The University of Calgary made an alarming announcement this week, deciding to award two honorary degrees in the upcoming Nov. convocation ceremonies. Though this is common practice, the contention stems from the names attached to the degrees.
One is destined for former MuchMusic VJ and current host of CBC's The Hour George Stroumboulopoulos.
Strombo, 35, has only been on air for the last decade or so, starting his broadcasting career as a board operator at an AM sports station in Toronto and working his way up through radio to television. While this story of pulling oneself up from the proverbial bootstraps and making a public name for oneself suits the great Calgarian fantasy--the city seems to relish in individual entrepreneurship--it seems a little premature to be throwing honorary degrees at the guy.
In 2004, Stroumboulopoulos proved a convincing advocate for Tommy Douglas in the race for CBC's Greatest Canadian--though some might argue Douglas was advocate enough for himself. From this stemmed a primetime spot hosting The now-famous Hour, and George left his job at MuchMusic for the much more cerebral CBC. The Hour, while highly successful, has only been on the air since Jan. 2005.
It's not a question of whether or not he deserves it, neither is it about his qualifications. He's been involved in the media machine for long enough to know what's going on and his experience gives him orders of magnitude more qualification than many Communication and Culture graduates who've actually taken the program.
There have got to be more deserving candidates, though. Someone out there must have contributed to the culture of Canada and media sphere more than a relatively new CBC talk show host fresh off the VJ circuit. Someone like Wendy Mesley, who became CBC's face for investigative journalism in the mid-'90s and fought off breast cancer in 2005. She's further along in her career and a well-established role model with an interesting story. Unfortunately, Guelph beat us to her this past June, but she still serves as a prime example.
Give George his honorary degree after he's done a few more things with his career and actually reached his potential instead of slamming on the praise early. He did, after all, work for MTV's little brother for long enough to balance out any good he's done since so far. Though many would argue The Hour has gotten the youth back into political discourse, let the man of many syllables add a little more to his repertoire before giving him something you can't realistically award him again instead of making the school seem like it's stretching for the young and hip market with a quick follow-up to the uni-sponsored Sam Roberts show.
The U of C release--sent out Mon., three days before the provincial royalty review changes are due to be announced--also declared EnCana founder and former CEO Gwyn Morgan would also receive the other honorary degree. Though he has certainly progressed further in his career than Mr. S, his addition to the list of honorary graduates is not without peculiarity.
In late Sep., EnCana made the announcement it would remove $1 billion from the Alberta economy should the government follow the recommendations made in the Alberta Royalty Review, finalized Sep. 18. This was seen by some as an empty attempt to scare an uneducated populous into causing a fuss and pressuring the government into hesitation when adjusting the royalties grabbed by the province from oil. It's hardly something to be commended.
EnCana also received scrutiny after announcing the location of its new Bow tower building, evicting the low-income residents occupying the York Hotel and leaving the space empty and unused for the better part of a year. With affordable housing now at the forefront of all levels political debate for Calgarians, needless to say this incident left the corporation in marred standing with the locals.
Morgan hasn't been in direct control of EnCana for several years now, but it was definitely his baby as he'd engineered the merger between Alberta Energy Co. Ltd. (at which he was CEO since 1994) and PanCanadian in 2002 and can't have been completely devoid of input into the direction the oil giant took in the years after he'd retired.
While both the announced recipients fit the university's public relations M.O.--the former with "This Is Now," the latter with the energy-focused majority of research dollars--neither is perfect for the award.