Tzeporah Berman has been designing and winning environmental campaigns in Canada and internationally for 20 years. She now works as a strategic advisor for environmental organizations, First Nations and philanthropists on clean energy, oilsands and pipelines. She was recently appointed to the British Columbia Government Climate Leadership Team. She is the author of This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge.
It happened for the first time at the United Nations Climate Convention in Durban, South Africa, when an elderly European diplomat asked me, “What is happening to Canada?” Shaking his head wearily in frustration and disbelief, he explained that for decades he had worked with Canadian diplomats to help solve some of the world's most difficult problems.
“I remember when we could turn to Canada for the reasonable voice - to show leadership and inspire others to step up,” he said. “Remember the Montreal Protocol? We banned CFCs and now the hole on the ozone layer is shrinking…because of Canada.”
Over the past couple of years I have had some version of this conversation all across the world.
At the 2009 United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, I stood next to Jack Layton with tears in my eyes as we watched youth rip maple leafs from their backpacks, ashamed to be known as Canadians.
At the 2011 Climate Convention in Durban, I was meeting with some of the world’s leading climate scientists when we heard that Canada would become the only country in the world to pull out of the Kyoto agreement, despite polls that showed that the majority of Canadians wanted an international agreement and wanted to be leaders on climate change.
In 2012, upon the passing of the Omnibus Bill, I sat with some of the country’s leading environmental lawyers and academics as we listened in horror to news reports explaining that our government had gutted 70 environmental laws in one fell swoop. In the following months, I attended numerous meetings with scientists, lawyers, environmental and First Nations leaders, and even elected officials as they came to grips with the fact that without these laws, thousands of environmental assessments for major industrial projects had been cancelled.
In each instance, I heard a familiar refrain: "I barely recognize this country".
Prime Minister Harper once stated that, “Climate change is the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced.” Yet in a relentless push to expand the oilsands, the Harper government has fired scientists, shut down climate research, weakened environmental laws and applied severe restrictions to public participation in reviews for the National Energy Board pipeline and oilsands projects.
I have met with several of Canada's leading scientists, who have told me of how hundreds of Federal scientists had been fired, while the ones that remain are not allowed to speak to the media or public about their findings without review and approval. Our top scientists are now forced to deal with restrictions so severe that many say they feel ‘muzzled’; restrictions so severe that the internationally recognized journal Nature commented in a recent editorial that“it's time for Canada to set its scientists free”.
This is a government that is stubborn, heavy handed and narrowly focused. Our dwindling international reputation, increasing tensions with our closest neighbors, escalating conflicts with First Nations and the erosion of our democracy all stem from the Harper government’s belligerent attempts to expand the oilsands at all costs. Canada cannot meet our climate targets and build a conversation about adaptation and resiliency as long as our own government is shutting down related research and any public process on climate change.
What is happening to Canada? We have discovered that oil corrodes, not only our pipelines but also our democracy.