Thursday, April 24, 2014
Text Size

Celebrity activism often oily

By: Staff Writer

Winnipeg Free Press

Alberta's oilsands are an ugly blight, a scar on the land and the single biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada. The mining operations to extract the thick bitumen that is converted into crude oil has also been linked to the exploitation of aboriginals, environmental hazards, the death of wildlife and even cancer.

That's one side of the story, although many of the facts are disputed.

On the flip side, Alberta's oil lands contain the third-largest reserves of oil in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, some 170 billion barrels buried in the sand. More than 10 per cent of Alberta's workforce, including nearly 2,000 aboriginals, are directly employed in the oil and gas extraction sector.

Royalties from the oilsands alone were worth $3.56 billion last year.

The benefits are spread across Canada, particularly Ontario, where some 500 firms have provided services, technologies and products worth billions of dollars, supporting thousands of jobs.

Aboriginal companies earned more than $6 billion supporting the oil industry from 2002 to 2011.

These are just a few of the good-news stories, which, like the negative narratives, are also subject to debate and interpretation. Opponents of the oilsands, for example, point to the cyclical nature of the oil industry and say Alberta's race to riches could drag down all of Canada when the boom collapses, as it always does.

The simple facts, however, are these: Canada is a resource-rich country that needs to develop and export its products. Surface mining for oil is a dirty business, but it won't last forever and damaged land will eventually be reclaimed.

Much of it already has been, although not at a pace that satisfies environmentalists, who believe nothing can compensate for the immediate damage.

Some aboriginals have been fighting the Alberta government in court over damage to land, but thousands more also realize their own prosperity depends on shaking hands with oil executives.

The balance of truth and virtue is hard to weigh under such enormous competing interests, which is why it is important that institutions, such as the Conference Board of Canada, have lent their credibility to studying the various issues.

Less helpful, however, are the fly-in celebrities who land in Alberta as avatars for a knee-jerk environmental movement.

The latest example of celebrity activism was delivered recently by rock 'n' roll icon Neil Young. He may have a heart of gold, but he showed poor judgment in comparing the oilsands to the devastation at Hiroshima in 1945.

Some 80,000 people were killed instantly in Hiroshima, while 70,000 were injured, in the atomic blast.

It was not just a ridiculous comparison and lazy metaphor, but an insult to the victims and survivors of one of the worst man-made disasters in history.

People like Mr. Young are not going to cap the oil industry in Alberta with empty shibboleths.

What's really needed is a discussion about sustainability and the pace of growth, fair compensation for affected communities and new technologies that can reduce the harmful effects of oil mining while allowing a vital industry to operate in everyone's interest.

Like rock'n'roll, the oil industry isn't going away and nor is the demand.

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

Blast from the past: FP archive

When is Consultation, Consultation?

Write comment (7 Comments)

Ovide Mercredi

National Chief – AFN

During a Treaty Roundtable meeting of the Alberta Chiefs, I took note of a federal government document outlining their strategy to define and ultimately impose their own form of self-government. Read more...

Letting go of residential schools

Write comment (2 Comments)

by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective

There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people. Read more...


obidiah picture

ANALYSIS - Bill Gallagher

gallagher picture

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit


April 2014
30 31 1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 1 2 3
Mon Mar 31 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
NICE ‘Indian’ Trust Funds
Fri Apr 04 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM

John Bigface


Current Video

Indigenous Writers Festival 2014 Opening Night

Write comment (0 Comments)

Chief Arlen Dumas Confronts NC Shawn Atleo

Write comment (2 Comments)