Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, who gave as good as she got, leaves Alberta oilsands advisory role

Posted on June 17, 2017, 2:41 am
6 mins

PHOTOS: Former Oil Sands Advisory Group member Tzeporah Berman. Below: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Progressive Conservative Legislative Caucus Leader Ric McIver, and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.

Tzeporah Berman, the high-profile environmentalist who became a lightning rod for right-wing fury at Alberta’s NDP, is no longer advising Premier Rachel Notley’s Government.

A Canadian Press story yesterday stated Ms. Berman was “let go” – a phrase that contains a strong implication she was fired – from the government’s Oil Sands Advisory Group.

This interpretation is highly unlikely. If it were so, two other environmental advocates and two oil industry executives were “let go” at the same time, although in their cases the Canadian Press story phrased their departures much more gently.

The government’s bland news release – headlined “Oil Sands Advisory Group reaches consensus on first phase of work” – noted that, “with Phase One complete and Phase Two winding down, the government would like to thank Tzeporah Berman, Karen Mahon, Alison Ronson, Christa Seaman and Lloyd Visser for their work.” The latter two were the industry representatives.

Still, it cannot be denied that the constant and frequently hysterical vilification of Ms. Berman by various right-wing politicians and their media echo chambers had an effect on the government that, at best, must at times have been wearying. It will also make good people think twice about taking on government advisory roles, which is no doubt intended by the authors of such attacks.

For her part, Ms. Berman was no shrinking violet, and usually gave back to her critics as good as she got – an approach that could be both entertaining and righteous, but which was surely not the impact the Notley Government hoped the appointment of a prominent environmentalist to its oilsands advisory committee would have.

A talented public advocacy tactician associated with such well-known groups as Greenpeace and ForestEthics, Ms. Berman was vocal in her support for the British Columbia NDP and its opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project during last month’s B.C. provincial election campaign. Obviously, this is not the preferred position of the Alberta NDP.

Ms. Berman also once famously compared Alberta’s tarsands to the volcanic wasteland of Mordor, the hangout of the evil Sauron, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This sent Wildrose and Progressive Conservative politicians scrambling for copies of the venerable fantasy novel – an unfamiliar experience for many, one suspects – which may have accounted for the particular outrage the comment prompted on the Opposition benches.

While Premier Notley always defended Ms. Berman’s appointment forcefully – it wouldn’t be much of an advisory committee if it only reflected a single point of view, as the Opposition constantly demanded, she said frequently – it was hard not to imagine a note of relief in the government’s farewell yesterday.

Thus it was probably telling that the release went out on a Friday afternoon, a traditional time in government circles for disposing of news a government would prefer not to be the subject of too much media attention.

Alberta’s right-wing opposition today, be it Wildrose or PC, does not take kindly to views different from their own being heard, let alone attended to. This has been quite clear on a number of fronts, including PC Leader Jason Kenney’s ongoing purge of moderate centrist Tories of the sort that used to be found in the ranks of the PC Party.

Still, Ms. Berman, for some reason, always provoked a particularly ferocious reaction from the Alberta right. There were legitimate differences, even profound ones, between the her positions on the oilsands and those of the carbon boosters who dominate both conservative parties. But that hardly explained the intensity of their reaction. I suspect it was the fact she is a strong, outspoken, successful woman that accounted for the intensity of the response.

“We just hope Berman hasn’t tarnished Alberta’s reputation,” PC Caucus leader Ric McIver commented churlishly to CP’s reporter yesterday. Outside the province, one can be quite confident, she rather did the opposite, her presence in the consultations burnishing the tarnished thing a little.

“Our government was elected at a time when Alberta’s environmental reputation had hit an all-time low,” said Environment Minister Shannon Phillips in yesterday’s statement, accurately enough. “In just two years we have worked with industry, civil society and communities to turn the corner, in no small part thanks to our limit on oilsands emissions.”

Saying this, while certainly true, will just make the Opposition parties angrier, as Ms. Phillips surely understands.

The committee’s report recommended that the province publish an annual forecast of greenhouse gas emissions from the Athabasca Bitumen sands to monitor compliance with the government’s 100-megatonne annual emissions cap.

10 Comments to: Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, who gave as good as she got, leaves Alberta oilsands advisory role

  1. anti-frack

    June 17th, 2017

    The tar sands are one thing, but until the NDP repeal the vile land bills passed by the Redford government and address the industry capture of the regulatory system they are going to have a hard time retaining rural seats much less the commitment of informed people.

    Reply
  2. GregH

    June 17th, 2017

    “Ric McIver commented churlishly…”

    He’s polishing his craft.

    Reply
  3. Farmer B

    June 17th, 2017

    I see Jagmeet Singh has just released his climate plan. He is against the building of both the Kinder Morgan and Energy east pipelines. Is Charlie Angus the only NDP leadership hopeful not flat out rejecting Kinder Morgan? Jagmeet made an interesting comment that there was no way Canada would meet it’s C02 reduction targets if Rachel Notley was not re-elected. If he and the rest of the NDP get their wish and Kinder Morgan is not built Premier Notley will not be re-elected. The carbon TAX is not popular in Alberta!! As for Tzeporah Berman, made my day to hear she was leaving 🙂

    Reply
  4. Val

    June 17th, 2017

    so, she is second after Brian Topp. i’m afraid it’s too late and harm for province, residents and even to NDP was already done. particularly considering the fact 9 more imported “advisers” still advising Rachel Notley “what is best for Alberta and albertans”.
    from very beginning it was absolutely unwise and quite disrespectful step on her behalf to hire this “inter-provincial team”, pointing out on her disbelieve to find locally smart and talented people.

    Reply
    • Mike

      June 19th, 2017

      Good point Val. Although, I believe Brian Topp engineered this “imported advisor” mess and Notley is realizing this “not made in Alberta’ way off thinking isn’t working. Well she probably figured that out a while back. For example I still shake my head as to why Graham Mitchell was the Chief of Staff to the Energy Minister ( I see he as now been transferred to Treasury).

      Reply
  5. David

    June 17th, 2017

    Oh what an unheard of idea, to have an environmentalist on an advisory body related to resource extraction activities that have significant environmental impacts. It actually seems sensible, no reason the PC’s didn’t like it and didn’t get it.

    If such advisory bodies are to be taken seriously both by Alberta citizens and people outside our province, they need to have a broad range of members and should reflect the range of opinion in society. Unlike under the PC’s, it should not be just a group of industry people with one point of view. The diversity of views produces better results and helps avoid group think that affects some bodies where everyone comes from the same or similar background.

    Albertans do generally support resource development, but also have concerns about the effects it will have on the environment. We need to consider a variety of views when dealing with resource development and not try to ridicule or silence those that are concerned about the environment.

    Reply
  6. Barb Dauerty

    June 18th, 2017

    I would urge Albertans not to make the mistake US Americans are making. Limiting boards to single-minded businessmen limits diverse perspectives and puts Canada at risk for being laid waste by industries with no sense of stewardship of the land. This can result in poisoning of land and water, air pollution, and explosions.

    Eminent domain is also both a domestic and US issue, and Canadian fossil fuels have won few US supporters, absent the few thousand pipeline workers that would be given jobs for a year or two. Gulf of Mexico ecology will suffer the increased refinery operations. The broader, longer-term repercussions and effects of fossil fuel recovery and on future generations must be considered, and Canadians, especially Albertans, must look to their future and that of the earth.

    Humans may be capable of colonizing new worlds, but it is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes. Yet we seem to think we will be capable of leaving this world for another in time to save our kind. What about other kinds? What about those who can’t afford to leave, who must persist or die on a hot, poisoned, dying planet? Renewable resources must replace fossil fuels to buy us time to save what can be salvaged.

    Realizing that fossil fuels will be necessary for some decades, we know the technology is available to replace them within a couple of decades. Delaying the transition makes it costlier in so many ways! Solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy development will relieve global environmental stress, creating jobs in the process. It is time to think long-term, globally.

    Reply
  7. Farmer B

    June 19th, 2017

    Barb, I went on the U.S. Energy Information Administration site(eia.gov) to see how much solar contributes to their national electricity generation. 15% of their total power generation comes from renewables, sounds pretty good. .9% of their total power generation comes from solar, so just under 1%.

    This winter we built a new farm workshop. I thought it would be smart as a way to save money and reduce energy consumption I would heat the small office area with an electric baseboard heater run by solar power. I went online and found a calculator with which I could figure out how many solar panels and batteries it would require to run this heater in our Alberta winter. Much to my surprise to run a 1500 watt heater was going to cost me over $10000 dollars for the solar panels and the batteries to store the energy when the sun wasn’t shining(daylight hours are short in the winter). There is no doubt the batteries cost more than the solar panels and I could have done it cheaper by just using panels and only had heat for a short period of time on sunny days. Long story short, in my application the solar panels didn’t make sense(or cents).

    So yes Barb, I agree that energy efficiency is important. My shop has R50 insulation in the ceiling, R28 in the walls and LED lighting(all done without government subsidy I might add) but I ended up putting in a high efficiency natural gas furnace. As you pointed out we will be using fossil fuels for many decades yet.

    Reply

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