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‘I think that it’s sad that Canada’s leadership is so irresponsible. It’s tragic,’ Neil Young said during a press conference at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Weighing in on the federal election campaign, Canadian music icon Neil Young says Canada's "backwards" political leadership has "trashed" the country's resources and diminished Canada's image on the world stage.

"I think it's pretty obvious a lot of people are upset about what's going on in Canada today," Mr. Young told reporters in Vancouver on Monday when asked about the campaign. "I'm not happy about Canada's endless search for a drop of oil; I am not happy about the backwards leadership that is looking over its shoulder at what used to be and trying to make it happen again. I think that it's sad that Canada's leadership is so irresponsible. It's tragic."

Mr. Young made the comments at a news conference at which he and David Suzuki announced that $100,000 from Mr. Young's concert on Monday night would be donated to the Blue Dot campaign. The goal of this Suzuki Foundation movement is to get the right to a healthy environment enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mr. Young – whose hits include Heart of Gold and Cinnamon Girl – has used his music and his stature as a platform for political and environmental protest. Last year, he launched an anti-oil sands tour to raise money and awareness. Proceeds from his Honour the Treaties tour were donated to First Nations fighting oil sands projects, in particular the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. Activities such as this have drawn sharp criticism, with objectors pointing to Mr. Young's own use of fossil fuels as a touring musician.

Mr. Young, who lives in the United States, indicated he had not been following the campaign closely. But he expressed concerns about how the Stephen Harper government – which he did not name, but referred to as the country's recent leadership – has dealt with environmental issues.

"The true north strong and free; [it's] a pretty amazing situation – when you think about Canada and Canada's history in the world, what a great country this is and how many amazing resources we have – how recent leadership has trashed what we have and made it such a negative thing and given Canada such a negative image on the planet among forward-looking countries. It's a tragedy to see what this government has been able to do," he said.

Mr. Young, who is touring his anti-corporate, environmentally themed album The Monsanto Years, said over the past decade, Canada's image has changed "immensely" internationally.

"Canada used to be a leader and Canada used to be known as a company – as a country – that was a Freudian slip," he said, "with a conscience. And this leadership is ... just backwards. They're not looking towards the future of the world. They're not looking towards what we have to do. We have to take care of the planet."

Mr. Young and Dr. Suzuki, sitting side by side, raised alarm bells over the future should environmental policies not be altered.

"We're just digging a huge hole; like that hole in Alberta," said Mr. Young, 69, clearly referring to the oil sands. "We're digging a huge hole and we're going to have to dig our way back out of it because all our children are going to be at the bottom of that hole. … Twenty years from now, the economy is going to be trashed because of what we're doing."

Dr. Suzuki called it "absurd" that the environment was not an integral part of the economic debate in the campaign. "The environment and the economy are not separate things. They're intimately connected. And as Neil says, what we're doing basically is leaving the mess for our kids and our grandchildren to have to pay the price for it. And I happen to think that's an intergenerational crime."

Mr. Young also took shots at Volkswagen, industrial agriculture and what he called corporate control of government. He praised Blue Rodeo's new anti-Harper protest song, Stealin' All My Dreams.

When asked if he was concerned as an expatriate Canadian about not being able to vote, Mr. Young expressed doubts about the electoral process. "I am not a big supporter of the whole system ... my belief is breaking down."

He added, "I'm sorry if it disillusions some people that I don't believe in the process. I'm not sure I've completely abandoned it, but right now I think it's still broken. ... A very unpopular force can still wield a lot of power because of the structure that we apparently believe in so vehemently."

Dr. Suzuki offered a different take on the importance of voting, citing his personal story. His Vancouver-born parents were not allowed to vote until 1948 because they were of Japanese background. "So I've taken the right to vote very seriously," he said. "I've voted in every federal election since I turned 21 in 1957. I have never voted for a party that got into power. So in a way, you could say my vote was thrown away. But I've never given up even on this defective system."

The Conservative party declined to comment.

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