Would-be Mt. A. president quizzed on university investments in fossil fuels

Jean-Paul Boudreau answering students’ questions Monday in Gracie’s

The sole candidate to become the next president of Mount Allison University faced what he acknowledged were “tough questions” Monday as he talked with dozens of students on campus during a pizza lunch in Gracie’s Café.

Jean-Paul Boudreau, who teaches psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, told the students he was wearing his Teflon jacket as he prepared to answer their questions.

When Shannon Power asked him what he would do to support students campaigning to get Mount Allison to scrap its investments in fossil fuels, Boudreau said he was fully aware of the issue in general, but didn’t know the specifics of Mt. A’s investment portfolio.

He said that as president, he would listen to students. In reply to similar questions about giving students a greater voice in running the university and helping them campaign for social justice, he added “I’m the kind of person who would like to have a conversation and dialogue…We’re in this together…I just want to hear what’s on your mind.”

Louis Sobol wondered what Boudreau would do if 50 students and 10 professors campaigning for an end to fossil fuel investments stormed Centennial Hall, barricading him in his office, a tongue-in-cheek reference to last year’s five-hour occupation of the administration building after the current president, Robert Campbell, refused to engage with students on the university’s investment policies.

“I’m not saying that kind of activism is wrong,” Boudreau replied. “I’m saying there’s a place for dialogue…before we get to locking me in my office.”

‘I love my students’

Earlier, when asked why he would leave Ryerson to come back to his Acadian roots in New Brunswick, Boudreau drew chuckles when he said, “I haven’t left Ryerson yet. I love my job. I love what I do and I love my students.”

He added, however, that he would be gaining a whole new family if he becomes Mount Allison’s 15th president, but cautioned later that he’s just a candidate for the job and that his employers at Ryerson don’t know he’s seeking it.

He then urged students to keep his visit confidential and not to broadcast it on their social media feeds.

Boudreau’s lively meeting with the students was one of several sessions he held with university administrators, professors and staff, during which he outlined general ideas for everything from mapping the university’s future, supporting scholarship, research and creativity, and attracting more students.

“I would like to be your champion as we collectively advance,” Boudreau declared Monday morning during the first of three meetings with faculty, staff and students.

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8 Responses to Would-be Mt. A. president quizzed on university investments in fossil fuels

  1. Rima Azar says:

    Assuming the Divest Movement will get to its stated goal, concretely what will it achieve? Will it make a true difference? In other terms, will we stop using our cars and airplanes? Will we stop heating our houses and schools? How can we make our world truly greener? How can we innovate and produce more and better renewable energy instead of fixating on divestment? Plus, what would be the next cause? Do causes (even when noble) justify violence such as occupation? I cannot help not to wonder.

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    • brucewark says:

      Hello Rima,

      Thanks for your comment. I posted it in spite of my misgivings about your assertion that occupation is a form of violence. In this case, the occupation of Centennial Hall was part of a peaceful protest — and peaceful protest is an intrinsic element of democracy.

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    • Shannon Power says:

      Hi Rima,

      Divestment is not simply about taking our investments out of the fossil fuel industry. It is a political strategy (used historically against South African apartheid, tobacco industry, etc.) that seeks to remove the social license to operate as usual of fossil fuel companies. It symbolizes a collective demand to end our reliance on fossil fuels and end the vast power of fossil fuel companies to continue wrecking the planet.

      If we achieve this, then OBVIOUSLY we have no choice but to turn to renewable sources, as you’ve mentioned. Divestment is part of the larger climate justice movement that also calls for renewable energy. I am not sure why you drew such a distance between both topics.

      I would also hardly call a peaceful (and non-violent) sit-in “violence”. Let’s not use words incorrectly.

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    • Louis says:

      Wow. So annoyed by your comment. Might I ask what you’re contributing exactly? Seems like you’re doing nothing but complaining about the fact that we’re not doing more while somehow simultaneously dismissing the potency of divestment. You’re giving a dictionary definition of the word “regressive” right now.

      If you understand the immediacy of climate change, I believe it to be plainly obvious that the modicum of violence that was last year’s occupation is necessary (at the very least) in the dismantling of industries such as fossil fuels. If you don’t get that, you’re too far gone.

      Why are you even here? I’m so confused by what you’re trying to say, other than echoing any criticism available to you from across the political spectrum. Should we give up because we have to be violent to be heard, or does the amount of work that must be done somehow negate the movement? There is intense dissonance in your comment.

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      • Louis says:

        Louis Béliveau here. Just to make it clear to everyone, the Louis commenting above isn’t me. There seems to have been some confusion.

        I’ll say this, though. I have nothing against resource conservation and in many cases am very much in favour – more because I worry about depletion for future generations than about global warming. But that’s not the point. Whether or not resource depletion and/or global warming are concerns is, to my mind, secondary to whether the BDS movement would achieve anything viable in this direction IF IT WERE TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN ITS STATED GOALS. I posit that even if its stated goals were achieved, it would make NO DIFFERENCE to resource utilisation.

        The stated goals are to have the university “divest” from publicly-traded hydrocarbon companies. Here’s the thing: (a) locally, the industry is mostly privately owned, as far as I can tell (i.e., Irvings); and (b) “divesting” does nothing about demand… it just shifts the *profits* towards those who have no such sensitivities. Dividend-seeking investments such as the university’s are not investing in speculative oil & gas exploration: they’re usually seeking established players, and interested in their dividend payments more than anything else.

        If the movement were trying to reduce *demand*, for example by advocating for the installation of solar panels at the university (or similar endeavours), then I wouldn’t have the reaction that I do, because I would see a direct link between the stated goals and the demands. I might think that it’s not cost/resources-efficient, or I might think that it’s an interesting experiment that could produce results that would help the entire community, depending on what exactly was being advocated. But I wouldn’t think it nonsensical. I find BDS nonsensical because of the lack of a link between the objectives and the demands.

        That’s pretty much all that I have to say about the subject, actually.

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  2. Rima Azar says:

    Thank you Shannon and Bruce for taking the time to reply to my comment. I appreciate it.
    I guess we all three agree that the intentions are noble. We simply disagree on the ways used to get to the same point (a better world without pollution and fair). As for my reading of the occupation of space as being violent, I will say the following: For me, this is an extreme measure, especially for a peaceful (if not passive) culture as ours. Who knows? Perhaps I am sensitive to occupation of spaces because I grew up under occupation for most, if not all, of my childhood and teenage years. Believe me, occupation is not fun. This being said, I admit that sometimes in life movements have to become extreme to make a change. Perhaps this is the case here? I just hope that our students will not lose their critical sense (and good manners) over their passion for the climate or for any other topic.

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  3. Susan Dales says:

    It is the passion of the young that, let us all hope, will force the changes necessary if our human civilization is to continue in any form we’d want to live in. Good manners? Really?

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  4. Rima Azar says:

    Dear Bruce, this is long…..but I felt like sharing :). Thank you if you will post it.

    Some cities or countries in the world are proud to say that they have divested from fossil fuels when they keep investing in and exporting weapon products. How contradictory…. For me, the latter is clearly unethically worse….To come back to the BDS movement (as you called it Louis Béliveau), you and I do not agree on all the topics of the world all the time 🙂 . On that one we do, even if not for the exact same reasons on all fronts. In other terms, your comment makes much sense to me. Thank you.

    I do not know about you but I feel worried when there is intolerance to different opinions, as I see with regard to this matter, especially on our university campus (and in a smart town such as ours). I find this disturbing because ideas are supposed to be freely expressed, tolerated (even if opposite). Our ideas are actually supposed to clash in order to generate newer thoughts and more questions and possible solutions. If this does not occur at a university, where would it occur? For me, this is the beauty of a learning environment AND of a democracy in action. Yes, it scares me when we find ourselves living in a world where we all have to think the same.

    Although I also witness climate change like everyone, I doubt that divesting from all public fossil fuel companies will necessarily achieve much for all the reasons you have well explained Louis (although the future may prove us both wrong). Perhaps divesting from a specific company that does not behave ethically (or that generates much pollution) could make a concrete difference (even if we do not reduce the demand for fossil fuel)? Investing in renewable energy, or ensuring that the latter is part of a diverse investment portfolio, seems to be a move in the good direction… How about also envisioning and facilitating green applied projects to support low-income countries? We can perhaps help them in finding permanent solutions such as helping in re-building a transit system whilst changing peoples’ mentalities or habits, in order to reduce the number of cars used per household?

    To push my thoughts further, I will say that I do not believe in BDS movements even for causes that are perhaps concretely/currently more harmful to some folks such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Do I like this reality there? Of course I don’t. Am I with the BDS movement against Israel, at least as currently practised in Lebanon (among other places)? No I am not. I say it even if I would risk my life saying it (if someone will be in the mood of arresting me whilst visiting). I say this even if I am not fond of Israel’s military measures against Lebanon (often as a form of collective punishment because of a powerful militia there). I do not believe this BDS will bring justice and peace. In my humble opinion, pushed to the extreme, any *apparently* good movement (whether this one or Divest from fossil fuels) risks becoming ridiculous, especially if we add to it the hidden manipulation by powerful forces. What do I mean? In the name of justice, the BDS I am referring to claims to boycott Israel because of its bad behaviour. Lately, the urge to push this movement further extended the boycott to a great American movie (claiming that the filmmaker donated personal funds to Israel during its war with Lebanon in 2006). True or not, I say: Luckily, after much controversial debate (yes there is debate there…. Oddly, perhaps more so than in Sackville), Lebanon came to its senses about this decision. This American movie will be playing there. Let people enjoy arts (arts should be above politics). Let them use their brains to decide (for themselves) what is good and what is bad. Let the movie theaters earn a living. I feel like saying the same about our Canadian fossil fuel companies (as long as they respect good standards of practice) or our organizations maximizing their investment. As far as I am concerned, I prefer Canadian companies to Saudi, Iranian…. Or even Russian companies… but that’s my personal opinion. Why do I say so? With respect to everyone, I think we are more ethical in general as a country. I prefer to see us less dependent on external resources in order to be more independent when it comes to our foreign affairs or internal governance.

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