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Neil Young 'does not have his facts right' about oilsands: Joe Oliver

Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca Staff

Neil Young "does not have his facts right" about Canada's resource development, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver says, as the rock icon concludes a week-long anti-oilsands tour.

In an interview with CTV's Question Period that aired Sunday, Oliver accused Young of "using his fame to advance a story which is fundamentally false" during his "Honour the Treaties" tour that kicked off a week ago. It wraps up Sunday in Calgary.

The tour is aimed at raising awareness and money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and its legal fight against the expansion of an oilsands development near its community.

At news conferences he has held during each stop on the tour, Young has said the oilsands resemble "a war zone" and post-nuclear-explosion Hiroshima.

Oliver accused Young of using "exaggerated rhetoric" that "really does nothing to increase his credibility or the cause he's purporting to represent or the people whose economic conditions he wants to improve."

"The facts are we will not go ahead with any project unless it's safe for Canadians and safe for the environment," Oliver told Question Period.

Oliver said natural resource development accounts for 1.8 million Canadian jobs and more than half of Canadian exports, and brings in some $30 billion to government coffers each year.

Last month, the federal government approved the expansion of Shell's Jackpine oilsands mine, which could double the company's oilsands production to nearly 300,000 barrels a day. Activists and members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation say the expansion will cause widespread environmental damage to nearby land, water and local wildlife.

At the first stop of his tour, Young accused the federal government of "killing" First Nations people by expanding oilsands development.

"The blood of these people will be on modern Canada's hands," Young said last week.

Oliver said new resource development projects will attract billions of dollars in investment and create thousands of jobs for First Nations communities. He said First Nations communities will be consulted on all projects "as it's our obligation to do so."

"We appreciate the concern that aboriginal peoples have for the land and for the water, because after all it's part of their traditional way of life and it's their livelihood, and we won't go ahead with projects which would prejudice that," Oliver said.

"But there is enormous opportunity, opportunity for transformational benefits for aboriginal people in the development of our resources provided they will be done responsibly."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May accuses the federal government of approving the Jackpine expansion despite an environmental review that concluded there would be negative impacts for the surrounding landscape and wildlife.

"This represents the first time the government has approved a project while acknowledging it will have significant, cumulative adverse environmental effects," May told Question Period. "The joint review panel says for First Nations this will have significant adverse effects on their treaty rights and on their culture."

May said she's "not going to hold up Neil Young as an encyclopedic knowledge of all the details of what's going on in the oilsands and defend his every quote.

"I will say, though, that I'm grateful that he's doing this because the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation is facing a very, very substantial expansion of oilsands operations."

May said Young's tour and the First Nation community's legal fight should spark a conversation in Canada about the country's environmental policies and the future of oilsands development.

"I don't think we can blame Neil Young here," May said. "We have to talk as a society and as a country about what kinds of oilsands expansion we want, at what pace, at what rate, and what kind of environmental protections does an industrialized society that likes to see itself as green, how are we going to manage this operation?"

To a question of whether the federal government plans to bring in long-promised greenhouse gas emissions regulations, Oliver said the oilsands represent "only 1/1000th of global emissions.

However, he said, "as citizens of the world we have a responsibility to do better, and we're continuing to do that."

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