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Tzeporah Berman pulls no punches saying what she thinks about tar sands development

Tzeporah Berman. Photo: David J. Climenhaga

Is it possible that the Alberta NDP wishes they'd never heard the name Tzeporah Berman?

Berman is the outspoken Vancouver-based environmentalist and public advocacy tactician appointed by the Notley Government in 2016 to be Co-Chair of the Oil Sands Advisory Group.

It was an honourable and sensible effort to build consensus that would allow Alberta's economy to continue to grow. It did not go exactly as planned.

In that role, Berman immediately became a lightning rod for Conservatives determined to attack the NDP's social-license approach to the development of the Athabasca Bitumen Sands, which drew embarrassing attention to the fact the constant Conservative bullying of other Canadians from Ottawa and Edmonton had been a notable failure for more than a decade.

Berman is no shrinking violet -- even when the NDP, I am certain, wished she would tone it down, if only just a little. Her role ended five months ago, and while she was not "let go" as some mainstream media outfits falsely claimed, I'm sure there were some among the NDP's strategic brain trust who were nevertheless relieved to see her role at an end.

In the event, media covered her departure and all but ignored the successful work of the OSAG.

The attacks on her by Conservatives were usually intemperate, frequently vicious, sometimes quite threatening, and just as often highly offensive. On one occasion, she was physically attacked in Edmonton International Airport.

Indeed, there was something about Berman that provoked a particularly ferocious reaction from the Alberta right. There were legitimate differences, even profound ones, between her views on the oilsands and those of the carbon boosters who dominate both conservative parties. But that hardly explained the intensity of their reaction. I have always suspected it was because she is a strong, outspoken, successful woman that accounted for the viciousness of the response.

Now Berman has written a powerful opinion piece in Britain's Guardian newspaper, which nowadays also has a significant international online presence, savaging Canada's environmental record and arguing that no one, anywhere in the world, should be fooled by official Canadian efforts to slap a coat of green paint on the oilsands.

"Alberta has a new progressive majority NDP government which has made some great, long overdue strides in addressing social and environmental issues such as a coal phase-out and a cap on emissions from the tar sands," she wrote in yesterday's edition. "However, even under this government, the cumulative impacts of this fossil fuel development are growing and industry continues to obtain sweeping approvals that are shocking for their lack of environmental rigour."

Tailings ponds in the region have been labelled "the largest (and most destructive) industrial project in human history," Berman noted, calling them "Canada's most shameful environmental secret."

She concluded the piece: "If they are not dealt with now, tar sands tailings could become a permanent toxic legacy of the most reckless forms of 20th-century fossil fuel extraction."

It's hard to argue with many of Berman's conclusions. Stand by, though, for a hysterical and ugly reaction to the Guardian article from Conservatives of all stripes, as they are bound to see this as another opportunity to vent their fury on the NDP.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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