EDMONTON — Hollywood director James Cameron called Alberta’s oilsands a gift to the country but said it could also be a curse if development continues without more respect for Mother Nature.
In an hour-long news conference Wednesday, Cameron said he was horrified by his initial look at open-pit mines and tailings ponds north of Fort McMurray but he also said he had some hope that the resource can be developed more responsibly in the future.
He suggested the Alberta government should consider a moratorium on new tailings ponds until science can prove they are not harming the environment and First Nations communities downstream.
“This thing is big. It’s huge in Alberta,” he said. “You guys are going to be in the world spotlight.”
Cameron held the news conference after he met with Premier Ed Stelmach at his office in the legislature on issues surrounding the oilsands operations in northern Alberta.
Cameron, who arrived at the legislature just before 10:30 a.m. in an SUV, made a few brief comments to reporters on the way into the building. It had been reported that Cameron had agreed to help First Nation communities in the Fort Chipewyan area with legal action against the government, but the director backed away from that position.
“No I never said that. What I said was that I was there to support whatever needed to be done. If they choose to take legal action that’s their right, and I didn’t encourage them one way or the other.”
Cameron, wearing a suit and bright blue tie, also said he met with leading water expert David Schindler early Wednesday.
“He made time for me and I was grateful for that,” Cameron said. “This is all just part of meeting the right people and he’s done a lot of important research in the area of the contamination of the watershed and the atmosphere and his science has been peer-reviewed and published and I think it stands up to scrutiny.
“I think he has come out against some of the practices of RAMP and with good reason.”
RAMP, the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, is the joint government-industry initiative that has been set up to monitor water quality in the oilsands region. Schindler released a study earlier this month that took issue with the program’s results
“I think the fact that everybody has stepped forward so graciously to give me some time and give me the benefit of their experience has been remarkable,” Cameron said. “Everybody has got a story to tell. The thing is all these realities are considerably different.”
Schindler said he discussed his research with Cameron but he declined to elaborate.
Cameron then signed in at the legislature security desk, received a visitor tag, and was led upstairs to the premier’s office. He got off the elevator and proceeded into the office without another word. In tow was Jerry Bellikka, one of Stelmach’s spokesmen.
During the meeting, a crew of New York-based reporters working for Oprah Winfrey were denied entry into the legislature building because they didn’t have local press credentials. The issue was resolved when Legislature Press Gallery president Kim Trynacity intervened on their behalf with security officers.
Earlier this year, Forbes magazine ranked Cameron and Winfrey two of the top three most powerful celebrities in the world. The third was pop singer and actor Beyonce Knowles.
After the meeting with Stelmach, Cameron held a news conference at 12:45 to talk about his three-day visit to Alberta. Stelmach will hold his own news conference this afternoon at 2:30 p.m.
Earlier Wednesday morning, Cameron had breakfast with Alberta NDP environment critic Rachel Notley. Notley feels that the director’s highly publicized visit is a chance for scrutiny about the pace of development of the oilsands, its oversight and standards, and cumulative impact.
“Mr. Cameron’s opinion stands to increase pressure on government to do a better job,” said Notley in a news release.
The director, famous for movies such as Avatar and Titanic, had a busy Tuesday. Cameron took a morning tour of the Syncrude facility north of Fort McMurray, stopping at a reclaimed slough. Following his visit at Syncrude, Cameron had an aerial tour of Suncor’s oilsands facility, and stopped to investigate an in situ operation near Christina Lake. Later in the day, he also met with Fort Chipewyan community leaders and residents.
The small town of 1,200 has been complaining for years about unusual rates of cancer and other illnesses among residents. The majority believe the disease is caused by air and water pollution from oilsands development, which they say also contaminates the wild foods they eat.
Cameron has been an outspoken critic of the oilsands, calling the industry a black eye on Canada’s environmental record earlier this year.© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
not sure but I was expecting more from Cameron… ok next!