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Notley not a 'big fan' of Suzuki honorary degree but supports university's right to decide

"It struck me as being a bit tone deaf, but academic independence and university independence is important. They have made that decision and they will defend that decision, and that's the way it should work."

Premier describes David Suzuki's approach as polarizing, says university will have to defend decision

The honorary degree from the University of Alberta will be David Suzuki's 30th.

Premier Rachel Notley is not "a big fan" of the University of Alberta's decision to award an honorary degree to David Suzuki, but says she supports the school's right to do so. 

"It struck me as being a bit tone deaf, but academic independence and university independence is important," Notley said on Wednesday, after being asked about the degree at an announcement on affordable child care.

"They have made that decision and they will defend that decision, and that's the way it should work."

Controversy has been swirling for days around the honorary degree. At least one prominent university donor says it will pull back its donation this year, and some U of A faculty have spoken out against the decision. 

But the school's president David Turpin says the university has no plans to back down from awarding the controversial environmentalist and broadcaster an honorary doctor of science degree later this spring.

Notley painted Suzuki's approach to the environment and the economy as being different than that of her government.

"My view has always been as long as you allow this debate to be polarized, you ensure the failure of both objectives. It's not my view that it's helpful to maintain the polarization and to maintain the black-and-white approach," she said.

"I don't think in a matter like this, it's appropriate for the government to be interfering with it. If I'd been on the senate, I wouldn't have personally voted for it. But the integrity and independence of academic institutions must also be allowed to continue."
Premier Rachel Notley on April 25 faced questions about the U of A's decision to award David Suzuki an honorary degree. (CBC)

The controversy stems from Suzuki's track record of speaking in opposition to the fossil fuel industry.

An industry advocacy group, Rally 4 Resources, has scheduled a protest at the university on June 7, the day Suzuki is to receive the honorary degree.

There are several petitions circulating online against the award, including one launched by the United Conservative Party. 

In a video released on Twitter, UCP Leader Jason Kenney said Suzuki "makes millions defaming the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Albertans." He said Suzuki's "extreme" views make the decision to honour him with the degree is an insult to Albertans and to U of A students and alumni.

Suzuki has received 29 honorary degrees in the past, including one from the University of Calgary in 1986. The U of A award will be his 30th. 

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