David Suzuki says he finally feels free to speak his mind since stepping down six months ago as a director of his namesake environmental charity, which he founded more than 20 years ago.
The broadcaster and geneticist, who has been an outspoken critic of the Harper government’s plan to expedite oilsands production, felt shackled by federal rules requiring charities’ political activities to be non-partisan.
“I want to name names, and that’s the problem,” Suzuki said Monday during a press junket in Vancouver for the CBC’s new fall-winter season. “So what has happened is I’ve become a liability. Because in speaking as one person the foundation suffers, and I have felt incredibly frustrated because, because of that, I have pulled my punches.”
Suzuki said despite relinquishing his post last year on the advice of the Canada Revenue Agency, the David Suzuki Foundation, like many environmental charities these days, is still bracing for an audit.
“It’s very demoralizing, because so much of that resource then is dedicated to that process, and the last time we were audited I think it cost over $100,000 of our money to do that, so it’s a very expensive, punitive thing that can be done,” he said.
The foundation has been audited three times before. A recent internal review of the its finances found less than one per cent of its resources are dedicated to political activity — well within the 10 per cent legal limit.
But that’s not the only frontier on which Suzuki is feeling the Tories’ pressure. Since the new federal budget was announced in March his long-running CBC series, The Nature of Things, has had to cut three staff members as well as the number of original shows it produces.
The 76-year-old isn’t letting any of that slow him down, though. This season on The Nature of Things he travels to Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, likely the most biologically diverse place on earth. The country’s economist president, Rafael Correa, has been lobbying the international community for funds to allow the impoverished nation to leave oil fields underneath the Amazonian park untapped. So far the initiative has raised $120 million.
The 52nd season of The Nature of Things airs Thursdays this fall on CBC at 8 p.m.