Neil Young blasts Harper government for allowing development of Alberta oilsands
Corinne Ton That, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, January 12, 2014 2:30PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 12, 2014 6:54PM EST
Neil Young is accusing the Canadian government of “trading integrity for money” when it comes to Alberta’s oilsands.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday, the rock legend suggested the Canadian government is “killing” First Nations people by pushing forward with rapid development of the oilsands.
“The blood of these people will be on modern Canada’s hands,” he said.
Young was speaking in Toronto ahead of the first of four benefit concerts aimed at raising money and awareness for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s legal fight against Shell Canada’s Jackpine oilsands mine expansion plan.
The federal government approved the project last month despite a review panel's conclusion that the project would result in severe and irreversible environmental damage.
Shell has said it will double its bitumen production in the region to 300,000 barrels a day and the project will create 750 jobs.
Young, who said he recently visited one of the oilsands sites, was joined at his press conference by a panel of anti-oilsands activists. The panel was moderated by environmentalist David Suzuki.
The “Honour the Treaties” concert will take place Toronto’s Massey Hall Sunday night, and moves to Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary later this week.
“I want my grandchildren to grow up and look up and see a blue sky,” Young said, noting he instead only sees a government “out of control.”
“Money is number one, integrity isn’t even on the map,” he said.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, countered that "projects are approved only when they are deemed safe for Canadians and (the) environment." He added 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 news organizations.
Legal challenge to come
The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and other communities living near the Jackpine mine site have said the expansion plan violates federal laws concerning fisheries and at-risk species, in addition to treaty rights.
“The government tells us that the Alberta oilsands are the largest development on the planet,” Suzuki told the crowd. “And, of course, the economic ramifications of that are enormous. But there are also enormous social and ecological impacts, which I think have been ignored.”
Chief Allan Adam, of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, raised concerns about future generations and the lack of environmental protection in Alberta’s oilsands region.
“In the last 40 years, the development that occurred on the tar sands region has gone out of proportion,” Adam said. “It is at a rate right now where your government fails to recognize the fact that we have a problem.”
Eriel Deranger, communications coordinator for the ACFN, said the band has a mandate to protect its traditional homelands, located north of the Firebag River in northern Alberta.
“Until government and industry can prove to our nation that these areas can be developed in a way that is responsible…and that our rights will not be negated or molested by this development, we will continue to hold the line to stop development in those regions,” Deranger said.
In a statement last month, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the environmental effects from the Jackpine expansion plan are "justified in the circumstances."
However, climate scientist Andrew Weaver said the Alberta tar sands, which are the fastest growing source of Canadian greenhouse emissions, are the “poster child” for environmental destruction and degradation.
And he's urging the Canadian government to find the means of developing, transporting, and reusing renewable energy to reduce global warming.
“Let's unleash our home-grown Canadian innovation,” he said. “All the solutions of global warming are within our reach, but it requires a will from our national leaders.”