying to write you letters." Still, he didn't seem to place my name so I added, "I have a web-site, 'Fair Questions,' " I mentioned, adding that I would really appreciate it if I could speak with him or meet with him.
Then, he placed me, or so it seemed. "You're the fish farmer," he said. I had barely begun to explain that yes, I used to work in fish farming - seven years ago - but before I could say much Dr. Suzuki looked me straight in the eye and started telling me to f**k off. Not just once. Then, suddenly, he seemed to catch himself, and quickly sat down.
I was so stunned, I was speechless (which doesn't happen very often).
This "stunned" reaction recalls the experience of my fellow 24 Hours columnist Bill Tieleman around the time of last year's Provincial election campaign. Tieleman felt Suzuki and Tzeporah Berman had betrayed the NDP during the campaign with an ambush of support for the BC Liberals' carbon tax and wrote about it in his column. When Bill ran into Suzuki just a short time after, he was also accosted by the environmentalist which he described as follows:
After more of Suzuki yelling and me responding calmly but pointedly, he tried to put me in my place.
"I don't give a sh*t 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.
It's amazing to me that when you begin to apply a little scrutiny to the subject of charitable foundations, or if you contradict those who feel that they are above reproach, that a backlash follows. These groups should be no different that public officials when it comes to accountability.
While I admire Suzuki for some of his accomplishments, I'm also deeply suspicious any person or group who feels that they know what's best for us all. Untold millions have been shoveled into a powerful network of activists who not only shape the message locally but around the world, making it difficult to know the truth. And the links that exist between these groups and the folks running Vancouver City Hall today will also inspire more questions. More on that to follow.
As for Krause, who has evidently spent countless hours trying to bring transparency to the murky world of eco-activist charitable foundations, there's a tinge of sadness to the way she describes her motivation:
The reason that I care so much about jobs is because not all of us have a house on the water in Point Grey, another property in Toronto, another one in Australia, and another one on Quadra Island, like David Suzuki. Some of us have to struggle just to pay for one home that we don't even own - let alone a university education for our kids. When I worked in salmon farming in 2002 and 2003, a woman at the Englewood fish processing plant in Beaver Cove told me, "If I don't earn it, my son doesn't play hockey." That plant has since been closed. I just can't forget about her and her son.
The good news for Vivian is word about her work – most of which is documented at www.fair-questions.com – is finally starting to hit mainstream consciousness. Read the following two fine stories in today's Financial Post:
No wonder David Suzuki was a little crabby last night.