Environmentalist Tzeoporah Berman

In a blistering broadside on social media yesterday, prominent B.C. environmentalist Tzeporah Berman fired back at Opposition Leader Jason Kenney for his continuing effort to reduce her to a figure of hatred, ridicule and contempt as a way to undermine Alberta’s NDP government.

“You keep simplifying what I am saying to foment fear and anger in Alberta that paralyzes us from progress,” Berman wrote on her Facebook page. “This is not leadership, it’s a disingenuous, simplistic, poisonous, ego-led grasp for power and I hope voters in 2019 see through it.”

Berman asserted that she has never called for the overnight shutdown of the oilsands as UCP supporters repeatedly claim. “We need to agree to stop expansion and then create a just transition and economic diversification plan for workers and their families.”

“This crass, simplistic narrative and debate you are fomenting is a disservice to Albertans and our nation,” she stated.

A timeline created last week by Kenney’s United Conservative Party online meme gnomes concluded by asking about Berman’s now-ended role as co-chair of the Alberta Government’s Oil Sands Advisory Group: “Why was Berman ever appointed?”

“In answer to your question,” Berman wrote in her riposte: “Premier Notley appointed me because a group of 5 CEOs of oil companies and 5 (environmental non-governmental organization) leaders recommended me to co-chair the working group, ironically because I had spent the last two years mediating and chairing a conversation between them about decreasing polarizing and trying to respectfully understand each other’s views in order to break the climate policy gridlock in the country.”

“It had been working and resulted in support from the industry for the climate plan including the coal phase out and the carbon tax,” she said.

“So let me reiterate Mr. Kenney, Premier Notley appointed me because leaders in the oil industry asked her to.” (Emphasis added.)

Among the industry leaders who contributed to that decision, Berman told me yesterday, were Dave Collyer, former president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and former president of Shell Canada Ltd., Steve Williams, president and CEO of Suncor Energy Inc., N. Murray Edwards, former CEO of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Lorraine Mitchelmore, former president of Shell Canada Ltd., and Brian Ferguson, former CEO of Cenovus Energy Inc. Collyer served as industry co-chair of the OSAG.

At any rate, Berman said in her Facebook commentary yesterday, her mediation efforts were working until the Trans Mountain Pipeline “became a poisonous holy grail, a debate that is more about the stranglehold the oil industry has over our politics and imagination and the pervasiveness of the ideology of growth at all costs than about the actual pipeline.”

Many Albertans may not be aware either of Berman’s past successes working with corporate leaders — as in the resolution she is credited with brokering between B.C. logging companies and environmentalists in the Great Bear Rainforest to end “the War in the Woods” in the early 1990s — or how controversial they were among many environmentalists because she was seen as too conciliatory.

Nor does it seem to bother Alberta’s conservatives that by attacking Berman, they are also disparaging the work done by her co-chair Dave Collyer and his industry colleagues. “By constantly vilifying one prominent environmentalist, these critics undermine the work of all members of the advisory group,” I wrote in this space in June 2017 of attacks by the UCP’s predecessor parties, the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose.

“Collyer — along with representatives of Cenovus Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., MEG Energy Corp., Statoil Canada Ltd. and Suncor Energy Inc. — agreed to the recommendations of the OSAG as much as Berman did. They produced a consensus document,” I pointed out. “The only substance of the opposition criticism appears to be that the recommendations of the OSAG are worthless simply because of the presence of a few environmentalists, Berman in particular, on the committee.”

Why has no one from mainstream media ever picked up a phone and asked Collyer or other industry experts on the committee about their thoughts on Berman’s contribution? Instead, writers for Postmedia in particular have enthusiastically parroted the sustained and vicious personal attacks on Berman by Kenney and other conservative leaders, not to mention the UCP’s unacknowledged staff-run Twitter troll farm. A recent Calgary Herald story portrayed her and other pipeline opponents as “enemies of Alberta’s energy industry.”

This campaign has been at least a partial success for the UCP — eventually persuading the Notley Government in June 2017 that Berman had become a political liability who needed to depart.

Some UCP supporters, perhaps unhinged by what they were hearing in the media, on social media and in party fund-raising emails, showered Berman with threats of sexual violence and death, anti-Semitism and, on one occasion in Edmonton airport, literal spittle.

The personal vilification campaign against Berman was ratcheted up again soon after the August’s Federal Court of Appeal decision delaying the Trans Mountain expansion project, when the public learned the Alberta Teachers Association had invited her to speak to a social studies teachers’ conference in Edmonton next month.

The opportunity to attack teachers, unions, environmentalists, and the NDP all at once was apparently too much for the UCP to resist.

Premier Notley also sought and was granted an invitation to the ATA’s Oct. 13 conference to rebut Berman’s remarks.

Berman, having been turned in her own words into “a political football in Alberta” by the UCP’s invective and kicked under the bus by the NDP, presumably now feels empowered to defend her reputation. It could get interesting.

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

Image: David Climenhaga

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...