Neil Young's oilsands stance is unfair: Rex Murphy

Responding to Canadian rocker Neil Young's barbed criticism of the Alberta oilsands, Rex Murphy says that Fort McMurray cannot be "the concentrated vessel of every wrong and mischance of the world energy industry."

Canadian rocker's views on Alberta oilsands not persuasive, says Murphy

Neil Young's negative comments about the Alberta oilsands are unfair and unpersuasive, says Rex Murphy. (Canadian Press)
In the immortal words of Homer Simpson: Rock stars, is there anything they don't know?

Homer's truth rang out again when I heard Neil Young — expatriate, now California-based rock immortal — staggeringly claim that the Fort McMurray oil site reminded him of atomic-bomb-blasted Hiroshima.

Now, we can forgive minor sins in any propaganda war — and there is a propaganda war circling the oil sands. But to offer an equivalence, and repeat it, with the horror, mass obliteration and deaths of Hiroshima, goes so far outside all boundaries of good taste, truth, judgment and proportion as to be unfathomably irresponsible.

If Mr. Young really thinks this, he's blind. If he doesn't, he's shameless. On this one defamation alone, if he has a conscience — and I am sure he does — he should retract and utterly apologize.

Sadly, I don't expect him to. Why? 

Well, because to some — some — of the people opposing this project, Fort Mac has become the symbol of a campaign: the symbol of the "war against oil," or the symbol of what they see as the "fight against global warming."

So Fort McMurray is not, for them, a particular project to be weighed and debated so much as it is a convenient target to be vilified and condemned. It is a project to be stopped, and if hauling in celebrities vocalizing super high-octane rhetoric will help the cause, why then, they are OK with that.

Fort Mac is easy pickings

As is blatantly obvious, there are hundreds and hundreds of other projects, in other parts of the world, equal or vastly larger in scope, which will not be handled with a fraction of the care, scruple and oversight that this one in Alberta will. Fort Mac is on these terms "easy pickings." Will there be an anti-oil tour of China, India, Russia, Nigeria? Not likely.

Now, there is a debate to be had. Fort McMurray is a project of great scale to be weighed on its merits and demerits. On what it contributes to the well-being of workers, to the Alberta and Canadian economies, and on the social and economic benefits it's already spread to many regions of this county, not least my own province. It also has to be weighed on its care, the supervision of the environment, safety and pace of development.

But it should not be made the concentrated vessel of every wrong and mischance of the world energy industry, and most certainly should not be the first target for every autumn superstar looking for one last kick at the publicity can.

Fort Mac is not Blake's "satanic-mill." But neither is it Shangri-la. Between these poles there can be a discussion.

However, one-sided and over-toxic condemnations amplified by the voice of a rock star are not that discussion. Mr. Young has failed to be fair, and thereby he fails also to be persuasive.


Rex Murphy


Rex Murphy was born and raised in St. John's, where he graduated from Memorial University. In 1968, Murphy, a Rhodes Scholar, went to Oxford University (along with former U.S. president Bill Clinton). Back in Newfoundland, he was soon established as a quick-witted and accomplished writer, broadcaster and teacher. He was the long-time host of CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup. Murphy has given paid talks to energy companies.