Oil sands activist appointed to climate change advisory board in Alberta

The NDP government in Alberta has appointed a well-known climate change activist and anti-oil sands campaigner to co-chair an advisory board on climate change.

The move by the Rachel Notley-led government, which ended a multi-decade dynasty by the Progressive Conservative Party in 2015, has elicited howls of protest from the Opposition Wildrose Party in Alberta – Canada's most important oil-producing province – and others who say the appointment to the 18-member advisory group smacks of anti-industry bias.

Tzeporah Berman, an adjunct professor of environmental studies at York University in Toronto, recently referred to the oil sands as "Mordor", the fictional dark kingdom of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

"The tarsands are the single largest and most destructive industrial project on earth," Berman said in a London interview with Climate Home, a news site that covers climate change. "When you're there it feels a bit like Mordor. As far as the eye can see [are] mines and huge open pits that are being pumped out into areas the size of lakes."

"If you spend more than a couple hours walking around in the tarsands, your eyes start to run and your skin starts to hurt," she said later in the interview.

"When you're there it feels a bit like Mordor. As far as the eye can see [are] mines and huge open pits that are being pumped out into areas the size of lakes."

The Wildrose Party was quick to pounce on the appointment as exercising poor judgment.

“Appointing a co-chair to the OSAG who is vocally opposed and has made a career off of opposing our oil sands industry is deeply disappointing,” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said in a news release. “Particularly in this time of economic uncertainty, we need to find a balanced approach of being both environmental stewards and ensuring the success of the energy industry while securing the economic wellbeing of our province.”

Wildrose Shadow Energy Minister Leela Aheer said that while a wide ranging group providing oversight on the OSAG is in the best interests of our energy industry, it’s wrong to have an out-of-province activist co-chairing who is against the development of Alberta's resources.

“What Albertans have long known is that environmental protection and growth of energy industry can go hand in hand,” Aheer said. “To see that this NDP government have appointed an individual from Ontario who openly opposes Keystone XL, Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan and Energy East is deeply disappointing. Hardworking Albertans and their families deserve better.”

Berman is a former director of Greenpeace's climate and policy unit, and helped lead the 1993 protests against clearcut logging in Clayoquot Sound, on the west coast of British Columbia.

However in a lengthy post of Facebook, Berman said she regrets her comments made to Climate Home.

"They are the words and tone from my past campaigning and don't reflect the opportunity I have today to be part of helping advise on the critical questions on how Alberta will operate under a [greenhouse gas] limit, innovate, better protect its environment and determine the infrastructure needs of its future production," she wrote on the social media site.

The other co-chairs on the OSAG are Dave Collyer, a former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Melody Lepine, director of industry and government relations for the Mikisew Cree Nation. Lepine ran for the NDP but lost in the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding during Canada's 2015 federal election. The advisory group is meant to advise the government on climate issues affecting the oil sands including how to implement greenhouse gas emission limits and where to invest in innovation.