Government appointments carry responsibilities that must be taken seriously, not exploited to further personal political agendas
When Alberta’s NDP government appointed vocal eco-activist and pipeline opponent Tzeporah Berman to the Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group in July, I supported the move. But after an anti-oil sands outburst on CBC radio Thursday, followed by revealing Facebook comments on the weekend, I’ve changed my mind.
What I wrote just a few months ago is that we are witnessing the emergence a new political consensus around energy, climate, and the environment based upon the idea of an “energy transition,” a process I’ve written about here and here and here.
Because an energy transition takes place over 100 years (give or take), and oil and gas will co-exist with clean energy technologies like wind and solar power generation for many decades, crafting public policy requires input from a wide range of viewpoints. Including environmentalists like Berman.
Talking just to the oil and gas industry about energy policy isn’t good enough anymore.
And despite her reputation for combative political positions and publicly speaking her mind, Berman promised to play nice with the other kids in the sand box, including her co-chairs Dave Collyer, former president of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Melody Lepine, Mikisew Cree First Nation.
This is what Berman wrote back in July on a long Facebook post about her appointment:
“Though I have been a vocal critic of ‘business as usual’ in the oil sands, I recognize that change doesn’t happen over night. It is a tremendous step forward that the Alberta government has decided to extend our earlier industry-environment work and enlist the help of more industry participants and the wisdom of non-Indigenous and Indigenous community leaders.”
Based on those comments, I supported her appointment.
Then last week she appeared on CBC’s “The Current” with former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay and blasted the rumored federal approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project and any future expansion of the Alberta oil sands, something she knows Premier Rachel Notley favours.
Here is an excerpt from that interview:
“Can you build a new pipeline, a new infrastructure capacity in the country, and still meet our commitment to be well below two degrees. There’s been a couple of studies on that, one in Nature journal and one by the International Energy Institute. And what they look at is global market economic scenarios. What does a two degree world look like? Because the NEB is looking at business as usual scenarios. That’s a six degree world. And both of those studies have said that you need to cap emissions from the oil sands at a level that doesn’t require a new pipeline.” [emphasis added]
Right on cue, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean chimed in (while getting Berman’s role all wrong, she’s one of 15 advisors) and called for her dismissal from the advisory group. “Premier Notley’s chief advisor on oilsands development shouldn’t be going on national radio and discrediting the work of our most important industry.”
Saying Berman should discredit Alberta’s oil and gas industry is political hyperbole. But that’s what Official Oppositions do, so no need to take Jean’s comments too seriously.
However, it does raise the question of how Berman can rail against pipelines and the oil sands in the Canadian media and then function as an effective member of the advisory group. This is a divisive and disruptive tactic on her part that contradicts the promises she made back in July.
And I find her subsequent Facebook comments about the Canadian public debate over energy policy disingenuous and hypocritical.
She complains that since The Current interview she has been “attacked” and that “I hoped, perhaps naively, with these changes in administrations for an opening up of the dialogue, for less conflict and more shared pathways.”
And that “we should be driving towards a democratic process where we ask the right questions. The fact that it is heresy to many to suggest we don’t need more pipeline capacity is beyond frustrating.”
She also writes that “the fact that the Alberta Climate Plan doesn’t go from unrestrained pollution to shutting it all down in one fell swoop is seen by many of my colleagues as a failure.”
Berman made controversial remarks on public radio. How in the world can she be surprised that pipeline supporters objected?
If she’s that fragile, she should stay out of the public square, which is all about the competition of ideas and political positions, and is inherently full of conflict.
If she’s frustrated now, Notley can be sure this won’t be Berman’s last outburst.
There is a very good chance – I would bet on her doing it – that Berman will turn the advisory group into her own soapbox, embarrassing the Alberta Government on a regular basis.
Notley should haul Berman on the carpet and read her the riot act. Either play nice, as promised, or resign.
And if she isn’t prepared to do either of those things, then Notley should fire her in the most public fashion possible as a warning to the next co-chair that a government appointment carries responsibilities and duties that should be taken seriously, not exploited to further personal political agendas.