PHOTOS: Environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, whose appointment to the Alberta Government’s climate panel prompted a full-scale freak-out by the province’s right, which, apparently, sees her as, well, an Orc. Below the Orc: B.C. Premier Christy Clark and former Progressive Conservative finance minister Robin Campbell.

Last year, when environmentalist Tzeporah Berman was appointed to British Columbia Premier Christy Clark’s Climate Leadership Team, there appears to have been no controversy.

But then, the misleadingly named Liberal government headed by Ms. Clark is really a big-tent, small-c conservative party in many ways not unlike the old Alberta Progressive Conservatives under such leaders as Peter Lougheed and Ed Stelmach.

So when Premier Clark appointed the 23-member committee to advise her government on climate policy, it went without saying it would include representatives from the government, the academy, affected communities, business interests, environmental interests and First Nations.

For one thing, it would have had no credibility with civil society in B.C. without such a diversity of views. For another, getting effective opponents of past government policy like Ms. Berman on the team that makes long-term policy recommendations has the effect of co-opting them to your position.

British Columbia is not Alberta, of course. For many years, the environmental movement has spoken louder there than here, and it enjoys enormous support among British Columbians. Plus, there’s almost always been a real opposition in the Legislature and it doesn’t come as an earth-shattering development if the government changes hands now and then. So any B.C. leader is attuned to the need to pay attention to those realities.

Still, I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine that if an Alberta Progressive Conservative like Jim Prentice had managed to hang onto power in 2015, recognizing the problems this province faces getting its principal export to markets, he too might have appointed someone like Ms. Berman to something like the Oil Sands Advisory Group created by Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley last week.

After all, he might have reasoned, as Ms. Notley certainly recognizes, any pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast is going to have to pass through British Columbia.

The 18-member Alberta committee has a mandate similar to that of the group set up by Premier Clark last year, “to advise government on the oil-sands aspects of its Climate Leadership Plan and ensure that its initiatives are effective and widely supported.”

There are three co-chairs – one from industry, one from First Nations and one from environmental organizations. Ms. Berman is the environmental sector’s co-chair.

Heaven knows, she’s qualified enough in that role. She’s a high-profile environmental leader with major successes in her resume, like the renowned Great Bear Rainforest Agreement in B.C. Like Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman, she’s proved she is willing to go to jail for her convictions. She was honoured by the Royal B.C. Museum as one of 150 people who changed the face of the province. She’s now an adjunct professor of environmental studies at York University in Toronto.

But when Ms. Berman was appointed, the Wildrose Party, the Harper Government dead-enders who plan to take it over along with the Progressive Conservatives, and their online outrage machine went completely bonkers.

Why? The proximate cause was the use by Ms. Berman of an awkward literary metaphor comparing Alberta’s oilsands to Mordor, the land of darkness and fire in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy during a recent interview with a British environmental reporter.

She has apologized for this, although, in your blogger’s opinion, she hardly needs to have bothered. At least she didn’t quote William Blake and call the tarsands “dark satanic mills,” which really would have gotten the ’Rosies goin’!

If you actually listen to the recording of Ms. Berman’s interview – which the people screaming about her are counting on you not to do – she sounds restrained, even a little sympathetic to the industry, and appears to be responding to accusations she’s gone soft on the tarsands.

She defended herself, by the way, by explaining, quite reasonably, that “the solutions in the climate era aren’t black or white. They’re various shades of grey. And we’re not going to go from no climate policy to the policy equivalent of 1.5 degrees overnight.”

The Wildrose Party, as its press release writers tend to do in such circumstances, put its own fanciful interpretation on Ms. Berman’s words, claiming in the headline of its release, without providing a back up quote or any evidence in the text, that she “calls industry ‘toxic.’”

The release also identified Ms. Berman as an Ontarian – fightin’ words around these parts, unless of course you happen to speaking about Ontarians like Stephen Harper or Jason Kenney.

To hear the reaction from the outrage machine on the Internet, you would have thought Ms. Berman was, well … an Orc!

But the real reason for the fury at Ms. Berman’s appointment, it is said here, is that in the minds of leaders of the Wildrose Party, and the groups backed by the federal Conservatives and the Manning Centre who are pushing for the union of the PCs and Wildrose under Mr. Kenney, there is no place for disagreement, let alone dissent, from the party’s hard ideological line.

The Wildrose Party is as pure an ideological entity as you can find in Alberta politics. Can you imagine a former union local president like Robin Campbell being allowed to run as a candidate in a party run by Mr. Kenney or Opposition Leader Brian Jean, let alone becoming finance minister as he did under Mr. Prentice? It would never happen.

Nowadays, under interim Leader Ric McIver, the PCs have moved well to the right of centre as well.

In this regard, the Alberta conservative movement is in danger of taking the path chosen by the Republican Party in the United States, in which ideology Trumps everything else.

If there was a flaw in the creation of the NDP’s Oil Sands Advisory Group, it wasn’t with the appointment of Ms. Berman.

It was the failure to spell out the reasons for this appointment clearly, loudly and more than once, instead of letting the Wildrose Party and its outrage machine define her for those citizens for whom the first impression is the entire story.

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  1. I am hoping that Ms Berman may be able to get the governments of BC and Alberta to expand the Pacific Coast Collaborative to include the civil society and research organizations – so that the people have a means of participating in clean energy development. I will ask Ms Berman what she recommends to get the Developing Community Power program of Friends of Public Services more broadly supported.

    1. OK, maybe not an awkward movie metaphor. It’s quite possible that’s what Ms. Berman was thinking of when she made the comment, she being a social-media savvy sort of person.

  2. *sigh* I for one find it frustrating when I find that the only people that might understand political events and commentary, are those that have read Tolkien. I haven’t (nor did I see the movies made from his work), so I don’t really know what Mordor is or what an Orc is.

    As for Ms Berman, bringing in multiple perspectives on the Alberta energy sector can’t be a bad thing.

    1. Are you saying we shouldn’t have read Tolkien, or that you regret not having done so? The latter is probably easier to remedy. Tolkien, however, like Ayn Rand, is best read when one is in one’s teens, although considerably less likely to do permanent psychological damage than reading Atlas Shrugged. If you feel the need is unavoidable, just read The Hobbit and ignore the rest. Then you can spend the rest of your life pondering seriously if naming a character Belladonna Took means Tolkein took belladonna. Seems quite probable given some of the drivel in the rest of his opus.

      1. “…Are you saying we shouldn’t have read Tolkien, or that you regret not having done so?…” Neither; just that I wish columnists and bloggers didn’t automatically assume readers had read Tolkein. It isn’t as universal in terms of educational exposure as, for example, Willy the Shake or Hemingway.

        As for “best read in one’s teens”, for me that is the point; in my teens, only the nerdiest of nerds read Tolkein (it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that the members of one of my favourite bands, Led Zeppelin, had also read him); I resisted reading his work because while I also had nerdish tendencies, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into that category. High school can be brutal to self-esteem, you know. Also, while I enjoy sf, especially Heinlein, Clarke & Sawyer, I dislike fantasy.

  3. The irony is that if it wasn’t for some quick action of firefighters during last May’s inferno Fort Mac really would have turned into Mordor.

  4. uh-huh, sure
    This gov’t is sounding more and more like the old one, albeit considerably more sophisticated. There seems to be little doubt that the Notley cabinet has been co-opted by the petro-industry.
    I see in the press release that it’s all about ‘carbon intensity’ or as Minister McCuaig-Boyd puts it, “reducing our carbon output per barrel.” Back in the day … was it only 5 or 6 years ago? … we knew carbon intensity was petro-industry code for increased production, literally, the sky’s the limit.
    Speaking of limits, the barnyard droppings around the 100MT GHG emissions ‘limit’ is a con-job that would make ol’ Ralphie grin ear to ear. We produce 63-some MT today; to arrive at 100MT Alberta would have to increase it’s emissions by 160%. That’s an awful lot of additional tar-sand operations, even more if they actually reduce emissions intensity.
    You, me and anyone else able to read today will be old, grey and in the ground long before Alberta approaches this so-called limit. It’s like taking driving lessons for 200 mph; it’s like tax planning for the next $100 million, it’s like making a list of names for your love child with Kim Kardashian – it ain’t gonna happen!
    So, I’ll go along with the argument that Racheal has to do what it takes to stay in power and not give it away to the cave-dwellers. But any serious or credible discussion of climate leadership or environmental responsibility starts with leaving that crap in the ground.
    Tzeporah Berman knows this better than most. Nonetheless, she would not be the first to abandon principles and change course for a more lucrative legacy, although it beggars belief that anyone would choose Patrick Moore as a role model.

  5. Tzeporah Berman has a long and well documented career of eco activism. She has fraught for old growth forests and against pipelines and resource development. It would seem if a person was pro development you would obviously be concerned about her appointment. If Tzeporah can park her more radical beliefs at the door as you suggest, and work towards a solution that includes more oil sands development, why can’t someone like Jason Kenney? To my knowledge he has never tried to bring in legislation to restrict a women’s right to choose. Or maybe you believe that only enlightened socialists can change their outlook not “cave-dwellers” like myself.

    For those of you that believe we should leave the oil in the ground how far do you think Tzeporah Berman would get in Saudi Arabia or Algeria lobbying for them to improve the way they produce their oil? Have a good day:-)

    1. Farmer, Farmer … This is sillier than your usual responses. Ms. Berman is not running to be premier of Alberta. Your the comment about the odious Saudi Arabian regime is gratuitous. Are you suggesting someone is advocating Canada should be run like Saudi Arabia? No one on the left, thank you very much. You write: “It would seem if a person was pro development you would obviously be concerned about her appointment.” This is, obviously, wrong, since the point of the committee, and its potential for success, is that the committee contains a wide variety of views and will work toward a solution that balances those views in a reasonable way insofar as is possible. So, no, I’m not screaming in protest at a representative of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers being a co-chair of the committee, even though CAPP at times has seemed to act as the official representative of Mordor in Alberta.

    2. A solution that includes more oil sands development? That doesn’t make any sense. I think that’s a classic example of an oxymoron.

      The problem is too much tarsands production. Therefore, how can the solution be more tarsands development?

      You don’t seem to grasp or accept what the problem actually is, yet you suggest a course of action that would in fact aggravate the initial problem. Oh, please give us all a break!

  6. The point I attempted to make but did a poor job was that if the oil is left in the ground in Alberta it will come from places such as Saudi or Algeria. Much less environmental oversight in these jurisdictions.

    You are quite correct that Tzeporah Berman is not the premier and that Jason Kenney wants to be the premier. My personal enthusiasm for Mr Kenney is due to his financial outlook and I believe he is a smart enough politician that he will stay away from controversial social issues. With the many billions of debt being piled up by our present government someone will eventually have to make a change.

    Your comment on Modor puts you in agreement with Tzeporah Berman. Have a good day:-)

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