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

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Tzeporah Berman (Photo: David Climenhaga)

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 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 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, 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, 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.

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 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, 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 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.

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

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