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Tzeporah Berman (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Tzeporah Berman (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

TZEPORAH BERMAN

Oil, dissent and the future of Canada Add to ...

“Mommy, why does the government think you are a terrorist?”

The question came from my son the day after the news media reported that the federal government was contemplating changing the definition of domestic terrorism to include environmentalism.

I spent the past couple of years working internationally and came home to what I thought was an important debate over Canada’s future energy landscape. With Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s open letter attempting to silence Canadians who want to participate in that debate and attacking those concerned about the rapid expansion of the oil sands, pipelines and tanker traffic, I realized that what we are facing is a much bigger issue of democracy and freedom of speech. When this was followed up with an attack on environmental charities, many opinion leaders recognized we are experiencing a witch hunt.

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With the 2012 budget, I watched in horror as the government in Ottawa gutted the environmental laws that protect our air, water and fisheries. Many of Canada’s opinion leaders are now wondering if we are dealing with an all-out war on nature.

As I reflect on the events of the past few months, I realize we are engaged in a fight for the soul of Canada.

Do we want to reinforce and renew the Canadian values of tolerance, fairness and doing the right thing in a changing world? Or do we now define “Canadian” as intolerant of anything other than oil, unfairness to other economic sectors, vulnerable countries and our children, and decidedly doing the wrong thing in the face of overwhelming evidence?

This year the International Energy Agency warned that “on planned policies, rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change. … Delaying action is a false economy: For every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

This federal government wants us to believe that unfettered development of the oil sands and the gutting of environmental laws is in the national interest, and that those who oppose this definition are radical extremists influenced by foreign interests or worse, terrorists.

I am a Canadian and a mother. I believe my children deserve an environmental, economic and energy policy that is designed in Ottawa and not in the oil patch. I believe that all Canadians have a right to free speech and deserve to be encouraged to engage in issues critical to the country’s future.

Dozens of environmental organizations and first nations tell me that the response to the rollbacks and attacks has been dramatically increased membership, donations and support. The glimmer of hope on the horizon is that the outrageous acts of the past few months are waking Canadians up to the changes being wrought on our cultural, physical and economic landscape.

What Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories need to remember is that no government is infallible. In 1957 the then-Liberal government faced a backlash in the polls widely attributed to the lack of public debate over TransCanada’s pipeline proposal and the Liberal government’s arrogant handling of the project. Perhaps it would benefit Mr. Harper to remember that he would not be the first prime minister in this country to lose an election over a pipeline.

Tzeporah Berman has been leading environmental campaigns in Canada and internationally for over 20 years. Her first book, This Crazy Time: Living Our Environmental Challenge, was published last fall by Knopf Canada.

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