Never mind uninviting Tzeporah Berman, can we cancel Cody Battershill?

Canadians support a balanced, pragmatic approach to new pipelines – not Canada Action’s shrill tub thumping

Jonathan Teghtmeyer points out that Alberta teachers are informed, discerning folks quite capable of hearing both sides of a debate and arriving at a sensible conclusion. Which is why industry booster Canada Action’s campaign – led by its founder, Calgary realtor Cody Battershill – against environmentalist Tzeporah Berman is so pernicious.

The communciations director for the Alberta Teachers Association is a bit baffled by the hulaballo about its invitation for the anti-pipeline activist to speak at an Oct. conference.

“The biggest thing that we are trying to get across here is that teachers are well educated. They are fully participating citizens of the province. They fully understand the benefits that Alberta received as a result of oil and gas development,” he told Energi News in an interview.

“They understand how it impacts the economics of the province and how it impacts the provincial treasury. The speaker in no way interferes with their understanding of those issues.”

Tzeporah Berman
Tzeporah Berman, Adjunct Professor of York University Faculty of Environmental Studies and works as a strategic advisor to a number of First Nations, environmental organizations and philanthropic foundations on climate and energy issues.

Berman’s many Alberta critics think her perspective is illegitimate and the ATA should rescind the invitation. In other words, the usual suspects are outraged.

Then there’s super-promoter Battershill and Canada Action, which launched a petition – 3,394 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon – demanding the ATA cancel the Berman appearance.

Particularly amusing is this sentence from the petition’s web page: “This decision is an insult to Albertans, and is an insult to the parents and teachers who value a strong economy and a balance of environmental views.”

The irony of trying to shut down the voice of an opponent while demanding balanced views seems to be lost on Battershill.

Even respected Postmedia scribbler Don Braid couldn’t resist clambering on the bandwagon: “The Alberta Teachers’ Association should give its collective head a shake and lose that speaking invitation to anti-pipeline activist Tzeporah Berman. Not because of what she believes, but because of how she acts. Like many other activists, Berman is willing to flout the law no matter what the courts say about approvals or injunctions.”

A Tweet asking Braid to clarify precisely which laws Berman was flouting went unanswered.

Berman says she has supported blockades of the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project and willing the legal consequences if she joins those protestors in the future.

“I have a deep respect for the law. But sometimes courts and governments put corporate interests above the interests of the people and in that case, I am prepared to engage in civil disobedience,” she said in an interview.

Does Berman’s blockade support qualify as flouting the law?  Who cares, right? The accusation is just another Firestone on the raging tire fire of Alberta resentment.

Which is the point of Canada Action’s pernicious campaign: appeal to Albertans’ basest tribal instincts, keep the pot boiling, feed the “Alberta as victim” political narrative.

Well, if the objective is to prop up Canadian support for the oil, gas, and pipeline sector, it isn’t working. In fact, Alberta needs to accept that support for pipelines is slipping across Canada.

Surveys from Abacus Data confirm this point.

Tzeporah BermanIn 2014, Canadian attitudes toward pipelines broke down like this: 22% opposed, 20% neutral, 58% supportive.

Just three years later, the percentage opposed was unchanged, but a significant percentage (16%) had migrated from supportive to neutral.

Young voters are more likely to be opposed or neutral. British Columbia and Quebec, provinces through which the Alberta-based pipeline industry may one day want to build the next pipeline to tidewater, are more opposed on average (both at 29%) to new projects.

The trend among key constituencies that Alberta needs to woo is clearly in the wrong direction.

David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, said in a previous interview that a polarized strategy – a polite way of describing Canada Action’s anti-free speech tirade – will backfire with Canadian voters.

“There are strong voices on either side of the energy/environment debate but for the most part, average Canadians are somewhere in the middle. They recognize the importance of our country dealing with the climate crisis, dealing with carbon emissions, but at the same time they’re not willing to give up on the energy sector and see the importance of that to the country,” he said.

“They want a balanced approach. We tested this hypothesis, that a balanced approached would find appeal, and that’s what we found in our survey.”

Oh, irony. Who could have guessed that Alberta setting its hair on fire over an opposing viewpoint might have the opposite effect?

In a further irony, there are perfectly sound counter-arguments to Berman’s view that oil sands production needs to be capped in the very near future, then gradually phased out, with government transition programs in place for affected workers and their families.

Alberta can point to incoming greenhouse gas emissions regulations that are expected to significantly reduce the carbon-intensity of oil sands bitumen.

In fact, a recent study by Kevin Birn of IHS MarkIt estimates that carbon-intensity will drop 17 to 27 per cent over the next decade or so – and that’s not considering the effect of the new regulations and carbon pricing or transformational technologies like CNRL’s IPEP mining process.

These are great stories that rarely told by industry, government, or trade associations.

The Berman controversy shows why: Alberta would rather play the victim card than go toe-to-toe with its critics.

This is why Battershill and Canada Action – and the imitators like them, such as Robbie Picard and Oil Sands Strong – are pernicious.

They foment outrage instead of debate, confrontation instead of persuasion, parochialism instead of acknowledging the rest of Canada holds a different – and changing – view of pipelines.

If you don’t like Tzeporah Berman, debate her. Calling for her to be silenced is a shameful surrender to the anti-democratic populism creeping into Canadian political discourse.

Canada Action responded to Energi News’ request for an interview, saying Battershill would respond. He had not responded by publication time.

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