What is the role of the oilsands in Canada's future?


Cross Country Checkup live from Fort McMurray, Alberta

The oilsands have become, to some, an international icon of excess ...a case of environmental degradation that threatens the planet itself. 

To others, they represent the key to national prosperity and the essential component in a new Canadian role as a world energy superpower.

The region has been the economic engine of Canada, powering it through a recession that damaged much larger economies.  Now as pressure grows for greater development, Canadians are wondering how to find a balance between two tough realities: economic and environmental.

What is the role of the oilsands in Canada's future?

With host Rex Murphy live from Fort McMurray.

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You wouldn't know it flying into Fort McMurray that this is one of the most famous places in all the world. You keep waiting to see some vast Siberia-sized pit and all below is the natural landscape of northern Alberta. From reading about it and from all the alarms that are sounded, somehow you expect something more much hyperdramatic - kind of a mix of Dystopia and Dante's Inferno.

But Fort Mac itself is a bustling busy town, showing all the signs of extremely rapid growth. There are people who were born here; there are people from all over the rest of the country - drivers, cranemen, technicians, scientists, miners, engineers, labourers, equipment repair, and a host of ancillary services. It is one of the busiest places in Canada and a place where they are more "types" of Canadians than anywhere else. It's got one of the highest birth rates in the country with a hundred babies born a month.

But Fort Mac is also in the eye of a storm. For some it's ground zero in the war against fossil fuels, or a great proxy on the development policies of our modern age. Everyone has an opinion on For Mac and the job that's going one here -- from the European Union to the presidential race, to Dalton McGuinty, to every newspapers and television commentary in all of North American, and beyond.

One rabid commentator said because of the oil sands Canada is now a petro-thug state. Funny how much harsh comes down on a place that is supplying, and will supply, one of the essential components of Canada and the world's economy. There are a lot of places in Canada right now, because of jobs here, that are a lot better off than normally they would be.

We are here today in downtown Fort McMurray in the largest rec centre in Western Canada -- the Suncor Community Leisure Centre.

Our question today: What's the role of the oil sands in Canada's future?

I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 159 ...this is Cross Country Checkup ...live from the Suncor Community Leisure Centre in Fort McMurray, Alberta



The oil sands will continue to be harvested, I am sure, no matter what.  Certainly the present government will continue on this path if  our ruler has his way. Although we may not ever ship by tanker, it seems likely that the oil will still be extracted whoever sits as chairman.  What ought not to be done is shipping by whatever means out of the country.  We should keep it all here and refine it here.  There is enough to supply all of Canada's purposes without buying oil from expensive overseas suppliers.

Opting out of the international oil business will also extract us from paying "World Price".  Considering our supply, we have no need to  import and no need to export.

Terry Smith
Garibaldi Highlands, British Columbia


Given its current state of development, it will clearly have a significant role in Canada's future. However, Canadian enthusiasm for this gargantuan project needs to be tempered for a number of reasons.

Environmentally, its impact is already a disaster, a slow motion oil spill that is ineluctably poisoning the basin of one of the largest river systems on the planet. Further, its contribution to climate change, while a comparatively small part of the global system, is still a large and potentially an ongoing source of damaging emissions.

Economically, Canada's preoccupation with such a low-quality source of oil (it has an energy return on energy invested of anywhere from 1 to 5, depending on your source) is diminishing our efforts to get off carbon and on to the development and improvement of greener energy sources.

Culturally, the tar sands pits demand for Asian markets (largely promoted by financial and political elites) against clear popular majorities in my region of the country (BC's Northwest) where First Nations, municipalities, and generally populations are opposed to being the front line of risk in proposed developments such as the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline project. To ignore First Nations objections to such a project is merely to further the assumption that as a Canadian aboriginal minority they must "assimilate" on the terms that the corporate economy and the Government of Canada dictate, simply an extension of paternal colonialism and exploitation.

While current putative benefits from the tar sands have become central to Canada's economy, many of its threats and gigantic costs are simply off-the-books externalities that economists and Canadians in general are ignoring, with great future dangers that will sooner or later need to be dealt with.

Al Lehmann
Terrace, British Columbia


Couldn't be a better time to discuss this -- as Alberta lurches into its most contentious election in recent memory. There should have been -- but so far hasn't been -- any significant public debate in Alberta about how best to develop its richest resource. Our beleaguered new premier claims to have it covered in her so-called "national energy strategy" which isn't national at all and is a damn poor strategy.

It might have been ( probably was) written by the largely American-owned oil sands producers. They want to export as much semi-processed bitumen to their U.S. plants for further upgrading and refining. That may be great for Americans but it's a lousy Canadian strategy.

Better that we maximize in-Canada upgrading and refining and export gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel etc, by rail, possibly. Spread out the processing to other provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. Keep the tens of thousands of well-paid jobs for Albertans and other Canadians.  No need for protracted, divisive controversy over building bitumen export pipelines.Keep all the mega millions worth of contracting and plant maintenance contracts for Canadians.

The Americans may rebel against us defying their strategy. Too bad. It's time we started acting like a sovereign nation and not like an American state-in-waiting!

Don Thomas
Canmore, Alberta


I used to feel defensive about the Oil Sands, however, that has changed to pride as I have come to understand the reality of the positive effects of our Alberta Oil Sands.  I believe Canadians can feel proud that we provide an essential commodity essential to each and every one of us - in a manner that supports the values that we hold dear.  Until the time that we no longer need oil in our daily lives or we find another source, I would ask all Canada to support oil from Canada. There is a lot of skepticism on the statistics we get and how they are used.  As a worker in the oil sands, I see where these stats come from (specifically water usage) and they are accurately reported in the government reports you can access.  This makes me trust the other statistics we get from our regulatory bodies.   

We want clean air, water, and unpolluted land.  The air and water in Fort McMurray / Northern Alberta is cleaner than in most industrialized communities. We produce less hydrocarbons than oil from the Middle East and even California.  As an energy source, the oil sands is significantly less polluting than coal.  Our  land is reclaimed to better than its original state why better?; because we have removed the naturally occurring oil from the sand and returned soil that is clean.  The oil seen on the river banks isn't spilled oil, it is naturally occurring oil.   

We expect our industry to treat workers with respect the oil sands companies comply with and in many cases do more than what government requires in the areas of health and safety regulations; and fair and equitable compensation. Can this be said of all oil producing nations? 

As do all Canadians, the Oil Sands support human rights  including improving the welfare of our first nations people and by supporting our communities through the United way and building and supported much needed community Health and Wellness centers --  we work closely with our aboriginal communities and could not even exist without their support.  Canadian oil producers are known to improve the lives of the people in the communities that they work in all over the world.
Can these things be said of other oil producing nations?  If our gas pumps were labeled with name of the country that it came from; who would you want to support?  If the Alberta Oil Sands did not exist who would benefit?

Brenda Diebel
Fort McMurray, Alberta


Please talk to Maud Barlow (Council of Canadians, or at least she used to be...) about the impact - local, watershed, global - about turning 3 barrels of water into toxic waste for every barrel of oil produced.  If production is ramped up as the oil companies would like, virtually all of the flow in the Athabaska River will end up ruined. 

And, so far, the solution to "what to do with this tainted water" has been to dump it on the prairie (huge "tailings ponds") - where, according to what I've read, it's starting to leach back into the watercourses.  Ask the people of Fort Chip how they feel about this mess on the banks of the  river that is their water supply...

And finally, I've not heard anyone discuss the global impact of these huge lakes of oil-scummed waters reaching the Arctic Ocean.  Remember the Exxon Valdez?

My suggestion is that the oil companies be required to return every drop of water to pristine condition BEFORE they're allowed to sell any of the oil produced by using that water.  In other words, clean up your mess before you benefit from making the mess.

Roger Priddle
Perkinsfield, Ontario


I believe that to the degree which profit motivated corporations and stay in power at all cost politicos are concerned, the Alberta oil sands  are run and regulated with  about the same ethics and concern for the environment as any similar undertaking anywhere else.  Ultimately it is in the best interest of both big dollars and big politics to do as little as possible in terms of environmental stewardship while at the same time appearing to genuinely champion environmental regulation and initiatives. 

I believe the environment and society as a whole are the victims of economic necessity.   Petro dollars are the life blood of Alberta and a big factor in Canada's privileged economic status in the world.  Life is good here because of oil dollars ( even for narrow visioned  environmentalist  who criticize the oil sands but still pump gas into their cars).  The question becomes what would we rather sacrifice, the environment, or the immediacy of our world class life style.  I will let human nature  judge that one .

On what I believe is a more important issue, I am amazed by the short sightedness of Canadians in allowing the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta and such corporate predators as TransCanada  PipeLines, to hoodwink us into projects that will literally pump downstream oil industry jobs to Texas  or China.  I am of course speaking of the Keystone and Gateway pipeline projects   What are we thinking.  Obviously the pipeline lobbyist as well as lobbyist for China, Texas and everything  in between, have Mr. Harper and his crowd in their pockets.   Instead of this folly, we should be building a series of refineries and downstream processing industries across  Canada  to export value added products (God know, Ontario could use the work).  Instead we export our upstream crude and bitumen for a song and then re-import it, in a process form, at a premium.Is Mr. Harper anywhere close to as smart as a Canadian fifth grader?

Robert Hall
Campbell River / Edmonton


Oil & gas industry is about 5% of Canada's GDP.  Tars Sands production is about half that.  The economic multiplier for petroleum production is about 2.0, whereas the economic multiplier for manufacturing is about 2.5 

Canadians need thorough and credible information about the environmental and economic consequences about the Tar Sands.  Both the environmentalist and the anti-environmental nuts continuously bias the information.

James Mills
Winnipeg, Manitoba


So, lots of folks from the east coast are now working in the tar sands. Why are they there? Because the corporations fished out the eastern cod stocks. Once the oil companies have destroyed the environment around Fort Mac (and contributed to worldwide environmental destruction), no doubt somewhere else will be found for the workers, and then somewhere else, until . . . .

I grew up in Kitimat, built by Alcan for Alcan with tremendous paternalistic interest in its workers and "model town." Then Eurocan Pulp and Paper came in and logged the trees that had not been destroyed by the smelter pollution. Eurocan pulled out. The price of aluminum plummeted, and Alcan's paternalistic interest ceased. Kitimat is now a depopulated, crumbling slum--but wait! Enbridge might save it! Vast oil tankers chugging through notorious Hecate Strait, bringing jobs and prosperity to all!

As a species, we are so stupid that God, should such an entity exist, should give us all notice to quit. And we don't get our damage deposit back.

Hilary Knight
Victoria, British Columbia


Rex, The biggest problem with oil in Canada, with no exceptions, is that we get a piddling amount of money from exporting it and what money is gleaned is quickly sent out of Canada to buy material goods that we used to produce. When the oil is gone we will have the waste, pollution etc. which will be left for us to clean up and the money will be gone too. A bit like lighting up a cigarette. Gone up in smoke.

Eric Baggs


What will the oil be used for?Fueling more automobiles when LA now has more cars than people. In the USA, there are 859 vehicles per  1000 people. This creates a toxic, stinky, noisey environment with huge deaths tolls and millions of injuries This is a high standard of living?

ML Johnstone
Salt Spring Island, British Columbia


I`m an environmental engineer in Calgary and it drives me nuts sometimes to hear politicians and environmental activists espousing uninformed/misinformed opinions about the environmental impacts of Alberta's oil sands and the development thereof. One of the great distortions that they perpetuate is that the oil sands is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and climate change. Here are some facts about this

Canada's total ghg output is 2% of the world's output of ghgs.

The oil sands development constitutes a mere 2% of Canada's total output.

Doing the math, the oil sands therefore amounts to a mere 0.12% of rhw worlds\'s output of ghgs. That's less than 1/8th of 1% of the world's ghg emissions.

The fact of the matter is that you could totally shut down the oil sands and indeed, Canada itself, leaving us all out of work and freezing in the dark and it would make no difference whatsoever to global warming and climate change trends. You want to point the finger of blame at the culprits behind climate change, point it at the huge output of ghgs from coal fired power plants in China and the USA. The oilsands should be about the hundredth thing to worry about if you're trying to find the largest contributors to global ghg emissions.

Roger Dunkley
Calgary, Alberta


My opinion of the oil sands is that it is a very important resource for Canada. But it is being managed the wrong way. We should be building bigger refineries at the terminus of our current pipelines and selling the finished product. Canada would get the total profit and we would not have to worry about oil spills etc on our coasts.
Tim Nicholson
Sooke, British Columbia


Welcome to what has been considered Newfoundland's second largest city. As one of those hicks (I might prefer hayseed) who's lived in Fort McMurray for several decades I, too, have an issue with the  characterization of this place being considered Mordor when it comes to the greenhouse gas problem.  Is this place without environmental sin?  No it isn't, but when are we going to hear about, for this continent, American  coal as being many times the problem that the oil sands are. Then, of course, there is too, the Chinese burning of coal, but the Chinese seem to be doing more toward instituting sounder environmental practices than what
we see from the land to our immediate south.

Things that go on here - certainly in terms of greenhouse gas production - have to be put into realistic perspective.  We don't hear enough about that.

John Hicks
Fort McMurray, Alberta


First, our various governments have poured enormous amounts of our tax dollars into this project without any public input. I would guess it is more than any other public project ever. If anywhere near that amount of money had gone into any other form of alternative energy from the start, we could be as advanced as Germany or Scandinavia. Therefore, the question of political will cannot be ignored.

Second, the trouble that is going to come over the Harper government's strong-arm tactics regarding a pipeline through northern B.C., which still belongs to the First Nations that have lived there for several thousand years will be one of the biggest, and perhaps bloodiest confrontations in our history. Those brave people have sworn to fight to the death if necessary, and there are a large number of non-natives who support them.

Third, how does Harper think he can go to China, and for all we know sign contracts with them when these issues have only just begun to be settled. How dare he try to paint environmentalists as un-Canadian, and best of all funded by foreign money! We have learned that the oil sands operation is more than 50% owned by China and other countries with dubious Human Rights records.  If we think the Americans have been heavy-handed with their interpretations of NAFTA, I only hope and pray that we won't have to see what the Chinese will do if they don't get the oil Harper promised them.

As for the white-washing of the environmental issues, we know that the re-planting of trees does not replace the wet-lands, the equivalent of our Amazon forest and one of the big "lungs" of the planet, that  have been been destroyed.

And I haven't even mentioned the tragic health consequences endured by the First Nations down river...... There just isn't enough room here.

All we hear is "Jobs, Jobs". We could create a lot of jobs by developing the means to process this bulky bitumen instead of making climate change worse by shipping it thousands of kilometres to China. What good are jobs and "prosperity" when the the Earth, our only home, is poisoned.

Thank you.

Janet Oxley
North Vancouver


I believe the tar sands, in themselves, have a very important role in Canada's future and the economic growth of the country. When these 'sands' were first developed, the ecological and environmental issues may have been more grave compared to now. However, with time and better processes, the development of the area around Fort Mac is undoubtedly better than it has in the past. Personally, I have no issues with the development of the tar sands. Everyone likes good jobs, but to have the federal government sell off these precious resources, seems to me an insult to everyone who works so hard in that area to earn a living. When all these oils are gone, the area will likely fall prey to what every other one industry towns of the past have had, finality.

Wayne Comeau

Here is a simple logical question for the people of Fort McMurray and the oil barons.

Why do they feel the rest of the nation, especially those who have seen the manufacturing base decimated because of the petro dollar, should be giving corporate welfare to a industry and therefore the region that is enjoying a boom? And if they feel that this is unfair (what rational person could not) why do they support the current governments policy that is punishing the many for the benefit of the few?

And please none of the rhetoric about transfer payments when 96% of the benefits from the tar sands stay right in Alberta!

Len Cameron


We are so glad that you are here in Fort McMurray to hear from the people that live here and work here.  Our family made the move from Cape Breton five years ago, and we are reaping the benefits.  First of all, my husband has stable employment, and is not traveling away from his family for months at a time.  Second of all, our children have had more opportunities than my husband and I had in our entire lives, that is, until we moved  to to this town.  Ironically, my husband worked at a pulp mill before we moved here, and we were often heard of how we were raping the land of trees for that industry, and once we moved here, we faced more criticism for scourging the land here.  But we see the work the industry is doing here to reclaim the land after the bitumen is taken from the soil, and how they are improving on the technology every day. 

Like you said in your National Post commentary our family environment is better since moving here, and yes, people in Fort McMurray read the Post. My family is richer, and I am not speaking financially.  We have grown by becoming part of this community, and adopting a little girl born here.  Our kids are being exposed to more cultures, and more ideas, and more stability than we ever could have provided them by living anywhere else.  Yes, there are issues here, just like there are issues in every community across Canada, but we are working with our community to address some of those issues, instead of standing on the sidelines and complaining.  We are enjoying listening to your program this afternoon, we hope you don't go to the Oilcan tonight and only take home those memories.

Verna Murphy
Fort McMurray, Alberta


The intro to your website states the oil sands project is the "engine of our economy". Please remember that the GDP of Alberta is about one-fifth of the combined GDPs of Ontario and Quebec. The engine of our economy remains to be central Canada, in the form of manufacturing jobs.

If we place all of our economic eggs in the oil sands basket, which is clearly the agenda of our current federal government, our economy dangerously prone to the onset of Dutch Disease. That is not good for Canada. We cannot all move to Fort McMurray.

Gerry Ackerman
Brooklyn, Nova Scotia


The "elephant in the room" here is that the burning of vast reserves of oil is cooking the planet - an agreed fact by the vast majority of scientists.

This planet is all we have as a platform for future life on earth.

Clearly,  Earth's climate is the bottom line - the issue of primary, over-riding importance - yet the government continues to subsidize the suicidal development of oil production, under the influence of the oil lobby. 

The only upside of this horrendously short-sighted policy is that oil energy is cheap.

This is a tragically false perception.  Oil energy is ruinously expensive to the planet.

Canada should instead be using its historic ingenuity, resourcefulness, and ethical standards to provide leadership in the development of wind, tidal and solar energy.

Yes:  continue giving the same government subsidies oil is now receiving to the people who run the tar sands -- but send them off to develop cutting-edge energy that will be beneficial to the planet through time.

Elizabeth Woodworth
Victoria, British Columbia


Of course the people of Fort Mac are proud of their community ... that isn't the issue. Oil is a strategic resource that is essential for more than fuelling automobiles. However, the strategy with the tar sands seems to be to produce as much as possible as fast as possible. There seems to be little attention to developing this resource in a strategic way. This incredibly valuable resource is not being used nationally, but is intended to be shipped to China and the US to fuel their industries. Why are we not building those industries in Canada, shipping this oil to Eastern Canada to support our own manufacturing centers? Shipping irreplaceable raw bitumen to our competitors is insane.

Doug Thomson
Kitimat, British Columbia


Could you please ask any of your proud oil-industry boosters if they would serve Athabasca river water to their children for a week?  If so, why?  If not, why? I am referring to the water that flows by Fort Chip downstream from Fort McMurray.   

Bill Templeman
Peterborough, Ontario


The sands in the Fort McMurray area were saturated with crude oil for many millennium. Long before geologists discovered it, during  every spring melt and/or every rainfall the oil leached out into surrounding streams lakes and ponds. One might say that the oil sands were natures largest ever oil spill. The presence of oil slicks on streams ponds and rivers in the area was reported many decades ago by early explorers, trappers and later bush pilots. One might say that the oil sands are natures largest ever oil spill.  What the up-graders are doing then, should be described not as the world's largest source of pollution, (which they ares not, coal fired generating plants in the US are much worse) but rather the world's largest oil spill clean-up project..

Lorne Holland
Victoria, British Columbia


Global warming could create 150 million 'climate refugees' by 2050.  Environmental Justice Foundation report says 10% of the global population is at risk of forced displacement due to climate change.  What will Suncor and the people of Fort McMurray be doing to help these people?

Martin Griffith
Thunder Bay, Ontario


My comments relate to the manager from Suncor and others who comment that our needs for energy will only continue to grow, thus all sources of energy are essential and justified. No one has brought up the possibility that we might need to decrease our energy usage. Instead saying "vehicles on the road will double so we need to produce more energy" why not consider that perhaps we were wrong to think that every living person deserves to own their own vehicle as a right. What about public transportation and car-sharing? Instead of insisting that meeting the demand for energy is rational - why not question the demand itself and if the demand is sustainable.

Hanna Caplan
Toronto, Ontario


I was raised in the Waterways end of Fort McMurray and watched the first oil boom.  Because of my husband's oil career, we've shared 25 addresses and one of them was Stavanger, Norway.  Twenty years ago the Norwegians decided they would not manage their oil revenue the way the Albertans do.

There are no oil royalties in Norway.  They collect 70 percent of the profits the oil companies make and put it in a pension fund to be shared with future generations of Norwegians.  There is now over $500 billion in the account and the whole country operates on a portion of the interest that money makes.

It is the law in Norway that the government's books must be open and the oil companies books must be open.  The numbers are published in Norway's daily newspapers every few months.

Health, education and welfare are paramount there.

Dental care is free in Norway until you are 18.  The larger schools have dental offices.

Prescription drugs are free until the age of 7 and the government picks up the cost of prescriptions for the entire family if the cost is exorbitant.

It is illegal to be homeless in Norway.  You may go camping, but if you are sleeping on the street, the police will not arrest you, but will have you assessed and you are helped, whether you are a teenage runaway with a hellish home life, a drug addict or mentally ill.  You are helped.

Greenhouses in Norway produce organic tomatoes, cucumbers and leaf lettuce year-round and they are sold in the shops.

There is non-discriminatory family allowance.

Up to 50 percent of the square footage of a family home may be rented out tax-free in Norway.  It saves on the development of fertile land and the cost of infrastructure.

Public transportation is fabulous.  Trains, boats, buses, ferries and planes will get you anywhere.

Anyone who has read John Perkins books will know what is going on in Fort McMurray and my home town is bereft of a seniors home that should be overlooking the Clearwater River, rather than plopped on a dusty corner.  There isn't an MRI machine in the city.  The hospital doesn't have enough medical supplies.

The province of Alberta made available land for a trailer court to provide affordable housing for workers back in the 1960s.  It grew to have over 2,000 house trailers.  Nearly three years ago it was quietly sold to an American citizen and the tenants now, instead of sending cheques to the people of Alberta through the Alberta government for $200 to $300 each month, send over $1,000 each month to an American. 

The Tories of Alberta have a supposed stranglehold.  With the first-past-the-post electoral system used and the vote being so split, they have just over 20% of the vote.  Hitler got in with 37% of the vote and the Europeans were smart enough to get rid of first-past-the-post at the end of World War Two and brought in forms of proportional representation. 

After living in Norway, I can say my home town is a mess and the province of Alberta is being raped of its resources and revenue.

Rhondda Tolen
Victoria, British Columbia


Thank you for going up to Fort Mac and not showing it in a negative light. In August I finished an 8 month internship with Suncor Energy in Fort Mac and I enjoyed it greatly. Fort Mac is a warm, generous and friendly community, and sadly not many people in the rest of Canada know this. I hope you get a chance to go to the Oil Sands Discovery Centre and on an Oil Sands bus tour, you'll learn a lot and enjoy it.

Rebecca Jevnikar
London, Ontario


The gentleman from Suncor said that tail ponds are being reclaimed and that millions of trees have been planted to replace the ones that have been destroyed. 
But, only last week on CBC , it was mentioned that this is not being done properly and will in fact cause further damage.  It was said that the trees planted are not of the species that were destroyed and that in fact, the area planted was not a forest at all but a different type of landscape.
Is this true?  And if so, why is this done this way instead of repairing the land to its previous state?
An my question/comment is this, the photos of devastation shown worldwide are real are they not?  They do show how the land is damaged.  Of course the people living in Fort McMurray want to show themselves in the best light, But they can't deny that some damage is being caused to the land.
Thank you very much,
Isabelle Prenat
Victoria, British Columbia


You are in The Suncor Community Leisure Centre.  Are you aware that when Suncor started up so many years ago a number of native people downstream were poisoned and lost their lives. I would like to see research done into this. As I recall it was never properly dealt with by the justice system because the government was not properly monitoring the emissions. The one crown prosecutor was opposed by a high-paid team of lawyers and he ended up committing suicide. This story needs to be told.   I wonder what happened to the families of these native people.  Did they receive any justice or compensation?  Everyone on your show is celebrating the oil-sands and not remembering its victims.

Yvonne Christiansen
Montreal, Quebec


The oil industry's treatment of the tar sands region saddens and embarrasses me as a Canadian. It eliminates the traditional land use of local native people over large areas - against their treaty rights and without fair compensation. The money and efforts going into environmental restoration after oil extraction are also completely inadequate to do the job.

Ultimately it is the job of government to ensure that industrial development of Crown-owned resources on Crown land is done responsibly and we have allowed them to fail us profoundly on that front. Our governments and our national economy are now almost hopelessly addicted to an industry of that is morally problematic (the industry. The current government is happily strengthening that addiction. We need an intervention and some time in rehab.

Sean Blaney
Sackville, New Brunswick


Did I just hear a guest describe environmentalists as anti-science AND anti-HUMAN?

Oil sands boosters can denigrate environmentalists all they like but the simple fact remains, effluent from the extraction plants is getting into the water shed in significant amounts. The scar on the earth, already clearly visible from orbit, grows year by year but the reclamation that has been promised is virtually non-existent.

I saw the earliest manifestations of the tar sands as a grade school student over 40 years ago. Our guide assured us that money was being put aside to restore the landscape. Four decades later you must be naive to believe that SynCrude and Suncorp have the capability, resources or the intention to make good on these promises.

Once again, our great grandchildren will pay the public costs and the profits will be long gone.

Phil  Young
Victoria, British Columbia


I take issue with the description of the tars sands as a "national treasure".  This treasure belongs to the oil industry and to Alberta. This is the same industry who supported Moamar Ghadaffis government in Libya! We are spending more dollars to extract the oil than the money made from the oil!  We lose our youth in the East year after year to this last gasp of the oil industry. Like moths to the flame of a government  theory of "trickledown economics", a theory that has made the rich so much richer and the poor so desperately poor.

Robin Jensen
Halifax, Nova Scotia


I lived in Fort McMurray with my family from 1968-1988 and loved it.  The sense of community, people doing it together - like community choir, community sports.  When Bruce Cochburn came into town we all went to enjoy him  I think it was and continues to be a good place for people to grow up and become good citizens.  As many on the show have stated, Fort McMurray is a good place for people and families to be.

But - I confess that while I lived there I didn't give the environmental impact more than a passing thought.  The bottom line is that we humans in this world need to drastically dial back our use of fossil fuels in order to maintain a livable sustainable environment.  Developing the oil sands at the present break-neck speed will not help us do what we need to do.

The CEO of Suncor (on the program) said "we need a lot of energy sources".  Yes, of course, we do, but we are diverting our efforts from the sustainable alternatives by putting so much effort into getting at the black gold.  We cannot keep burning fossil fuels like we are presently doing, never mind expanding their use, which further oil sands development promotes.

The CEO of Suncor spoke of the high quality reclamation, through tree-planting.  The problem, as I understand it, is that the muskeg and wetlands are not being reclaimed by simply planting trees.  It is simply not adequate.

No - we shouldn't stop oil sands development all together.We will need oil for many uses in the future.  But we don't need to develop it at the present rate, nor do we need to ship it all over the world, at great environmental risk.

Roland Balzer
Abbotsford, British Columbia


Tar sands are more dirty than the traditional oil. Planting trees does not make things right - because you don't restore the natural ecosystem you destroyed, one of wetlands, but replace it with a different and less diverse artificial forest, because it is cheaper to plant one. Tar sands are extracted at the too fast rate to optimize benefits to Canadians - if we need to employ so many foreign workers this means that most of their salaries will flow out of the country, along with most of the profits of the multinational oil companies. Furthermore, by rushing things up we risk using the tar sands in the most stupid way, making the same mistake the British did, when they exported their North Sea oil at $20-40  a barrel, and now they import it at $100. Finally, the argument about tar sands providing ethical alternative to oil supply from Iran and other oil-producing countries violating human rights is disingenuous again - we are providing or will provide this alternative to the US and China, not to the most of Canadians who won't see a drop of tar sands oil and who will continue to be dependent on the foreign oil.

St. John's, Newfoundland


I think today's show is making a critical error.  There is no question whatsoever about the people and the sense of community that undoubtedly felt.  It is a great place with hearty and well-meaning people.  This is a wonderful Canadian Value.  The issue, and the reason for the controversy, is the industry itself.  Even a good community with well-meaning people have self-interest, which is the jobs that the oil sands bring.  This is, quite simply, a fact of life.  No one is faulting the residents of Fort McMurray because of this.  No one.  The concern is this: although Fort McMurray is a great community the community has a short term focus (arising from self-interest).  The issue is that Canada's life and strength is found in its communities, and defended fiercely.  The aspect of this that is being obfuscated is Fort McMurray, as a community, has a larger responsibility to Canada and the World.  The effects, the real long term effects require a community, any community, to hold out that responsibility ahead of self interest.  With great respect to Fort McMurray's residents, recognition of a long term responsibility to a larger community is not being done.  (Many of the comments today are centering on the work)

Greg Brown
Ottawa, Ontario


My father was a logger from the fifties to the nineties here on the west coast and so I know what it is to be associated with an industry as it comes under public review and criticism.  It is unfair and not productive to condemn those who work in those industries.  It is divisive to pose communities against one another and to characterize populations as immoral or unenlightened because they work in those industries to feed their families.  I think your program would have been more useful if it were to separate the two issues.  One, as I mentioned, is the need for people to relate to one another's humanity rather than generalize and demonize. I am not surprised to hear friendly, smart and caring voices from Fort McMurray nor should anyone be. The other very real issue is that of fossil fuel extraction and transportation as in the Oil Sands project.  I believe it muddies the water in a much needed debate about energy sources and our future, by not making a distinction between these two issues. . I, community unity must be built and maintained in order to develop protocols that will protect the balance of the earth systems while at the same time  continue to harness energy for a sustained economy.  Fossil Fuel is not and never shall be a sustainable solution by its very nature.  That is the role of the oil sands, it will be extracted, the process will bespoil the earth, air and oceans and then it will be gone

Sandy Slobodian
Victoria, British Columbia


Greetings from the tree-hugger capital of Canada.  I would like to compliment Rex on going to Fort McMurray and allowing the people there to have their voice heard.  I get tired of hearing all the bad press about them, I am sure it must drive them nuts.

When we stop requiring energy, quit driving cars, and especially quit having children who will want these things, then maybe we will no longer need developments like the oil sands.  It won't happen in my lifetime.  All the naysayers need to go live in caves for a while, grow their own food, till the land with tools they make by hand, and then they can complain about the oil sands.

Vancouver, British Columbia


Canada has an energy strategy but we don't have a manufacturing strategy. It's easy to recognize the economic boost that Canada gets from oil sands, but my financial advisor always tells me to diversify."Put some of your RRSPs in oil, some in mining, some in technology and some in manufacturing, specially green industries" he says. It's hard to invest in manufacturing here because Canada does not have an industrial development strategy. Canada needs to talk to my financial advisor.

Gaetan Royer
Port Moody, British Columbia

Your show coming from Fort McMurray is like a breath of fresh air.

I have a family member working in the renewable energy industry, namely micro-hydro (10MW), aka run-of-river.....a name that I dare not mention in most circles. I am a committed environmentalist, and have been for the past 35 years.

I have become very disillusioned of late, hearing groups I have supported for the past 30 years, and friends alike, protesting and putting down all energy sources, the tar sands, wind, micro-hydro. While continuing to consume fossil fuels as they drive a car, and continuing to consume electricity as they heat and light their homes, power their electronic equipment, and some looking for power for their electric car.

I believe we have to choose among the lesser of the "evils".....develop the tar sands but at a slower pace and refine in Canada so no pipeline to China, and develop renewable energy forms instead of coal produced energy.

Carolann Glover
Roberts Creek, British Columbia

As a father I'm pleased to see my sons and their friends working and living in Fort Mac. Developing the resource responsibly now and In the future seems more economically viable than continuing to defend resources in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and other points around the world. The monetary and personal human loss of life and limb could be eliminated with the savings used in the development  of a resource in a stable and safe country willing to work together for the good of all.

John Barnum
Nanoose Bay, British Columbia

The polarization of the debate, as the labour leader suggested in an earlier call, is not helpful.

What I think many in the ENGO are concerned about is the issue of sustainable  consumption of the oil that will be produced.  The Exec VP you interviewed mentioned the doubling of the number of cars in the coming decades with population growth.  Surely you can see that something like this could be madness in some parts of the world - spend some time in SE ASIA or China and see what is happening now.

So the real question is: can we redefine sustainable production in the oil sands to match a desirable broader societal goal of sustainable consumption?

Gary Bull
Vancouver, British Columbia

The point is, that the oil sands project is bad for Canada in every respect. This non renewable resource is being sold cheap, outside Canada and leaving vast areas of Canada degraded. Don't people wonder what will happen there after the oil is gone? It's just more of the same resource industry driven, short sighted development of Canada's great resources. It's time for a change and our current Prime Minister will not be making it as he is totally fixated on the oil industry and his buddies within it.

Steve Lawrence
Mill Bay, British Columbia


I find it most frustrating listening to the "raw-raw" in support of the quality of life in Fort McMurry when the focus of the programme is on "the oil sands and their impact on the future", i.e. the environment and the economy of this country.
When crude oil was first extracted from the depths of Saudi Arabia it took one barrel of energy to extract 10 equivalent barrels. In the Canadian oil sands, without regard for the pollution of the Athabasca River, the threat to human lives downstream, and the degradation of the natural landscape, it takes one barrel of energy to extract one and a half equivalent barrels.
While corporations with their ability to drive technical innovation in support of net profits find justification in the extraction of oil sands crude, in light of all the other more universal considerations, it makes no sense and poses a threat to the future of Canada, its economy and the Planet.
Keith Oliver
Cobourg, Ontario


My husband and I plus our 4 young children relocated here August 2003. I had a child in GR 3-5-7 and 9. Today, Our oldest son of 22 is a Crane Journey Men and also has his diploma from Keyano college for music plus he holds a diploma from Vancouver for Audio production and Directing, my daughter next in line attended Berklee college of music and she is now in university in BC studying a psychology degree, my third Daughter is in Nscad university in Halifax for her Art degree and my son whom is still at home is in Grade 11- has a great group of friends who all snow board on the weekends , are in jazz band, go to the wonderful mac island facility to swim, attend the gyms- sport and wellness center and are apart of many great programs the high schools have to offer.

My children have gotten a multitude of talents and opportunities from the town and municipality of Wood buffalo. They are all musically talented and have many opportunities to play at many venues in Fort Mcmurray including CanadaRocks and not to mention the wonderful strong benefits that we as a town put together when there is a disaster happens. This whole city gets together and provides the best they can do to help others.

Fort mac is a community of kindness and hard workers and should be known for its greatness.

Vicky LaPrairie
Fort McMurray, Alberta


The haste to develop as much of the tar sands as possible is motivated mostly by the insatiable desire on the part of oil companies to realize profits NOW.  In their haste they will export raw bitumen, ensuring that jobs will be created offshore or down south, rather than adding value here in the form of long-term, high quality jobs in refining, petrochemicals and research.  How does that serve OUR long-term interest, never mind that we are talking about a non-renewable resource?  Thinking long-term would also mean some of the damage being done to the environment now could be prevented.

Richard Griffiths


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