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These are stories Report on Business followed this week.

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The reaction to Neil Young's comments on the oil sands and the Keystone XL pipeline speaks volumes about Canadian sensitivities to the debate.

As The Globe and Mail's Paul Koring and Kelly Cryderman report, the Canadian-born rocker waded into this fierce debate Monday at a National Farmers Union event in Washington to promote alternative fuels, telling the crowd about his old Continental, which runs on electricity and ethanol, and about his recent trip to Alberta.

Among his provocative comments:

"The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. Fort McMurray is a wasteland. The Indians up there and the native peoples are dying. The fuels all over – the fumes everywhere – you can smell it when you get to town. The closest place to Fort McMurray that is doing the tar sands work is 25 or 30 miles out of town and you can taste it when you get to Fort McMurray. People are sick. People are dying of cancer because of this. All the First Nations people up there are threatened by this."

And on Keystone XL:

"Yeah, it's going to put a lot of people to work, I've heard that, and I've seen a lot of people that would dig a hole that's so deep that they couldn't get out of it, and that's a job, too, and I think that's the jobs that we are talking about there with the Keystone pipeline."

Keystone and oil sands opponents cheered the singer-songwriter, one of Canada's most prolific and renowned artists since the 1960s, while others took him to task.

Among them were Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, whose government is pushing hard for U.S. approval of Keystone, and Melissa Blake, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray. Many readers also took Mr. Young to task on our website, while rock station 97.9 went so far as to ban his music, at least temporarily.

Ms. Blake was particularly passionate, as you'd expect, given the comparison to Hiroshima: "When it comes to the community of Fort McMurray, you're overwhelmed, frankly, by the beauty of it."

It's not surprising that Mr. Young would take a stand on an issue. He's done so before - celebrities do that -  and he'll do it again.

We applauded him for his lyrical stand on issues like racism in the American south and the deaths of four university kids at an antiwar demonstration at an Ohio campus.

This time the issue is one that strikes a chord in Canada amid a global debate over the oil sands and the pitched battle over Keystone XL, which would, if built, carry Alberta oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

That this type of backlash tends to occur in other countries - recall the outrage when Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks told concert goers in 2003 that the band was "ashamed" George W. Bush is a Texan - shows just how high temperatures are running on this issue, particularly in Alberta.

What happened this week in Washington, and reverberated in Fort McMurray and Ottawa, underscores how sensitive Canadians are on this issue. And while many have long understood the nature of the debate in the United States, some may not have realized the extent to which it resonates among Canadians.

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Required reading

As interest in New Brunswick's shale deposits heats up, energy companies must weigh eagerness to drill against local concerns. Shawn McCarthy reports from Penobsquis, N.B.

Some of Canada's biggest real estate owners, from pension funds to REITs to insurers, are showing more interest in developing new apartment buildings in major cities than they have in decades, Tara Perkins writes.

Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. is courting some of Canada's largest pension plans to join in a consortium to buy BlackBerry Ltd., but it has been a tough sell so far, Jacquie McNish reports.

Missing from the debate in the run-up to German elections are questions about the long-term health of the economy, which may not be as strong as it appears, Eric Reguly writes.

Conceding that the industry it once dominated is moving downmarket, Apple Inc. launched something closer to a commodity smartphone, Omar El Akkad reports.

Tensions between Rona Inc. and its store owners are simmering over complaints from the merchants about their diminishing returns and the home-improvement retailer's weak performance, Marina Strauss reports.

Alberta natural gas prices have weakened against a backdrop of mild weather and bulging inventories, Jeffrey Jones and Carrie Tait report, a potential hit to the province even as oil markets look brighter.

Canada's Gabriel Resources Ltd. is issuing a stern ultimatum to the Romanian government: Approve the Rosia Montana gold mine or face a lawsuit for billions of dollars. Eric Reguly looks at the heated dispute.

Rogers Communications Inc. tapped British telecom executive Guy Laurence, a noted turnaround specialist, as its next chief executive officer to succeed Nadir Mohamed, Rita Trichur and Steve Ladurantaye report.

As Omar El Akkad puts it, the world's watercooler is going public. Twitter took initial steps to file for an initial public offering that could see it begin trading as early as this year.

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