Is eventual Tzeporah Berman resignation worst thing for Notley Government? Was that the strategy all along?
Why did Tzeporah Berman ever agree to co-chair the Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group? I ask this question because comments from the provincial energy minister shed new light on the eco-activist’s recent anti-pipeline comments on CBC.
You can read the background to this week’s controversy in my column here. The crib notes version is that Berman was interviewed on “The Current” radio show and criticized the need for additional oil pipelines or the expansion of the Alberta oil sands. That viewpoint wasn’t well received by Environment Minister Shannon Phillips.
I argued that Berman cannot be both a paid government advisor and a vocal government critic. She must pick one hat and wear it.
Berman did not respond to an interview request for this column.
A chastened Berman was contrite in media interviews at the 2016 Alberta Climate Summit in Calgary. She softened her approach and promised to be team player.
But what exactly is her role on the team?
“The goal of the Oil Sands Advisory Group is to bring together a diverse group of experts – from oil and gas, the environmental movement, indigenous and non-indigenous groups – to advise government how we can best work to reduce oil sands emissions,” Energy Minister Marg McQuaid-Boyd said in an email to North American Energy News, in response to Berman’s comments on CBC.
“We are not talking about reducing production and we are not asking them whether or not we need new pipelines.”
Brad Hartle, McQuaid-Boyd’s press secretary, went even further: “OSAG has been tasked with telling us how to increase production while reducing emissions. This is about innovation and increasing production,” he said in an email.
That is a very narrow reading of OSAG’s terms of reference, which provide a general overview of the advice Berman and the other 17 members of the group were expected to provide, including how the NDP’s 100 megaton emission cap for the oil sands could be implemented, ways to “improve local and environmental issues (e.g. air, water, bio-diversity, cumulative effects, etc.), and how best to invest in innovation (particularly, ways to reduce emissions intensity).
The terms of reference were accompanied by a mandate letter describing the “specific issues” the government wished to received advice about. I asked the government for a copy of Berman’s mandate letter, but had not received it by time of publication.
So, what are we to make of McQuaid-Boyd’s comments and those of her press secretary?
They are clearly a shot across the bow of Berman and other OSAG members. Don’t embarrass the government. Toe the line, or else.
Whatever was in the original mandate letters, OSAG’s mission has now been officially narrowed in scope: recommend innovations that reduce oil sands emissions-intensities so production can be increased, which justifies the approval and construction of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion to the West Coast and TransCanada’s Energy East to the East Coast.
Berman told Chris Varcoe of the Calgary Herald that, ““We have the right to have personal opinions, but I wouldn’t be worthy of this position if I wasn’t willing to set aside those personal positions and listen and prioritize the shared goal that we’ve set on this panel. And I am.”
But it’s difficult to see how she will continue setting aside her personal positions in the face of growing political pressure.
I have been told by reliable sources that the Canadian eco-activist community was very unhappy with Berman when she accepted the OSAG co-chair. Imagine how much more unhappy they’ll be after reading McQuaid-Boyd’s comments.
And how much more will the political pressure intensify as the December deadline for the Kinder Morgan pipeline decision by the federal government approaches?
Yesterday’s news that 50 aboriginal groups in North America have formed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion will only ratchet up that pressure quicker.
The York University professor’s position is untenable.
The odds are very good we are heading for another “Berman moment,” when she can no longer restrain herself and provides another outburst against pipelines and the oil sands.
Let’s not discount the possibility this is why the Rachel Notley Government appointed her to OSAG in the first place.
The NDP understand very well the battle for social license in every province rests with voters in the middle of the political spectrum. Not the far left and eco-activists like Berman. Not oil sands boosters like the Wildrose Party, whose critics have been howling for Berman’s head on a pike since she was appointed.
Another Berman media meltdown, one that leads to her resignation from OSAG, proves the eco-activist community can’t be worked with.
And that conveniently allows the NDP to hold the coveted middle ground.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet on another “Berman moment” in a month, two at the outside.
Quick, someone set up an office pool.