Neil Young: Giving as good as he’s been getting during an all-out attack by the Petroleum Party. Below: Dr. John O’Connor, vilified by the hirelings, toadies and pet legislators of the petroleum industry; Edmonton Journal reporter Sheila Pratt.

Here in Alberta, the Petroleum Party dominates everything – the federal government, the provincial government, the government benches in the Legislature, the opposition benches in the same place, the media and, it turns out, parts of the medical profession as well.

Refusal to bend to the will of this nearly omnipotent and omnipresent industry, with its vast wealth and numberless retainers, hirelings and toadies in government and media can be a risky proposition – as we have all seen with the hysterical and unremitting national campaign against rocker Neil Young throughout the past few days.

Mr. Young’s crime? Publicly supporting a northern Alberta First Nation that’s fighting Bitumen Sands expansion on its traditional land. That Mr. Young has given as good as he got, and held his own against this tide of rage and fury, has given this story a David-and-Goliath quality that has many ordinary Canadians shaking their heads and wondering, “What are they afraid of?”

Still, it was shocking to read in the local press that physicians in northwest Alberta’s Peace River region are not only afraid to speak out about the impact on humans and the environment of oil and gas activity there, but that some of them have refused to treat patients who thought their health problems might be related to petroleum industry emissions. According to Edmonton Journal reporter Sheila Pratt, one medical lab even refused to process a patient’s medical tests!

In the case of the doctors and of the lab, presumably, they were afraid that their investigations might reveal the petroleum industry was the cause of someone’s health problems. Doing that, they knew, could cause big problems – both for patients in a region economically dependent on petroleum development and for any professional who dares to challenge the orthodoxies of approved politics and science in Alberta.

In her unusual and courageous report, Ms. Pratt, a former senior editor at the Journal who obviously still retains some influence there, told how the documents she had obtained in advance of an inquiry into smells and health around a sulphur-rich oilfield showed how one doctor advised patients to contact an environmental lawyer if they wanted to deal with what ailed them, their families and their communities.

Ms. Pratt came as close as she could to explaining why the consequences of challenging the Petroleum Party can be much more devastating for professionals like physicians, who depend on their credentials to earn a living, than for a rock musician who resides safely in the Republic to the south or even a plain old garden variety environmental activist.

Ms. Pratt quoted a toxicology expert from Ontario who was hired by the Calgary-based Alberta Energy Regulator, the industry-funded corporation that is supposed to regulate oil, gas and coal development in this province, to write a report on the conflict between a bitumen processor near Peace River and its human neighbours.

“Physicians are quite frankly afraid to diagnose health conditions linked to the oil and gas industry,” the toxicologist was quoted as saying in Ms. Pratt’s report.

According to the news story, the toxicologist “heard several times about the case of Dr. John O’Connor, who was threatened with loss of his licence after raising an alarm about cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan.”

Dr. O’Connor practiced medicine in 2003 in the predominantly First Nations communities of Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan, which are about 280 kilometres north of Fort McMurray and both downstream and downwind of the largest Bitumen Sands mining and processing operations.

Both the federal and provincial governments harshly criticized Dr. O’Connor for daring to suggest the industry might have caused serious health problems among residents of the communities, including unusually high rates of blood, colon, bile duct and liver cancer.

The provincial government disputed Dr. O’Connor’s conclusions. In 2007, Health Canada physicians laid four complaints of professional misconduct against him with the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons, including blocking access to files, billing irregularities, causing mistrust of government in Fort Chipewyan and “undue alarm” among residents of the community.

The charges could have resulted in Dr. O’Connor losing his ability to work as a physician.

Notwithstanding the province’s earlier claims, in 2009 the Alberta Cancer Board released a study that did find higher-than-expected rates of some cancers among residents in Fort Chip – although that study did not identify a cause.

Moreover, Dr. O’Connor was eventually cleared of all the charges against him.

But you’d never know of his exoneration if you believed the vicious jeremiad against Dr. O’Connor published just last week on national TV by oil industry attack poodle Ezra Levant, as he continued the smear campaign against the physician, who still practices in the region.

A warning to readers tempted to watch this ugly episode of Mr. Levant’s program: it is nauseating stuff.

But Mr. Levant’s broadside against Dr. O’Connor was merely a sidebar to his vilification of Mr. Young, who for obvious reasons was the Petroleum Party’s principal target. Accordingly, the musician and songwriter was the victim of a stream of vituperation and character assassination from virtually every quarter of the mainstream media, which remains in full cry.

Nevertheless, what happened to Dr. O’Connor – and what continues to happen to him – is a clear illustration of why physicians in northwestern Alberta at least, unlike the many foes of the outspoken rock ’n’ roll musician, are not just being hysterical or paranoid when they say they don’t want to touch the health impacts of the petroleum industry with the proverbial bargepole.

Still, the question remains a good one: What does the Petroleum Party have to fear that accounts for this viciousness?

Have they concluded there’s some danger democracy might beak out again in Canada, or even here in Alberta?

It seems likely the attacks on Mr. Young will continue for a while yet, quite possibly with increasing frenzy – especially if the musician continues to be able to dish it back as effectively as his foes dish it out.

They will also seek new targets, some of whom are also quite capable of defending themselves and their arguments – for example, such as environmentalist and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, whom Alberta Premier Alison Redford risibly promises to set straight immediately with a disciplinary knuckle rap.

For its part, the Alberta government has promised to release more information on cancer rates in Fort Chip very soon. But don’t count on anyone ponying up the money needed for a rigorous and credible scientific study.

We don’t really do science in this part of the world any more if the Petroleum Party has no use for it.

The hearing by the industry-owned “regulator” also held sessions yesterday in Peace River, and Ms. Pratt was back to cover them.

The story, as they say, continues.

This post also appears on

Join the Conversation


    1. Those two guys were having a lot of fun trying figure out how “coked up” Neil was? A wonderful piece of Canadiana.

  1. re: “We don’t really do science in this part of the world any more if the Petroleum Party has no use for it.”

    Don’t do science, or maybe AB will do some if industry can control what does and doesn’t get examined.
    And the new industry regulator and its rules for public participation ensure the PC’s joint-venture corporatist governance of AB with Big Oil is safe from public scrutiny.

    Some evidence below:
    EDMONTON – The study of how oilsands pollution is affecting the massive peatlands in the northeast will come to an abrupt halt this spring as two scientists found out last week their funding has been cut.
    In an unexpected move, the new federal-provincial Joint Oilsands Monitoring (JOSM) agency did not include wetlands (peatlands, bogs and muskeg) or groundwater in its monitoring plans — even though peatlands cover 40 per cent of the landscape in the northeast oilsands area.

    Oilsands environmental agency in danger of folding

    excerpts: “In September, the energy industry called on McQueen to disband CEMA, arguing the agency’s work on issues such as improving tailings ponds at open-pit mines could be done by an industry association.”

    excerpt: The oil industry argued that a new association of oil companies called COSIA, the Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, could take over the scientific and technical work that CEMA does for government. Or CEMA’s work could be taken over by the three-year Joint Oilsands Monitoring program (JOSM).

    Amended Rules of Practice for the Alberta Energy Regulator: More Bad News for Landowners…
    The overall message in these new Rules is that the Alberta government and the Regulator see little value in public participation concerning energy project decision-making and have little regard for participation even by landowners who may be directly affected by a project. Public participation in energy and environmental decision-making in Alberta is almost non-existent. The ability of Albertans to give input into public decisions that affect their rights has suffered a major setback under this new regime. The only real opportunity for public input into how resources owned by the public are to be developed is at the land-use planning stage – when the dialogue remains in generalities and occurs in the future tense. Even at that stage, the decision-making occurs behind closed doors. Once the shovels are poised to hit the ground the time for talk is definitely over.

    1. “Mr. Young’s crime? Publicly supporting a Northern Alberta First Nation that’s fighting Bitumen Sands expansion on its traditional land.” The Herald article does a fine job of personally attacking Neil Young and his lifestyle but nowhere does it address the principal issue he talks about. How many of the ad hominen criticisms of Mr. Young contain references to First Nation concerns? Bash the messenger, ignore the message.

  2. Ezra Levant reminds me of one of those tortured bitter souls who believes he missed out on his true calling in life because he was born three centuries too late. He belongs in one of those early Hudson Bay outposts, the guy handing out TB-laced blankets to the local natives.

    Subtly is not his style.

    Got petro trains-derailing and blowing up in your town in the middle of the night. Anyone stupid enough to be living next to train tracks is getting what they deserve. Got rising cancer rates in your area? That’s mother nature telling you shouldn’t be living downwind from a bitumen pit.

  3. I love it when true patriotism comes to the surface in Canada, thanks Neil for inspiring all of us. Now if only we could get Willie Nelson another major grassroots musician to join the battle. And frankly Canadians bought enough of his albums to consider him one of us.

    We need the entire music industry to step forward to “Stand on Guard” for Canada.

  4. The wonders of globalization:

    China’s poor are getting suicidal making our junk, Bangladesh’s poor are dying in fire making America’s $3 t-shirts, and Canada’s cancer patients are just collateral damage as we attempt to export oil faster than grain. A handful of Indonesian islands are being scraped off the globe for tin solder for circuits; iPhones and singing greeting cards and profanity spouting frog toys, seriously, and it it’s not my problem ’cause it’s not my cancer or my water! That’s how we roll.

    The planet Earth closing out sale has low, low, LOW prices and we’re open 24 hours!

  5. Here’s a copy of an email I sent Jan. 22 to Ezra Levant and Amanda Achtman:

    Mr. Levant/ Ms. Achtman:

    On the Jan. 22 edition of The Source, Amanda Achtman (
    community organizer) was one of the guests. She was discussing the growing
    interest in the website she launched a few days ago:
    which accepts donations:

    “Please help us fight back against foreign celebrities and their slander.
    Make a donation to help us keep these ads on the air. It’s time to expose
    Neil Young’s lies and defend Canada from foreign lobbyists seeking to
    undermine our interests and our values.”

    Ezra stated the Tides Foundation keeps the identity of their donors a secret.

    I notice also accepts donations:

    “We DO accept donations from Canadian individuals and companies, including
    those working to produce Ethical Oil.”

    1. Please forward a list of all the individuals and companies who have
    ever donated to and

    2. Is Amanda going to create a page on both and that will list the names of individuals and
    companies who have ever made a donation, with continuous updates of who is

    To keep these lists a secret would be an example of the pot calling the
    kettle black.

    3. Does make yearly audited financial statements available
    to the public? If yes, are these statements available on the Internet? If
    no, why aren’t these statements available?


  6. Northern man, better keep your head
    Don’t forget what the Good Book said
    Global change gonna come to pass
    Now your dirty oil is flowin’ fast
    Northern man.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.