Maurice Strong, a remembrance

Ensconced at the United Nations for over 30 years, Maurice Strong became the world’s premier diplomatic networker. He seemed to know everybody in the world of politics, in government and nongovernmental organizations, anyone who mattered, all across the globe, from Sweden to China, from Rio to Pyongyang. One of his friends boasted that Strong was the only man in the world who could get that Fidel Castro, that widely recognized world-class windbag, to limit a speech to five minutes.

Strong was a man of great contradictions. He was the father of global warming and an oilman, a socialist and a committed capitalist, a staunch friend of the Americans, and an ally of many of their enemies. When the Wall Street Journal‘s Claudia Rosett interviewed and wrote about him in 2008 she used a tag line that had followed Strong for over 20 years, he was “a man of mystery” and Fox News had labelled him “shadowy” and his called his career “murky.”

Strong became acquainted with the Rockefellers when he was still a young man, and after that he appeared to be unstoppable. In his 30s, he headed the business that pretty much ran the Canadian government. By the time he was 40, he was a key member of the Club of Rome and had established the UN’s Environmental Programme.

Back in 2006 I had the good fortune to sit down with him for an interview. This took place in a posh hotel room in Vancouver while he was attending an international environmental conference, Globe 2006. I call it “good fortune” because when I pitched the idea to my editor to go interview Strong, the chances of me pulling it off were pretty slim.

I was at the time working for a right-wing magazine, now out of business, called the Western Standard, based out of Calgary. I had written extensively about the oil-for-food scandal at the United Nations and Strong was at the heart of this, as was Canada in fact. The UN’s Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, a Canadian national and widely considered a Strong appointee, was smack in the middle of it. And the name of the Quebec-based Desmarais family through their ownership stakes in the French oil company Total and the bank BNP Paribas, which handled the financial transactions in the oil-for-food programme, kept cropping up again and again. The Desmarais family controlled Power Corp, a company the family patriarch Paul had acquired from Maurice Strong.

In the course of covering that story, and other stories about the Canadian establishment, I had written some not very nice things about Maurice Strong.

Also, Maurice Strong had been widely described as the Father of the Kyoto Accord and my boss at the time, the magazine’s publisher, Ezra Levant, had written a book entitled Fight Kyoto. Ezra alleged, among other things, that the Kyoto Accord was primarily an economic agreement that gave China an advantage over the United States. This was pretty much the position of the American government of the day.

So by giving me an interview, Mr. Strong allowed into his hotel suite probably the journalist most hostile to his agenda, and who had an extensive knowledge of his recent tribulations.

I hadn’t contacted Strong’s people before the conference because I didn’t want my interview request rejected outright. I calculated it would be better to make the request on the spot. This was a risky strategy, and as it turned out, somewhat unnecessary. As I was to discover in subsequent research, Strong had no problem granting interviews to hostile journalists.

I assumed that when I got there and checked in, because of my magazine’s positions on environmentalism and Maurice Strong, minions would run interference and make sure I got no where near their honoured guest. But I was wrong. No one bothered me at all. Perhaps it was because I was easy to keep an eye on; as it turned out, I was the only journalist at the conference.

This threw me for a loop. Maurice Strong was giving the opening address, and the head of an oil company, British Petroleum, Tony Hayward, was giving the keynote speech. And yet I appeared to be the only journalist reporting on this event.

This became obvious the moment I walked into the main room to listen to Strong’s opening remarks. Usually at big do-s such as this, all the big television cameras are set up on a riser at the back behind the audience. Anyone who’s been to a big political event knows the setup. The whole back of the room is usually given over to the media; the TV crews, the print photogs, the writers, they all gather around back there and then spread out when the show starts.

There was no one at the back except for myself and one person in a blue blazer, a hotel employee, operating the small video camera that fed the jumbotron picture at the front.

At the reception afterwards, I saw Mr. Strong come in, and I have to admit, he looked a bit lost. A few people came over to him and shook his hand. He spoke a few words to folks here and there, but mostly stood alone. I walked up to him, introduced myself. We spoke briefly about the magazine I worked for–he was aware of it, he knew of my articles and knew of my boss’s book. He seemed like a pretty straight-forward guy. I asked him for an interview. He said he would probably be able to do it, but couldn’t commit and asked me to check with him the next day. And that was it. I thought, “Damn! he blew me off! Now he’s just going to keep me dangling and run out the clock.”

The next day I couldn’t reach him by phone in his suite, though I left messages. He had no public appearances scheduled and was no where to be seen. On the final day of the conference, I went to the hotel front desk, had them call up and suddenly bingo! I was told he would see me in a half an hour. One stipulation, he wanted no questions about Tongsun Park, environment talk only. I had to agree if I wanted the interview. I was on his turf.

My experience during this interview was something of a snapshot of Strong’s networking existence. When I showed up at Strong’s suite, I met the financier Robert Fung coming out the door. About half way through the interview, the head of the Chery automobile company called up from China and I was directed to switch off my recorder while he took that call in front of me. And as I was packing up to leave, Strong was on the phone discussing the candidacy of an Englishman for the Secretary General of UN (note: it sounded like Strong was opposed to it.) All in all, pretty interesting stuff for a hick like me.

During the interview, Strong’s wife Hanna sat at the kitchen table behind me with a newspaper spread out before her. I couldn’t shake the notion that the seating arrangement was strategic.

About half way through our session, Strong referred to an article he had written back in 1974. Someone had recently reminded him of it and lent him their copy. This article, in the 50th Anniversary issue of the Saturday Review (Dec. 14, 1974), was titled “The Case for Optimism.” and he seemed quite proud of this. Hanna said she had made photocopies and offered me one, which I accepted.

When I heard that Maurice Strong had died, I thought about this interview I had with him back in 2006. After some digging I found that photocopy given to me, and I re-read it. I’ll PDF it and post it on our site.

During his lifetime many a conspiracy theorist claimed Strong through the UN was secretly attempting to establish a New World Order. You’ll see in this article that the call for a new world order was no secret. It’s right here. And I’ll play a short section of the recording of the interview, as my little to tribute to the passing of the man. It’s the part where he talks about the article he was so proud of.

The quality is poor; it was done on an old Olympus recorder that had it’s own unique file compression. At the top of my typescript, which I’ve also found and will post, there is the note: “Maurice Strong Interview March 31, 2006 4 PM PST–Topaz Room #1038, Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver.”

This is the script I wrote and read for Episode 15 of Grace & Steel, November 30, 2015 in my “Remembrance of Maurice Strong” that followed news of his passing.