Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Neil Young vs. T. Rex


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It's mid-February, 2014. The Sochi Olympics, a schizophrenic paean to everything both right and wrong with the world, is mid-stride. Keystone XL remains in limbo, Harper's ConBots continue their comic Reign of Error, and, while Canadians shiver from coast to coast, ex-pat homechild Justin Bieber is still finding ways to embarrass us all. Yet despite this deep trove of conversational cachet, this is the most pressing question on the Tim Hortons-dribbling lips of our descendent nation: what to do about that owlish oracle of ostensibly objective oration, Rex Murphy. For though owlish he remains, objective his increasingly lobbyist-like representations are not. Case in point: a tyrannical diatribe against rocker Neil Young's recent "Honour the Treaties," tour in support of the Athabasca First Nations, whose lives and health stand in the way of Alberta's toxic tarsands.

While Murphy has always subtly leveraged conservative political leanings and a staunch defense of Christianity with his prodigious television, print, and radio work (one episode of CBC radio's odious "Cross Country Check-up" should convince you), he's now an unashamed apologist for the Alberta oil industry—in self-admitted part for the providence delivered his Newfoundland brethren (a province that helped the Feds mismanage its cod fishery into non-existence). With this, Murphy joins other oiltards in championing radical resource exploitation on one side of the country as a panacea for ills created by the same thing on another. Unlike energy company execs and HarperCons, however, Murphy's biased views aren't meted out in opportunistic sound bytes at press conferences or in the House of Commons. And herein lies the problem.

Despite his titanic intellect and Leviathan vocabulary, Murphy's fountaining japes of wrath have declined steeply in quality and journalistic integrity of late, comprising uncharacteristically thoughtless circumlocutions and ad hominen attacks on, it would seem, "disbelievers" in the conservative cause—i.e., atheists, enviros, and anyone who dares question the method, pace or reason for tarsands development. In his increasingly foggy, "Point of View," on CBC television's The National, Murphy recently labelled Neil Young "unfathomably irresponsible" for criticizing the tarsands. Taking umbrage with Young's (quite defendable) likening of the landscape to post-bomb Hiroshima, Murphy lost the plot entirely in misrepresenting the musician's obviously broader and benevolent intentions. In the Tyee.ca on January 23, Simon Fraser communications instructor Robert Hackett nailed him for it: "Calling rhetorically for a balanced discussion, Murphy went on to offer a one-sided encomium on the project's presumed benefits, and denounced Young for his 'one-sided and overtoxic condemnations... Young has failed to be fair; and therefore, he has also failed to be persuasive.'"

Whichever of Murphy's withering comments might engender Lilliputian value, this last is not one, and mind-bogglingly hollow given the hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars propaganda campaigns promoting tarsands development and pipeline projects funded by both industry and, bafflingly, your Federal tax dollars.

What Murphy truly dislikes, it seems, is a highly respected celebrity speaking for First Nations and those, like us, being steamrolled by these developments. And yet, since governments have no interest and Rex has proven incapable, why shouldn't a rockstar spokesman stimulate a required national conversation? Young might not get his facts right all the time, but it's not for lack of good intentions. Contrast this with blatant misrepresentations and obstructionism by the Harper Government™® around this same info—not to mention industry's negligence, obfuscations, and outright lies concerning everything from spills to cancer rates—and any criticisms of Young's activism are mooted.

Murphy has courted such irrelevance before, absurdly stating the tarsands "has kept [Canada] out of the worst of the recession," and axiomatically observing that project oversight in Canada is already superior to other oil-producing nations. But this is not Nigeria, Rex, and we expect better environmental stewardship, even if a whining industry bleats disadvantage in the smoke-and-mirrors global resource economy. (Patently untrue, a point handily ignored by oiltards: Norway's 70% oil levy, national re-investment of revenue, social forward-mindedness, and micro-managerial oversight has failed to scare away even the smallest industrial player.)

The problem when erstwhile commentators cross over to advocator—as Murphy has shamelessly done both on his own time and, increasingly, on CBC—is their commanding a national soapbox unavailable to anyone of similarly erudite gravitas who might offer a contrary position. "Why [does] Murphy appear regularly on [CBC's] flagship news program, while voices of environmental sanity like David Suzuki or Naomi Klein don't?" wonders Hackett.

Given this hegemony, it is Murphy's unqualified, evangelical support of the reckless, exploitive and nation-damaging tarsands that is unfathomably irresponsible. While Young speaks from the heart in saying that Canadians are being told too little about tarsands problems by government and industry, the prehistoric views of Tyrantosaurus Rex paint him as little more than a high-paid sophist and undisguised lickspittle for a criminal industry. As Murphy himself might put it: a pontificating pipeline of pro-oil puffery.


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