Bennett pitches B.C. mining in Ottawa

Kootenay East MLA and Minister of Energy and Mines in Ottawa this week, lobbying federal ministers for the proposed Prosperity mine

The Kootenay East MLA and Minister of Energy and Mines was in Ottawa this week, lobbying federal ministers for Taseko Mines’ proposed $1 billion New Prosperity mine in the Cariboo region.

Along the way, Bill Bennett was invited to open the trading day at the Toronto Stock Exchange, in a moment recognizing B.C. mining and mineral exploration.

“I was there before Christmas too,” Bennett told the Townsman on Tuesday. “But I went back, because I hadn’t met with all the ministers I wanted to meet with.”

Bennett said he met with several ministers in Ottawa on Monday. The next day he was in Toronto to open the trading day at the Toronto Stock Exchange along with members of the Association of Mineral Exploration B.C. (AMEBC), who had helped organize the trip.

“They (AMEBC) invited  out a bunch of investment analysts and brokers and Toronto-based mining companies to help us open the Toronto Stock Exchange,” Bennett said.

Bennett rang the opening bell at the TSX and afterwards had lunch with about 50 mining and investment executives, “with the idea of encouraging people to bring their money to B.C. and invest it in mining.”

The Prosperity proposal — an open pit gold and copper mine near Williams Lake — still requires the approval of both the federal and provincial governments to proceed.

“I get the feeling that they understand the project better,” Bennett said. “Ottawa’s a long ways away from British Columbia. Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand that there’s engineering and technology available to mitigate environmental issues — even major environmental issues.”

Bennett’s trips to Ottawa in December and January follow a report in November by a federal environmental assessment panel, which found flaws in Taseko’s proposal.

The panel determined the mine, which would cover 27 square kilometres in the Fish Creek watershed, would result in the total loss of Little Fish Lake to a tailings storage facility.

However, Taseko has said the panel used incorrect information for its final assessment. Taseko said in letters to both the assessment agency and federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq that Natural Resources Canada assumed the tailings storage would be placed on the ground, instead of on an engineered liner.

During public hearings in August, the panel heard that the area is used by Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc communities for hunting, trapping, fishing and for carrying out ceremonial and spiritual practices.

“In the case of the new Prosperity project, there is one particular environmental issue that has to be managed,” Bennett said. “It has to be managed perfectly, and that is the capture of water in the tailings pond and then making sure that water doesn’t leach through the ground, the two kilometres distance to Fish Lake.

“So we have copper and gold mines in B.C. that operate the same as the new Prosperity project would operate. Tailings ponds, the same thing — they capture the water, it doesn’t leach into adjoining water courses.”

Bennett’s trip to the capital was also to promote the mining projects that have proceeded Prosperity and the B.C. government’s efforts to open more. Production is to start this year at Red Chris, a $500 million copper and gold mine near Dease Lake expected to employ 750 people. The Roman coal mine near Tumbler Ridge is also set to start up this year, with 375 employees. The Mount Milligan copper-gold mine northwest of Prince George started production in September, bringing the total operating mines to 19.

“For me, it was a process of education, in a way,” Bennett said, “making sure that ministers who perhaps come from big cities and who are unfamiliar with mining realize that it’s a question of spending the money and having the technology and engineering to construct the mine in such a way as to make it environmentally acceptable.

“I think I got the message across — it’s a tough one for them and now we just have to wait and see what they decide to do.”

Bennett added that the B.C. government is trying to up its presence in the nation’s capital, much as other provincial governments have a persistant presence there.

“B.C. ministers need to be in Ottawa to make sure Ottawa understands our issues,” Bennett said. “Alberta ministers are there all the time, Ontario ministers are there all the time. Quebec ministers are there on a daily basis. It takes so long to bring a project like Prosperity forward — it takes decades to get it to the point where it actually becomes an operating mine, you really need to give it your best shot to get it approved.

“It represents 550 full-time jobs for decades and decades, at an average of about $120,000 a year, in an area of the province — the Cariboo — that is pretty hard pressed for jobs right now.

With files from Black Press and Canadian Press