This post has been updated with a statement from the PMO and a sample of social media reactions.
TORONTO — Musician Neil Young blasted the Alberta oilsands on Sunday and urged Canadians to rise up.
“It’s the greediest, most destructive and disrespectful demonstration of something run amok that you can ever see,” he said. “There is no way to describe it. It’s truly a disaster.”
Young said the federal government, motivated by money, is misleading Canadians about the oilsands — the largest industrial development on the planet.
“Get a grip and understand what is really happening,” he said. “It is hypocritical, some of the things that are being said by the leaders of this country. It’s embarrassing as a Canadian to have to listen to some of this stuff. It’s all marketing, it’s all big money.
“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 oils companies and Canada’s government is behind making this happen.”
Young also shot down the message that land destroyed by oilsands development is being brought back to life.
“There is no reclamation. There’s not one reclamation site that’s truly a tar sands site,” he said. “It’s like turning the moon into Eden. It’s not going to work. It’s just not there anymore. It’s been destroyed. People don’t realize what it looks like. It’s worse than anything you can imagine.”
Young — and Canadian singer Diana Krall — are kicking off a four-city Honour the Treaties tour Sunday at Toronto’s Massey Hall. They’ll stop in Winnipeg on Jan. 16, Regina on Jan. 17 and Calgary on Jan. 19.
The concerts will raise funds for the Athabaska Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) legal fight against the expansion of the Athabasca oilsands.
The ACFN says development of the oilsands is causing serious health problems for its people and negatively impacting their traditional way of life. They are seeking controlled development and stricter regulations for oil companies.
Young said he understands the frustration of the ACFN. “We made a deal with these people. We are breaking our promise. We are killing these people,” he said. “The blood of these people will be on modern Canada’s hands.”
Young also warned that long, expensive legal battles may not be the ACFN’s only response.
“These people are not going to sit back and let the modern Canada roll over them… and they’re not saying it, but they’re feeling it,” said the 68-year-old. “You can’t do this. Canada cannot just walk over everyone.”
ACFN Chief Allan Adam, who was at Young’s side at Sunday’s press conference, admitted his people could “say enough is enough and shut down the highway.”
Young said he visited the oilsands region, which he described as “a devastating environmental catastrophe.”
Last September, he came under fire when he compared Fort McMurray, Alberta to the Japanese city destroyed by an atomic bomb in 1945.
“I described it as Hiroshima, which was basically pretty mellow compared to what was really going on up there,” he said. “I still stand by what was said about Fort McMurray and the way it looks. Not because the houses in Fort McMurray look like Hiroshima but because Fort McMurray stands for disease that these First Nations people are getting, the pollution… everything that’s happening there.”
Young said education is the key.
“We have a huge problem with science and the understanding of it. Science cannot be ignored as inconvenient, and that’s what today’s leaders are doing,” the singer said.
“Don’t accept that there’s no other way. Let’s develop a way out of this. Let’s have ingenuity. Let’s figure out a way. People have ideas. There are many solutions we don’t understand that are alternatives to what we’re doing. We need to look ahead and develop renewable resources and technologies to move forward and produce energy.”
Young said it’s not a question of how we will harvest the energy of the sun but how quickly.
“We have the chance to change the speed of change. It’s important to think about the future for everybody else and try to look forward and try to come up with alternatives to a dirty future based on fossil fuels. Develop a way out. There’s a door that could open into the sunshine. This is not a good place for us to be right now.”
Young said average Canadians shouldn’t feel helpless.
“What everybody should do is try to get some information out of this and look inside themselves and try to make their own decisions for themselves as Canadians. I can’t tell you what to do” said Young. “For sure you can vote but people should maybe start thinking about the future.
“I want my grandchildren to grow up and look up and see a blue sky,” he added, “and I don’t see that today in Canada.”
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement Sunday in response to Young’s remarks.
“Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard working Canadians every day,” read the statement. “We will continue to ensure that Canada’s environmental laws and regulations are rigorous. We will ensure that companies abide by conditions set by independent, scientific and expert panels.
“It’s important to note that we have for the first time in Canadian history the prospect of significant economic and resource development in regions where aboriginal people are often the dominant populations and where there have been no similar large-scale economic opportunities.”
Canadians reacted on social media: