VANCOUVER – Music icon Neil Young says Canadians need to stand up for clean air, land and water by taking on big oil companies because issues involving pipelines are “scabs on our lives.”
He said Canadians must band together to ensure the Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right to live in a healthy environment.
Young was in Vancouver as part of the lineup of entertainers and artists including Barenaked Ladies, Feist and Robert Bateman for the last stop of the national Blue Dot Tour, which was fronted by scientist and environmental activist David Suzuki.
The singer-songwriter continues to stir debate with his comments in Washington last year that the oilsands in Fort McMurray, Alta., resemble the Japanese city of Hiroshima after it was laid waste by an atom bomb.
He’s sticking to the comparison, which he made in opposing TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas.
“I’ve spoken to people who were in Hiroshima and also went to Fort McMurray and they agreed with me when they saw the tar sands,” Young said Sunday in an interview backstage at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre.
Young said it’s too bad if people don’t like his views.
“Those people who are the Fort McMurray people, either they’re oil people or they’re occupied by oil people,” he said.
“So of course they’re going to be upset because I just said we don’t want that. It’s not good for our families.”
Proponents of the oil industry have accused Young of using his rock-star status to mischaracterize oilsands development.
Jeff Gaulin, spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said he would tell Young and any other foreign celebrity who lectures Canadians that people around the globe need more energy and Canada uses the highest safety standards compared to other countries. Young was born in Ontario but currently lives in California.
“Mr. Young can take his tour to Venezuela, to Algeria, to Iraq and other places around the world to have a total picture of how well Canada’s resources are developed when looked at in the global context,” he said.
Gaulin said that in January, the association invited Young to discuss pipeline issues in a neutral setting and with a neutral moderator, but Young declined.
The 68-year-old music legend said his most important task as a musician is to speak against “things that interfere with the home.”
“I see the world the way I see it. I’m going to do what I think should be done because people are watching me. Then they’ll say, ‘Why’s he doing that? Doesn’t he care about selling records?’ No, I don’t.”
Young expresses his staunch activist views in his latest protest song “Who’s Going to Stand Up?” with calls to “ban fossil fuel and draw the line before we build one more pipeline.”
“The real issue is do we want to have a clean planet,” he said Sunday. “Do people in Canada deserve to have food that’s good and breathe clean air? If people in Canada all wanted that, it might be a good idea to put it in their constitution like so many other countries around the world.”
Young said he still considers Canada his home even decades after he left the country.
“There are some people who say that I’m not a true Canadian because I roam the earth. To me, that’s the most Canadian thing to do is roam the earth.”
Although governments and the industry tout jobs from new and expanded pipelines, Young doesn’t agree with that sentiment.
“That’s not a job. It’s a disaster,” he said.
Suzuki, for his part, said he’s been to Fort McMurray many times and slammed the development there because of the environmental impact that goes far beyond Alberta.
“What you do the water and the air affects me and my kids and I live in British Columbia,” said Suzuki.
“So we’ve all got a stake in what’s going on there. I’m with Neil all the way. This is a catastrophe ecologically and socially.”
The Keystone XL pipeline is still awaiting federal approval in the United States, where President Barack Obama has repeatedly delayed announcing his decision. Last week’s midterm elections, which left the Republican party in full control of the U.S. Congress, could force the issue through expected legislation.
In Canada, the pipeline generating the most controversy is the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would transport Alberta oilsands crude to the B.C. coast. The project has received conditional approval from the federal government.
The project, owned by Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB), faces staunch opposition, as does Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would nearly triple the capacity of an existing pipeline to the Vancouver area from Alberta.