This article is part of our series Counter-Counter-Counter-Point. To see the another point of view, check out Kyle Muzyka’s take.
For decades, Neil Young made a living opening his mouth. Now, he’s at it again. Recently, Neil Young organized a musical tour in Canada, and pledged its revenues to the Chipewyan First Nation in order to help pay their legal fees as they challenge Shell’s new Jack Pine tar sands development. The wiley Old Man, however, went a step further when he used simile and metaphor (exotic rhetorical devices) to criticize the environmental destruction caused by tar sands developments: “Fort McMurray is like Hiroshima. Fort McMurray is a wasteland.” As soon as the words left his mouth, a bell chimed – ding ding – and tar sands proponents were quick to fight back.
The Harper government dispatched one of its favourite broken records: Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver. Oliver criticized Young’s comparison of Fort McMurray to Hiroshima, and added that, in making the comparison, Young had lost a lot of credibility. Oliver is the perfect man to launch an attack on credibility. After all, he has certainly consumed nothing but tar sands tailing pond water since he claimed, in May 2012, that it was en route to being clean enough to drink.
Channeling Joe Oliver and launching into another clever attack, Premier of Saskatchewan Brad Wall said that Neil Young is “missing the facts.” Canadians collectively held their breath as they anxiously awaited these supposed facts– what zinger was Wall about to drop? It turns out that he didn’t need one. Wall knows that simply saying something is as good as proving it.
Yet the most impressive challenge by far came from the CEOs of Cenovus and TransCanada who said that tar sands developments are environmentally responsible, and that Young and his fellow critics must ground their claims in reality, not fantasy. If irony was liquid, these men would drown.
Thankfully, someone at the CBC had the bright idea to interview an authoritative, unbiased source: David Collyer, President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Collyer brushed off Young’s criticism of the tar sands with the defence that Canadians need oil. He’s right, of course – Collyer is a Canadian, and he and his buddies need oil to make sure that their industry rakes in tens of billions of dollars per year. Make no mistake, these revenues are obscene, but, then again, so is seeking out Collyer, the President of a lobby group, and hoping for insightful commentary.
Several prominent people, including Collyer, have pointed out that Young has every right to be wrong. We, as humble Canadians, should praise their decency for being so accepting of “democratic right[s].” It has been too long since this country recognized the value and moral supremacy of the oil patch – perhaps Neil Young’s outburst inspired a necessary dose of reality. The fact of the matter remains that this country would be far worse off if people like Collyer weren’t making millions of dollars turning northern Alberta into Canada’s biggest drinking water fountain. Now the nice folks up there can really live off the land. How Canadian!