Canada’s oil industry has extended an invitation to Neil Young to meet in Calgary while also slamming his “anti-oil concert tour,” and what the industry’s main lobby group says is the rock star’s decision to ignore the economic benefits of the oil sands for many First Nation communities.
In another volley this week between the world-famous Canadian performer and the country’s business leaders, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Dave Collyer said while the industry needs to improve its environmental performance and strengthen its relationship with aboriginal communities, Mr. Young has used his fame to mischaracterize the oil sands.
“In the case of Mr. Young’s opinions on the oil sands, I would suggest that he has the democratic right to be wrong,” Mr. Collyer said at a Thursday news conference in downtown Calgary.
“Mr. Young may represent that rock stars don’t need oil. But we would represent that Canadians very much do need oil. His rhetoric is ill-informed, it’s divisive, and I think it does a disservice to Canadians, including those First Nations that he’s ostensibly trying to help.”
Mr. Collyer said he would like to meet Mr. Young and Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam – with whom Mr. Young is travelling for his cross-country Honour the Treaties concert tour – in Calgary this weekend.
In a press conference in Winnipeg on Thursday, Mr. Young acknowledge he is not an expert on the oil sands, but said he was eager to attract attention to the development issues, particularly the situation facing the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation which is battling oil sands mine expansion.
But he said he believes the public is increasingly engaged and aware of the environmental risks and the injustices heaped on aboriginal communities.
“It has the potential to be a social media explosion like the Arab Spring,” he said.
Money raised from Mr. Young’s concerts will help pay for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal challenges. The famous singer-songwriter – who has compared the oil sands region to atomic bomb-devastated Hiroshima – plays in Winnipeg this evening, Regina on Friday, and Calgary on Sunday.
In Calgary at the CAPP press conference, Royal Dutch Shell PLC vice-president Stephanie Sterling declined to comment specifically on the Athabasca Chipewyan’s legal challenge, launched earlier this month, to the federal government’s decision to approve the company’s proposed Jackpine mine expansion.
The First Nation is asking the Federal Court to review the approval, alleging that Ottawa breached its duties to consult and accommodate the Athabasca Chipewyan, especially as it relates to their traditional lands and the expansion project’s predicted ill effect on large swathes of wetlands, old growth forests, migratory birds and biodiversity.
“In general, our relations are quite positive with this community and the other aboriginal communities,” Ms. Sterling said.
Mr. Collyer said the oil sands provides jobs to the First Nations, and aboriginal companies in the oil sands region have earned billions in revenues in recent years. With First Nations communities in northern Alberta raising concerns about elevated cancer rates, he said more can and should be done when it comes to making sure local community health is not affected as a result of oil sands production.
Commenting on the broader issue of First Nation consultation and the cumulative environmental impacts of oil sands development, Mr. Collyer said not everyone will always be happy, but “I don’t think any of these issues are intractable.”
However, speaking in Thornhill, Ont., federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the job of government is to make sure Canada’s resources are developed sustainably. “Because Mr. Harper has done such a poor job of defending our record, or defending our environmental responsibilities, it has made it very easy for people who are concerned about global warming to make Keystone XL or the oil sands in general the poster child for climate change, when the facts are not supporting that particular proposition.”
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