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2014-01-12 at 16:15

'Out of control'

Singer Neil Young speaks during a press conference for the "Honour the Treaties" tour, a series benefit concerts being held to raise money for legal fight against the expansion of the Athabasca oilsands in northern Alberta and other similar projects, in Toronto, Sunday January 12, 2014.
Mark Blinch, The Canadian Press
Singer Neil Young speaks during a press conference for the "Honour the Treaties" tour, a series benefit concerts being held to raise money for legal fight against the expansion of the Athabasca oilsands in northern Alberta and other similar projects, in Toronto, Sunday January 12, 2014.
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By Nick Patch, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Canadian rock icon Neil Young launched a blistering attack on the Harper government and Alberta's oilsands at a news conference on Sunday, saying that he was "shattered" after visiting a Fort McMurray industrial site he compared to the atomic bomb-devastated wreckage of Hiroshima, Japan.

Joined on the Massey Hall stage by representatives from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Young was especially scathing in his criticism of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "hypocritical" administration, which Young said was ignoring science to irresponsibly drive corporate profits.

"Canada is trading integrity for money," said the environmentally engaged 68-year-old rocker. "That's what's happening under the current leadership in Canada, which is a very poor imitation of the George Bush administration in the United States and is lagging behind on the world stage. It's an embarrassment to any Canadians."

"I want my grandchildren to grow up and look up and see a blue sky and have dreams that their grandchildren are going to do great things," he added later. "And I don't see that today in Canada. I see a government just completely out of control.

"Money is number one. Integrity isn't even on the map."

Young was speaking hours before he took the same stage for a concert Sunday evening, the proceeds of which were to be directed to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Legal Fund. The tour, which also features Canuck jazz chanteuse Diana Krall, was set to roll through Winnipeg and Regina before wrapping in Calgary on Jan. 19.

The stage was already dressed for Young's show: a colourfully paint-smeared piano, a half-dozen guitars arranged in a circle, a majestic organ, a wooden First Nations figure and, behind it all as a massive backdrop, a red banner reading "Honor the Treaties."

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation represents a community living roughly 200 kilometres downstream of current oilsands development. The group is embroiled in a legal battle to protect their traditional territory from further industrialization.

Young, who was born in Toronto before launching his storied music career in Winnipeg, was ferocious in his condemnation of what he sees as a violation of treaty rights.

"The name Canada's based on a First Nations word. The word Ottawa's based on a First Nations word, Ontario's based on a First Nations word, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec — these are all First Nations words. This is where Canada came from," said Young.

"We made a deal with these people. We are breaking our promise. We are killing these people. The blood of these people will be on modern Canada's hands."

Young said that last year he decided to drive his electric car from San Francisco to northern Alberta. Along the way, he stopped to meet Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam — who sat next to Young onstage on Sunday — and visit others in the community.

It was on this trip that Young also decided to see the oilsands first-hand. The visit certainly left a mark.

"(I) drove around the tarsands in my electric car viewing and experiencing this unbelievable smell and toxicity in my throat — my eyes were burning," he recalled. "That started 25 miles away from the tarsands. When I was in Fort Mac, it got more intense. My son, who has cerebral palsy, has lung damage, (so) he was wearing a mask to keep the toxic things in the air out of his lungs and make it easy for him to have lungs after he left."

They soon came upon a "huge industrial site."

"It looked very big and very impressive. Extremely well-organized. A lot of people were working — hard-working people, who I respect," Young remembered. "That was one of 50 sites. The one we saw was the cleanest one. It's the best-looking one. It's the poster child.

"And it's one of the ugliest things I've ever seen."

During the week's concerts, Young said he planned on screening the 12-minute Greenpeace film "Petropolis," which he said was "probably the most devastating thing you will ever see."

"It's the greediest, most destructive and disrespectful demonstration of just something run amok that you could ever see," he said. "There's no way to describe it, so I described it as Hiroshima, which was basically pretty mellow compared to what's going on out there.

"I still stand by what I said about Fort Mac and the way it looks. Not because the houses in Fort Mac look like Hiroshima, but because Fort Mac stands for 50 sites, the name Fort Mac stands for diseases that these First Nations people are getting, pollution, everything that's happening there."

Young's comments, similar to ones he made last year, soon segued into another attack on the Harper government.

"This oil is all going to China. It's not for Canada, it's not for the United States, it's not ours. It belongs to the oil companies. And Canada's government is making this happen. It's truly a disaster to anyone with an environmental conscience."

Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Harper, countered that "projects are approved only when they are deemed safe for Canadians and (the) environment" and stressing 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," MacDonald wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

"Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day. Our government recognizes the importance of developing resources responsibly and sustainably and we will continue to ensure that Canada's environmental laws and regluations are rigorous. We will ensure that companies abide by conditions set by independent, scientific and expert panels."

At one point during the hour-plus media session, Young was asked what he would say if granted a private consultation with Harper. Initially he demurred, muttering that the query "blew (his) mind."

Later, however, he said he'd be open to such a meeting.

"I don't think I'm going to get to see him anyway, but if he does want to see me, I'm ready to go see him. I would welcome the opportunity," said Young, noting that he invited government representatives to attend the news conference and provide their side of the story, but the invitations were declined.

Environmental activist David Suzuki, who moderated the session, pointed out that he had personally tried to meet with Harper three times but had been rebuffed on all occasions.

"Well, you got a bad reputation," Young replied with a smirk.

Young has been politically active on other matters recently as well. On his website, he's posted messages questioning the pollution level in Shanghai and shaming Harper for competing "with Australia's pro-coal government for the worst climate record in the industrialized world."

The restlessly prolific guitar wizard hasn't released new music since issuing "Americana" and "Psychedelic Pill" within a few months of each other in 2012. In 2009, he released an album about fossil fuels called "Fork in the Road." He was asked Sunday whether this new campaign might similarly inspire new music.

"I don't plan it. If I write something, it'll come to me," said Young, clad in a tassled light brown jacket, his face shaded by a black hat. "I think it will happen, but I don't know."

The Canadian Press
© The Canadian Press, 2014

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Comments

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fairlane says:
Hey, wasn't the guy who ran for councillor in Current River?
1/12/2014 6:05:55 PM
TWM says:
With trade deals in place with China, protesting now could and would cost Canada Billions in court settlements. It's out of our hands and now in the hands of China, it's their oil in our land.
1/12/2014 6:22:55 PM
noront says:
oh please, just another left wing elitist. Here is a fact. The entire oil sands represents 2% of Canada's total carbon footprint. Ontario's auto manufacturing is slightly over 4%. That's right more than twice as much pollution than the oil sands. The only reason we don't here about it is because the big auto unions pay a lot of money to the lefties, so it is kept quiet. And the cons won't bring it up because there are too many seats to lose in Ontario. The political left has no problem dragging the oil sands through the mud over and over because they have nothing to lose in Alberta, or most of western Canada for that matter.
1/12/2014 6:49:02 PM
moonpie says:
So what you're really saying is you're lazy and don't care about anything, don't have the gumption to stand up for anything, can't even get beyond the keyboard to give your two cents, and want to put down those who do stand up for something. Gotcha!
1/13/2014 10:07:28 AM
fastball says:
Why is he an "elitist"?
Last time I checked, he had a democratic right to protest something that he feels strongly about.
You can't tell me the oil sands are clean, environmentally-friendly energy. The place is filthy up there - and will be for generations after this.
Seems to me, he's a guy who feels strongly about things, and puts his money where his mouth is.
1/13/2014 11:13:19 AM
supersavage says:
Okay Neil Young. I would like you to compare Canada's oil development standards with some other countries. There are some oil companies that are currently working with Ducks Unlimited right now. I do appreciate your freedom of speech but if you're going to talk about the environment, feel free to make these comments in China (huge polluter) or Saudi Arabia (huge polluter). I'm sure they'd love to hear your opinion!
1/12/2014 7:10:24 PM
nvjgu says:
Right on Mr Young but nobody cares, We started destroying the planet with the first car. I give us less than 50 years maybe less.
1/12/2014 7:50:27 PM
Iceman says:
I have worked out there. I totally agree.
1/12/2014 7:52:35 PM
brooky says:
Why don't you buy us all an electric car Neil? So that the coal and nuclear fired power plants can keep spewing out their crap and keep the planet safe forever? What an idiot.
1/12/2014 9:55:32 PM
BetterThunderBay says:
I don't see how this could be much of a debate. How could anyone not see something wrong with this picture...
1/13/2014 12:03:15 AM
yqtyqt says:
The pictures are telling. Can you post the before and after pictures of Neil Young after 40 years of self abuse. They would help readers understand where the comments are coming from.

I would agree with his comments about as much as I would agree with any other lifelong addict without a music career.

Scrambled eggs anyone?

1/13/2014 9:50:18 AM
REG says:
To all the right wing nut bars yes right wing nut bars it's always somebody elses fault. This is your mess not the lefts. Enjoy it one day you will pay .
1/13/2014 7:16:58 AM
YellowSnow13 says:
May some people should read the provincial laws before posting pictures like this. When they are finish, the provincial laws state you must put the land back to the way it was. Trees planted, etc. We don't have those laws in Ontario. As for Suzuki. I wouldn't meet with him either. He's a joke. He talks one thing and does another. Don't be fooled by that guy.
1/13/2014 9:08:07 AM
fairlane says:
A Southern man don't need him 'round anyhow...
1/13/2014 9:16:51 AM
blah blah says:
gotta stop people from buying products made from oil and seeing that people just love stuff too much thats not going to happen. oil driven world period. cant complain about one industry when other industries are worse polluters. And i am sure he flew to all these places with that plane polluting the air to talk about these issues.
1/13/2014 10:04:13 AM
gone for good says:
BetterThunderBay says:
I don't see how this could be much of a debate. How could anyone not see something wrong with this picture...

Thats not even the same pic before and after. That pic has no quantifieable proof and is simply untrue.
I have spent time out there and this is absolute b/s from some washed up singer (if you can call him that) that flys around the continent cause he is bored.
Go back to you mansion in L.A. Mr Young. We need the jobs here or is his all high and mighty going to pay the bills.
I have never seen such a load of crap before this.
Don't buy this for a second people. It is not like that there at all. I h
Neil Young needs to stick to what he does best. Music (if you can call that off key wailing music).
He know's absolutely nothing about the patch. More propaganda from this so called legend. After reading this I threw up in my mouth a bit.
PURE LIES and B/S. Not one bit of truth behind this article whatsoever.
And he has no knowledge of E.M.S. None whatsoever.
1/13/2014 12:38:37 PM
Dockboy says:
What's scary about these comments is that not one person agreed with comments concerning the one and only Stephen Harper. Doesn't anyone realize he's selling Canada? What about your children, your grandchildren?
1/13/2014 12:48:17 PM
gone for good says:
I have been in a very intense E.H.S. program. We spent the last six months on "E.M.S".
All I can say is I'm no expert on Environmental Management Systems, but I know what I know. And this guy is so far from the truth. One needs to spend four or more years on this before they can offer an educated opinion.
Now the big question there Mr. Young? What type of post secondary education do you have on this topic.
Just what I thought. Absolutely nothing.
Stay home and stay out out of something you know nothing about. Get a degree in E.M.S. then start talking. Until then you have NO CREDIBILITY whatsoever.
As far as treaties go. First Nations have some of the best on the planet here in Canada. Don't believe me? Then do some research and find out for yourselves.
I have seen how much of an environmentalist Young is as he boards his jet or tour bus.
What a hypocrite.
If it were not for the hard work and dedication from all involved in oil recovery.
We would be bordering 3rd world status.
1/13/2014 12:58:07 PM
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