Environmental activist booked to speak to Alberta teachers group calls efforts to cancel her 'disappointing'

A controversial environmental activist hired to speak at an Alberta teachers' union event says efforts to have her dropped from the program are disappointing.

'We’re not going to find solutions ... by trying to quell all dissenting voices,' says Tzeporah Berman

Environmental activist Tzeporah Berman is set to be a keynote speaker next month at an Edmonton meeting of a sub-group of the Alberta Teachers' Association. (CBC)

A controversial environmental activist hired to speak at an Alberta teachers' union event says efforts to have her dropped from the program are disappointing.

Tzeporah Berman, who once came under fire for comparing Alberta's oilsands with Mordor — the dark, scorched land in The Lord of the Rings, is set to speak at the First Nations, Mé​tis and Inuit Education Council's meeting in Edmonton next month.

The group is a specialty council of the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), the professional organization of teachers in the province.

Berman, who sat on the Alberta government's Oilsands Advisory Group, has been vocal in her opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

On Tuesday, she told CBC Calgary News at 6 that her keynote address to the teachers will focus on the latest in climate science and the future of the global energy market, where she says demand for oil will continue to soften.

The pro-natural resources sector advocacy group Canada Action started an online petition to revoke Berman's invitation to speak to the teachers.

"It doesn't surprise me, but it's disappointing," Berman said.

"These are tough issues, and we're not going to find solutions to them by trying to quell all dissenting voices. We need to be having a real debate and a dialogue about how to move forward to ensure a strong economy, to address climate change, to address many of the environmental and economic issues facing Alberta and Canada," said the former Greenpeace co-director who now teaches at York University.

But Canada Action says it's unacceptable for Berman to speak at the teachers' event.

"The ATA's 43,000-plus members rely on precious public resources as they act as stewards to our children. So the decision that the ATA has chosen anti-oil activist and pipeline opponent Berman as its keynoter is preposterous," said Canada Action on its website.

"Equally, the ATA's selection of Berman is a slap in the face to Alberta's most important industrial sector, to the thousands of beleaguered people it employs, and to the province as a whole."

Berman applauded the recent Federal Court of Appeal ruling that halted construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

"I don't think Trans Mountain will ever be built. I think the era of new, expensive fossil fuel infrastructure is over," she said.

"And the sooner that we face that, and plan for that, the better we are going to be able to ensure that workers and their families have clean, safe jobs in the future."

The Canada Action online petition had more than 4,600 signatures as of Sept. 19.