Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski is responding to criticism from a Conservative counterpart who was in Cranbrook a week ago pushing the federal Liberal government to divest the Dominion Coal Block in the Elk Valley.
Candice Bergen, the Conservative Opposition Critic for Natural Resources who represents the Portage – Lisgar riding in Manitoba, made her comments on the issue during a press conference while she was in town to meet with mining industry companies and associations.
Bergen charged that Stetski wasn’t aware of the Dominion Coal Block issue — a tract of federally-owned land in the Elk Valley that should be developed for coal mining.
Stetski took issue with Bergen’s comments in an email statement to the Townsman.
“It is totally over the top that the Conservatives would send someone from Manitoba to tell us what is best for our region,” wrote Stetski, “particularly since the former Conservative government and local Conservative MP failed — during their decade in power — to do what they are now asking of the Liberals.”
During the press conference, Bergen defended the Conservative’s handling of the issue, which was being led by former Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks.
“We were moving it forward,” Bergen said. “It was on our radar, there were a number of different MPs that David worked with — Ted Menzies, the late Jim Flaherty. We are, fundamentally as Conservatives, really proud of natural resources and we don’t think this coal should be left in the ground, it should be used to make steel and this is what David Wilks was doing and promoting.”
Stetski said the federal government has a duty to protect the constitutional rights of the Ktunaxa Nation and also promised to be more open, transparent, and work with communities.
“Rushing to sell this property just to reduce the burgeoning Liberal deficit could create legal problems and cost us as taxpayers if it is not done properly,” wrote Stetski, “similar to when the Conservatives held a fire sale on billions of dollars of our General Motors stocks to try and balance their budget in 2015.”
Any decision to sell the land must come after consultation process, Stetski wrote.
“Proper consultation with local governments and stakeholders must happen to ensure that these lands are used in the best interest of the region and for the people of Canada. Its best use in the long run could be to use it to trade for provincial land.”
“…The government has only one chance to get this right and they owe it to the people of our region to ensure that it is done right. I look forward to holding the government to their promise and working with all stakeholders for what is best for our region.”
Bergen also stated during her press conference that 300 jobs were on the line up in the Elk Valley, a reference to Teck Coal’s plan to cease mining operations at Coal Mountain by the end of 2017.
Plans to extend operations at Coal Mountain were shelved in November 2015 due to unfavourable market conditions stemming from low commodity prices.
Bergen used the forthcoming closure of Coal Mountain to illustrate her point on the need to develop natural resources.
In a statement, Teck Coal admitted it had expressed interest in the northern Parcel of the Dominion Coal Block, however, due to current market conditions, it is not a priority for the company at this time.