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Neil Young performs in Toronto on Jan. 12, 2014. (CHRIS YOUNG FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Neil Young performs in Toronto on Jan. 12, 2014. (CHRIS YOUNG FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Neil Young renews push on treaty rights, oil-sands development Add to ...

On the day following his Honor the Treaties concert at Massey Hall, where he had lambasted the Canadian government’s handling of Alberta’s oil-sands development, Neil Young continued his campaign against the environmental policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration.

“Our issue is not whether the natural resource sector is a fundamental part of the country,” Young said in press release. “Our issue is with the government breaking treaties with the First Nation and plundering the natural resources the First Nation has rights to under the treaties.”

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The veteran Canadian-born rocker is currently on a four-city concert tour of Canada. The shows – in Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary – benefit Alberta’s Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in its legal battle against the oil industry’s expansion in Northern Alberta. At a press conference held at Massey Hall before Sunday’s sold-out concert, Mr. Young said Canada was “trading integrity for money,” and described the Harper administration’s environmental record as “hypocritical” and an “embarrassment.”

Also on Sunday, Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Mr. Harper, countered that industrial projects such as Shell’s Jackpine oil sands operation are approved “only when they are deemed safe for Canadians and [the] environment,” and that the resource sector creates “economic opportunities” and “high-wage jobs” for thousands of Canadians. “Canada’s natural resources sector is and has always been a fundamental part of our country’s economy,” Mr. MacDonald wrote in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.

On Monday, Mr. Young, whose 2009 album Fork in the Road drew its inspiration from his retooled 1959 Lincoln Continental that ran entirely on alternative energy, responded to the Prime Minister’s Office. To Mr. MacDonald’s point that “even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day,” the sometimes protest singer took umbrage. “Of course, rock stars don’t need oil. I drove my electric car from California to the tar sands and on to Washington without using any oil at all and I’m a rock star.”

The California-based rock star also took to the air waves, appearing on CBC Radio One’s daily cultural and currents affairs program Q. In an interview taped on Sunday that aired on Monday, a blunt-talking Mr. Young spoke on treaty rights (“It’s up to Canadians to make up their own minds about whether their integrity is threatened by a government that won’t live up to the treaties that the country is founded on”) and clarified remarks made last year when he described oil boom town Fort McMurray as a wasteland. “I know Fort Mac is a town,” he told host Jian Ghomeshi. “It’s occupied by Big Oil. It is an occupation. But what is going on around it, that’s what I was referring to as a wasteland. It is the ugliest environmental disaster that I not only have ever seen, but that I could even comprehend.”

As for the notion that musicians shouldn’t use their celebrity status to weigh in on political matters, Mr. Young was incredulous. “Have I always written about and sung about what concerned me, from Ohio to Southern Man to Rockin’ in the Free World, the 68-year-old troubadour asked. “Are [people] saying now that those were all Be-Bop-a-Lula and I shouldn’t talk about anything?”

The Honor the Treaties tour continues to Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall, Jan. 16; Regina’s Conexus Arts Centre, Jan. 17; and Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall, Jan. 19.

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