$30M uranium buyout sparks accusations

The B.C. government's settlement to cancel a uranium mining claim cost millions more because of political interference, NDP MLAs say.

Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman

VICTORIA – The B.C. government’s out-of-court settlement to cancel a uranium mining claim in the Okanagan cost millions more because of political interference, NDP MLAs said in the legislature Monday.

The government announced its $30 million settlement with Vancouver-based Boss Power in a news release last week, at the same time as the federal government prepared to announce shipbuilding contracts in B.C. and Nova Scotia.

NDP leader Adrian Dix demanded to know who intervened to stop the inspector of mines from considering a permit application from the company to begin work on a uranium deposit near Kelowna.

A mining tenure was issued for the deposit under the Social Credit government in 1976. The touchy issue of nuclear power and uranium was reviewed in 1979, and an eventual moratorium lasted until 1997. In 2008, the B.C. Liberal government’s energy plan formally ruled out nuclear power and uranium mining, and when Boss Power applied for work permits, they were ignored.

“It’s in the court documents that the deputy minister instructed the inspector of mines not to consider Boss Power’s application,” Dix told the legislature. “It’s crystal clear that the inspector of mines sought advice from the government’s own lawyers, who told him the law required him to consider the application. Yet the inspector of mines was still instructed to ignore the application despite the fact his superiors knew this to be against the law.”

Energy Minister Rich Coleman said the government’s refusal to allow uranium mining was made plain by legislation, and ministry staff would have been instructed accordingly. The province negotiated compensation for Boss Power for mining rights granted and then taken away, he said.

NDP energy critic John Horgan said the permit application was refused because any action on the uranium claim would have created a “political firestorm” for then-mines minister Kevin Krueger in the 2009 B.C. election. The government intervened “to protect the backside of the member from Kamloops South,” Horgan said.

Horgan said buying out the uranium claim would usually mean repaying “sunk costs” of the owner, which he estimated at $5 million. The payout was inflated because the government interfered in a legal process and exposed itself to punitive damages, he said.