Premier’s Promise of Mining Bonanza Not Quite Fulfilled, NDP Says

Clark vowed ‘eight new mines in operation by 2015.’ Success? Depends on how you count.

By Andrew MacLeod 14 Oct 2016 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Five years after Premier Christy Clark promised a bonanza of new mines in British Columbia, the NDP opposition is saying the reality has fallen far short.

Metal mining jobs in B.C. peaked in 2013 at 6,500 and have since dropped by 60 per cent, said Doug Donaldson, the NDP critic for energy and mines. “Today we’ve got fewer metal mining jobs than we did in 2011.”

The year 2011 is significant since that fall Clark unveiled the BC Jobs Plan, which promised to ensure “that we have eight new mines in operation by 2015.”

Last year, a progressreport on the jobs plan counted the promise as kept, saying “Eight new mines have opened or are in construction phase, creating over 1,500 jobs.”

It was unclear, however, exactly which mines the government meant.

Former NDP mining critic Norm Macdonald raised the matter last April during debate of the energy and mines ministry budget. By his count, he said, “Rather than the 1,500 jobs that we were promised and instead of eight more mines as we were promised, we end up with three opened, one opened and closed, two reopened, but over a dozen closed — almost a dozen less mines operating in B.C. right now.”

The minister responsible, Bill Bennett, during the debate called Macdonald’s numbers “grossly incorrect” and said that six new mines, which he didn’t name, had been opened and two more, which he did, were under construction.

“That’s eight new mines since 2011,” he said. “That, in fact, represents a renaissance in mining, in new mines in this province.”

This week, a ministry spokesperson in an email said, “We have five new mines today that we didn’t have in 2011 — creating more than 1,500 new jobs.”

His list included three that are actually operating and new: Copper Mountain, Mount Milligan and Red Chris. A fourth, New Afton near Kamloops, was the reopening of a mine on the site of the old Afton mine, which had been long inactive.

The list also included Barkerville Gold, which is currently closed but expected to re-open later this year.

And it included Banks Island Gold, which opened in January 2015 but closed in July that year after the province ordered it to cease and desist operations until it complied with a pollution abatement order. The company filed for bankruptcy in January this year.

The spokesperson said two more mines, Brucejack and Silvertip, received permits last year and are under construction, together employing some 900 people today.

To the NDP’s Donaldson, however, it’s clear the government missed its target. “That’s typical of most of the claims and promises we’ve seen,” he said. “I’m sure if they could get away with it, they’d consider Mount Polley a new mine so they could count those jobs in the jobs plan.”

Mount Polley, which is reopening, closed in 2014 after a tailings pond dam failed, causing the damaging release of some 25 million cubic metres of wastewater and tailings from the Imperial Metals mine 56 kilometres northeast of Williams Lake.

Donaldson said the mining pledge belongs with unfulfilled promises that Clark and the Liberals have made about starting a liquefied natural gas export industry, putting families first, making the province violence free or eliminating the provincial debt.

“It’s a pattern of saying one thing because it sounds good at the time and not following through with action or follow up,” he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: Environment

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