Some of the anger was also directed at the helicopter pilot who was hired to take Fonda on the Greenpeace-led tour.
Paul Spring, the owner of Phoenix Heli-Flight, has flown several celebrities in his chopper over the years. But while he feels a bit of the heat, Spring said he uses the time to provide the celebs with a bit of perspective.
“You get a little bit, ‘Why do you take her? Why do you encourage these people to go look?’” he said Friday. “But if I don’t do it, somebody else will.
“I’ve been here for a lot of the development of the oilsands, I fly with industry, I know most of the senior VPs and I can at least tell our side of the story in a factual way, hoping that some of that information will sneak in between the environmental messaging from Greenpeace and Sierra and World Wildlife and actually make it to the celebrity’s brain.”
Spring called Fonda a “very sincere, empathetic woman,” and said she felt sorry for the people affected by the Fort McMurray wildfire. However, he thought she was being filled with misinformation.
“Basically lies, half-truths, part-truths by the people that she’s with for three or four days,” he said. “When you’ve got two Greenpeace people filling both your ears with all their propaganda and rhetoric, how do you separate the truth from what you’re hearing?”
Fonda said she made the visit to learn about the impact of oilsands development on First Nations and to support their opposition to pipelines.
Spring, who moved to Fort McMurray in 1985, said he had a good conversation with Fonda about the type of development done in northern Alberta.
“Yeah, we’re producing a hydrocarbon resource here, whether it’s oil or petrochemical stock for plastics, there is a byproduct that comes with that, there is pollution. But it’s the same with every industry,” he explained.
“To pick on Fort McMurray is ridiculous because, if you look at other oil-producing nations around the world like Venezuela, Russia, China, they have no environmental standards. But we’re a really easy whipping boy because you can come to Canada, be treated nice, talk to media. You aren’t arrested, you don’t disappear, we’re just too nice I think is the problem.”
Fonda was the latest in a long line of prominent people to visit the oilsands, including musician Neil Young, Hollywood director James Cameron and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Spring, who moved to Fort McMurray in 1985, was at the helm when actor Leonardo DiCaprio toured the region.
“When you get people like Leonardo DiCaprio coming and Bill Nye, they’re here with an agenda. They’re here to produce a documentary or, as they say, a documentary however one-sided. They’re here to push an agenda and that agenda belongs to the people who brought them here,” Spring said.
Spring said most celebrity tours receive some attention but believes this particular visit got even more attention “because the community of Fort McMurray and the industry in Fort McMurray has just had enough of fly-in, fly-out celebrities who pop in here, think they know everything and then go tell the world that we’re bad people and it’s just not true.”
Not all of Spring’s tours have the same tone, he said. His flight with Martha Stewart was one of his best memories.
“(She) is a very nice lady, had a lot of time to listen to the facts, wasn’t here to judge and took it all in; took the good with the bad,” he said. “(She) realized that we are reclaiming the ground, that we’re operating responsibly and producing this product, this commodity that the world wants in a very responsible way. So it was a pleasure flying her.”
Fonda’s visit also sparked harsh words from Premier Rachel Notley, who said the celebrity doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Notley also said she was frustrated that Fonda engaged in “non-fact-based” commentary and suggested her visit wasn’t particularly sensitive to the people of Fort McMurray as they rebuild after a catastrophic wildfire and cope with the fallout of slumping oil prices.