TORONTO, ON, Jan 18, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Some said Neil Young should stick to music after he spoke out against the Oil Sands.
But in a country where the Prime Minister plays piano and sings the Beatles for political effect, Neil Young has a right to be heard.
He is a great Canadian musician who’s been on the right side of history before. Neil Young championed anti-racism in Southern Man when Mandela was many years from release and Western governments were silent on apartheid in South Africa.
In Rockin’ in the Free World, he flagged the despair of rising poverty in North America long before the Occupy movement.
I first learned from Neil Young that Americans were turning against the Iraq war. In 2006, when mainstream criticism of the war was timid and occasional, I saw Young – with Crosby, Stills, and Nash – perform Let’s Impeach the President in Toronto. The song was complete with follow-the-bouncing-ball lyrics on a giant screen; 15,000 of us stood and sang along.
Now Neil Young is taking on the biggest and richest public-relations machine in modern Canadian history, one funded by Big Oil and, through our taxes, all of us.
The machine is the Oil Sands and it is prime directive of the Harper government which, for years, has reduced Canada’s economy to narrow priorities of oil and gas development.
To raise hundreds of billions of dollars for Oil Sands expansion – not for critical infrastructure needed in cities across Canada – the Prime Minister and other federal Ministers have visited Asia time and again.
In 2012, the government negotiated away Canadian sovereignty and competitiveness in a lopsided 31-year investment deal with China. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird recently visited China and gushed that he “loves” the country while promising to finalize the treaty “in short order”, despite public opposition back home.
The Harper government gutted federal environmental laws in 2011 to streamline approvals for oil and gas projects and, on climate change, has been derelict for nearly a decade. Lately, the Harper government dumped scientists en masse, leaving future governments without the institutional expertise they would need in any legal fights with Big Oil.
On the economy, the Harper government has sat on its hands for years while the Canadian dollar was overvalued. This benefited shareholders in the resource sector which could sell Canadian assets at a premium to foreign buyers. Meanwhile, export-based manufacturers across the country were decimated.
The government gave companies like U.S. Steel and Caterpillar a free rein to close shop and shed well-paid jobs, mostly in Ontario and Quebec. In a shameful cave-in after the last election, the government let U.S. Steel walk away from its legal commitments to keep production in Canada.
In much of the country, the Harper government says that markets must be left to run their course. In the Oil Sands, it has bent over backwards to create new markets and infrastructure for Big Oil.
This is not a conservative Canadian agenda. It is a desperate short-sighted rush to loot Canada’s resources, with huge downsides for our economy, sovereignty, and safety. The government seems intent to turn bitumen into money for its industry funders; to heck with Neil Young, aboriginals, or anyone else who gets in the way.
Neil Young rightly abhors this vision of Canada where quick money trumps long-term jobs and national integrity. On the Iraq war, poverty, and apartheid, he was ahead of the curve. Now he is right to urge us to look closer at this machine called the Oil Sands.
Gus Van Harten is a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. He specializes in administrative and international investment law.
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