'Kicking us while we are down': pro-oilsands groups react to Jane Fonda's Fort McMurray tour

Groups in favour of oilsands development say Hollywood actor Jane Fonda shouldn’t be visiting Fort McMurray to criticize the oilsands when the region is struggling with a slumping economy and recovering from one of Canada’s costliest natural disasters.

‘She’s attacking the very thing that feeds us all at the worst possible time,’ says one critic

Actress and fitness video guru Jane Fonda is expected be in Fort McMurray Tuesday to tour the oilsands by air and meet with several Indigenous leaders. (Vince Bucci/Invision/The Associated Press)

Pro-oilsands activists say this is not the time for celebrity actor Jane Fonda to visit Fort McMurray to criticize energy development, with the region still recovering from wildfire and a limp economy.

"I think that it's another hypocritical celebrity coming here," declared Robbie Picard, founder of the local industry booster group OilSands Strong. "She's kicking us while we are down."

Greenpeace Canada, which is holding an event at the University of Alberta in Edmonton Wednesday night where Fonda is one of several speakers, said the actress and fitness video frontwoman is expected be in Fort McMurray Tuesday. She will tour the oilsands by air and meet with several Indigenous leaders.

Aside from her Hollywood fame and recent lead role in the Netflix comedy series Grace and Frankie, Fonda has a lengthy track record of being involved in political activism. She's spoken out on issues such as Indigenous people's rights, feminism, American civil rights issues and the Vietnam war, the latter unleashing the nickname Hanoi Jane from critics.

Actress Jane Fonda has a history of environmental activism. In June 2015, she protested Arctic drilling and oil tanker traffic in Vancouver, B.C. (Darry Dyck/Canadian Press)

In June 2015, she was in Vancouver for Greenpeace's Toast the Coast event where she voiced publicly her opposition to oilsands pipelines.

'Horrible timing. It's shameful'

Fort McMurray is rebuilding after May's wildfire wreaked havoc on the city and surrounding communities, prompting one of Canada's largest evacuations. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimated insured damages at more than $3.5 billion. When the 90,000 who fled the region returned, as many as 2,400 homes were gone.

OilSands Strong has launched a social media campaign opposing Fonda's visit, to bolster the argument that it comes at "horrible timing" and is "shameful," Picard said.

Picard, who lost his home in the wildfire, said the visit is insensitive to area residents.

"She's attacking the very thing that feeds us all," Picard said. "There's thousands of people unemployed."

Another pro-oilsands group, Canada Action, said they hope Fonda considers meeting the many people and industries that benefit from the oilsands. They also hope Fonda learns about the environmental progress the industry has made.

"I think that it's unfortunate that Jane Fonda is going to come up here," said Canada Action founder Cody Battershill. "And she will probably have, in my mind, a less balanced opinion of the issues."

Greenpeace defends visit

But Greenpeace said Fonda will meet with several members of the Indigenous community while she's in Fort McMurray, including Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allen Adams and members of the Anzac and Fort McKay communities.

The environmental group said the purpose of her trip will be to stand with First Nations who are opposed to the expansion of the oilsands and new pipelines, and are concerned about the impact climate change will have on their traditional way of life.

"These pipelines were approved without the consent of First Nations," said Greenpeace spokesman Mike Hudema.

Two recent events lead to Fonda's trip, according to Greenpeace, including her visit with demonstrators who attempted to block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in November. The other event was the federal Liberal government's approval to push ahead with two pipelines.

The Oceti Sakowin camp is seen in a snow storm during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Nov. 29, 2016. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

In November, the federal government approved Enbridge's Line 3 replacement project and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

Line 3 is a 1,659-kilometre pipeline replacement project that will carry Fort McMurray oilsands bitumen from a terminal near Hardisty, Alta. across the U.S. border through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. It will cost $7.5 billion. 

The 1,150-kilometre Trans Mountain pipeline will stretch from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C. That pipeline will cost $6.8 billion.

In December, conservation groups began challenging the federal government's approval of the projects in federal court in Calgary.

Greenpeace said the Fort McMurray portion of the Fonda tour will likely be closed to media and the public. But she will participate in a public panel at the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton Wednesday. 

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