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Alberta premier keen to meet filmmaker Cameron

EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach hasn't heard back from Hollywood director James Cameron on a face-to-face meeting next week about the oilsands, but he promises he'll keep his calendar free.

EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach hasn't heard back from Hollywood director James Cameron on a face-to-face meeting next week about the oilsands, but he promises he'll keep his calendar free.

"I never really want to pass up an opportunity to get the information across," Stelmach said Tuesday. "He (Cameron) obviously has and will continue to have a lot of influence in an industry that can be of benefit.

"At least it will provide information to him in a meeting that will give our side of the story."

The Ontario-born filmmaker of such blockbuster movies as "Terminator," "Titanic" and "Avatar" sent Stelmach's office a note two weeks ago that said he'd like to meet with the premier in Edmonton from 10 a.m. to noon on Sept. 29.

Stelmach's office has since tried to contact Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment business in Santa Monica, Calif., to confirm details but has not heard back.

When asked by reporters whether he thinks he — and by extension the province — is being treated rudely by Cameron, he said no. He added he's always happy to tell his story on the contentious issue.

The requested meeting would come during a crunch in Stelmach's schedule. He has to be in the Ottawa area the previous day. He said he'd have to forgo his usual commercial flight and charter an aircraft to ensure he'd be back for the Cameron tete-a-tete.

"We're looking at all possible options. I think the only option left is a government plane, and it's a long flight."

In his letter, Cameron said he is planning a three-day trip to northern Alberta. On Sept. 28 he plans to tour the oilsands, meet with industry officials and talk with aboriginal groups who live downstream of the massive operation and say the industry is polluting their water and making them ill.

It was Cameron who got the ball rolling five months ago when he criticized the oilsands in an interview while promoting "Avatar," which has a strong environmental theme.

He said he didn't know much about the oilsands, but suggested they were a "black eye'' on Canada's image as an enviro-leader. He also said pursuing non-renewable energy sources is "dead-end'' thinking. Days later, Stelmach publicly invited Cameron to visit.

Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance party, said Stelmach is sitting on top of the safest and largest supply of proven oil reserves in the world and doesn't need to genuflect before Cameron.

"We're being treated like a junior player on the world stage," said Smith. "We're standing around waiting to get some attention from a movie director. It's actually quite embarrassing."

Smith said Stelmach should continue courting U.S. politicians and policy-makers who decide whether to take bitumen from the oilsands.

"They're the ones who are going to have a real impact."

Political scientist Keith Brownsey at Mount Royal University in Calgary said the outspoken Cameron is a bit of a wild card, but Stelmach needs to meet with him.

"Whether or not you agree with his positions, (Cameron) wields an awful lot of authority simply because of who he is and what he's produced in the entertainment world," said Brownsey.

"(But) this isn't a win or lose situation. It's an opportunity for the government to come out and demonstrate that we are concerned and we are trying to clean this up, and while it's a difficult process we're making some headway.

"By having the premier with James Cameron, it transmits that message."

Cameron has made enemies on the environmental front. He recently challenged "climate change deniers" and said: "I want to call those deniers out into the street at high noon and shoot it out with those boneheads."

He later agreed to a public debate on the topic but pulled out.

Cameron's visit comes as Alberta continues a public relations war over the oilsands. Greenpeace and other environmental groups are putting pressure on tourists and other jurisdictions to give the province a miss to send a message about pollution.

While strip mines are a small percentage of Alberta's oilsands operations, about 600 square kilometres, Stelmach has acknowledged that the inland lakes of chemical waste they produce — called tailings ponds — have to go.

Critics have compared the oilsands to the plot of "Avatar'' in which indigenous tribespeople living in harmony on the woodland planet of Pandora use bows and arrows to repel hard-hatted invaders who claw, peel and raze the landscape with brutish metal machines to unearth precious resources below.

Stelmach hasn't seen the movie.

Smith joked that maybe the oilsands trip is nothing more than a location shoot for Cameron's next movie.

"This is going to result in Avatar 2."

 
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