A dream of sagacity in Ottawa

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, May 2011

David Suzuki knows that Canadians need not choose between the environment and the economy.

In late March came the news that we would once again get to ride the $300 million election carousel—an exercise in stepping right up to go round and round and likely end up where we started. 

Also happening that week was the 75th birthday of David Suzuki, an eminent scientist and environmentalist with a knack for connecting with people and speaking in plain language. For decades he’s been collaborating with many groups—including those with disparate interests and priorities—to find comprehensive and realistic long-term solutions for complex problems. Just last year his foundation joined with forestry companies and other environmental groups to seal the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, an unprecedented pact between unlikely allies that will help preserve northern forests while developing a sustainable forestry industry. 

Imagine, I thought to myself, what Canada might be like with David Suzuki as prime minister. Imagine what could be accomplished for Canadians by gathering improbable partners around the table to collaborate on solutions for non-partisan priorities. His website and previous work suggest that the climate would remain his top concern, but also that he would tackle its inherent challenges holistically and in tandem with other urgencies, including the economy. Far from simply throwing the old economic order out on its ear, he would support the phasing-in of new, sustainable industries and enterprises so the workforce could transition from old to new jobs. The ruinous falsehood that Canadians must choose between the environment and the economy would finally be laid to rest.

Suzuki gives every indication that he would stop subsidizing the coal, oil and gas industries that currently receive about $1.4 billion annually, and funnel the savings into the development of technology for harvesting alternate energy. True, that would drive gas and electricity prices up in the interim, but in the long run we’d draw far less from the pump and power grid than we have to buy now. That would mean both savings in our pocket and cleaner air, land and water for our children and their children.

If Suzuki was prime minister, he would bring to Ottawa an in-depth understanding of how health, well-being, a clean environment, protected ecosystems, meaningful work, and user-friendly communities all impact on quality of life. His contention that, “we are all interconnected and interdependent with nature” would be a guiding principle throughout his term.

I think he would work to enhance our food security by supporting diversified domestic agriculture and championing stricter regulations for keeping toxins out of food and personal products. No more gender-bending chemicals in cosmetics nor artificial dyes in food, especially not in foods typically eaten by children.

Guiding the country through such an all-encompassing transition would be a nail biter for any politician, but Suzuki would have a few advantages over the current lot in Ottawa: He knows what needs to be done without, as the old adage goes, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. He seems to prefer respectful collaboration to aggressive discord. He knows the value of intelligent colleagues and seems comfortable around them, so he would likely not rule his side of the House with an iron fist. He seems neither punitive nor paranoid, so some cooperation with the Opposition—who are also elected by Canadian voters—would not be out of the question. His love for Canada is without question.

He’s not vindictive; if he was, he would never have surmounted the gross injustice of the expropriation of his family’s property and their forced internment in BC’s interior during the Second World War.

He would work for the future, not just for the next four years in office. And I’m betting he wouldn’t call his team the Suzuki Government.

Ah, it’s all just fantasy on my part. David Suzuki is not a young man. Why would he want the burden and power of being prime minister? Still, I can hope that someday someone with both vision and courage will bring a new sagacity to Ottawa. In the meantime, it’ll be business as usual back up on the hill. 

Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a Master Gardener and writer. An revised edition of one of her earlier books, Pier 21: The Gateway that Changed Canada, will be released by Nimbus Publishing later this year.