The unholy trinity of the Alberta tarsands industry, the Conservative Party and the right-wing media has gone all-out in its attacks on Neil Young for his stance against their destructive policies and actions. One thing that these corporate wolves and subservient sheep overlook is that, of course, Neil Young is right.
The main arguments by the Conservative tarsands mob are that:
1) Young hasn’t lived in Canada for a long time, so he has no right to talk about anything that happens in Canada.
2) He’s a rich rock star, so he has no right to talk about anything, period.
3) Young uses oil and oil-based products, so he has no right to say anything bad about the oil industry or the governments that subsidize and promote that industry.
4) The Alberta tarsands industry is the only economic sector keeping Canada’s finances afloat, funding our social programs and preventing our have-not provinces from going bankrupt.
5) The Alberta tarsands industry is the only economic sector offering good-paying job opportunities for Canadians, even for workers without much education, training or experience.
6) The Alberta tarsands industry is actually ethical, environmentally friendly, doesn’t cause health problems, is good for Natives and doesn’t smell.
These talking points are bullshit, and here’s why:
1) The environment is worldwide, the economy is worldwide, and politics are worldwide. We all have the right to talk about any issue we want to talk about (although the elites are increasingly cracking down on that right). We don’t all have to agree with each other, but we all have the right to express our views.
2) Rich corporate parasites bombard us with capitalist propaganda 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and nobody questions their right to say what they want. Anything that counteracts the powerful, well-oiled propaganda machine is welcome and desperately needed – even if that challenge comes from a wealthy musician who lives in California most of the year.
3) Blowhards who say that humans who use oil or oil-based products should never say a bad word about the oil industry are chock-full of shit. Using that logic, anyone who lives in society should never criticize anything at all, since we all benefit from society in some way. It’s the good ol’ “love it or leave it” attitude that’s popular amongst right-wing assholes when their team is in power, but mysteriously absent when their opponents have the upper hand.
Besides, most of the tarsands oil is not meant for Canadian consumption, so it is irrelevant whether Canadians use oil and oil-based products. Alberta tarsands bitumen is to be shipped to China and the United States, where it will be refined and consumed, or sold back to Canadians as value-added finished products. If the tarsands oil was refined and consumed in Canada, then perhaps the pro-tarsands crowd would have a point, but until that day arrives (which will likely be never), they have no leg to stand on.
4) The Alberta tarsands sector represents a tiny percentage of Canada’s GDP. Most of the Alberta tarsands projects are owned by foreign companies (mostly Chinese and American), and most of the profits go out of the country. Compared to the profits they funnel out of Canada, they pay very little in taxes and royalties in this country.
As for the myth that Alberta supports the have-not provinces, that misconception comes from people not understanding how Canada’s equalization program works. The money for the transfer program comes from individual and business taxpayers across the country – not from provincial governments.
Alberta, in fact, used to be a have-not province, supported financially by taxpayers in other Canadian provinces. Now, considering Alberta is sitting on lots of oil and natural gas, their provincial government should be running surpluses while maintaining the best infrastructure and public services in North America. Instead, Alberta’s back-to-back Progressive Conservative governments have been running deficits, growing their debt and allowing their infrastructure and public services to crumble. This is mostly due to keeping their taxes and royalty rates artificially and irresponsibly low.
For the longest time, Ontario was a have province, but has recently become a have-not province, almost entirely due to federal Conservative and Liberal free trade/globalization policies that have decimated Ontario’s manufacturing sector (and other sectors in which jobs can be offshored). Even though Ontario is currently a have-not province in terms of government finances, much of the tax money that goes into the equalization program comes from Ontario workers and businesses in the first place! Ontarians are merely getting some of their own money back!
5) Yes, the Alberta tarsands industry offers many high-paying job opportunities, but at what cost, and for how long? The Canadian and Alberta governments have spent billions of tax dollars directly and indirectly subsidizing the tarsands industry, with relatively low returns. If they had invested that money in green energy (or even in building a no-so-green oil refinery), the economic return would be much higher, and the environmental cost would be much lower.
The high-paying Alberta jobs might not continue to be so high paying, for three reasons. First, more Canadians from across the country – and immigrants from across the planet – have been moving to Alberta to get those jobs, thus putting downward pressure on wages, benefits and working conditions.
Second, the weakly enforced Conservative temporary foreign workers program is making this worse, by allowing employers to fire Canadian workers and replace them with poor, desperate, lower-paid temporary workers who are willing to accept substandard conditions. This brings down the wage rates and standard of living for everyone else.
Third, the federal Conservatives and the Alberta Progressive Conservatives have been weakening unions and reducing all workers’ rights. They have been doing this for one reason and one reason only: to lower labour costs and increase profits for big corporations.
6) Anyone who believes the talking points from profit-motivated tarsands corporations over verified facts presented by scientists and people on the ground is either delusional or in on the scam. Don’t forget, “tarsands” is a word that the industry itself used for a long time, before their marketing and public relations experts told them to replace the word with “oil sands” and the even more innocuous “energy”.
As for being environmentally friendly, the oil companies only do what governments force them to do. They follow the letter – not the spirit – of the law (unless they think they can get away with breaking the law). Whenever corporations are forced to pay small fines, they just consider it the cost of doing business, since the profits from their violations far outweigh the penalties. Environmental laws have been gutted in Canada anyway; natural resources companies almost literally re-wrote Canada’s new environmental legislation for the Harper Conservatives.
History shows that whenever there is a man-made environmental disaster, either those responsible pay a tiny portion of the cleanup costs or they declare bankruptcy and start up business again under a different name. Taxpayers are stuck with the tab.
And yes, according to people who are willing to tell the truth, the polluted air in Fort McMurray does stink.
In summary, Neil Young is right, the tarsands Conservatives are full of crap, and we need to get off our butts and do something about it.
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