Op-Ed: Failure to engage first nations snags mining plans
By Doug Donaldson
Mining Week in B.C. is an opportunity to remind British Columbians of the importance of the resource economy in our province. We are blessed with a province rich in many natural resources that have always played an important role in our economy, from fishing to forestry to mining.
With the recent decline in the forest sector, mining is increasingly important for British Columbia. It provides important economic benefits throughout the province, support for government programs like education and health care, and offers good jobs, especially in rural communities.
Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic increase in world metal prices, which in turn has led to an increase in exploration throughout the province. B.C.’s New Democrats are meeting and working with the mining industry in order to better understand their needs. What we have heard is that certainty on the land base is crucial when deciding where to pursue investment.
Miners on the road to success understand the need for social license in order for projects to proceed. And the basis of that social license is having a full, robust hearing of social, cultural, economic and environmental aspects of a proposed project. Taking shortcuts leads to uncertainty, and uncertainty leads to unnecessary delays in reaching a decision.
Successful mining companies understand this. It seems the B.C. Liberal government does not.
The government has failed to capitalize on a decade of soaring commodity prices. While prices went up, the government’s investment in the success of the industry went down through cuts to the resource ministries, changes to environmental standards that lost the public’s trust, and a failure to create a framework for consultation with first nations that is both respectful and thorough. All of these failures contribute to uncertainty for miners.
The failure to develop a constructive relationship with first nations and a consultation framework to guide companies in their attempts to develop our mineral resources has created much division in communities and reduced certainty on the land base. Nowhere is the breakdown in constructive dialogue more evident than in the case of the Prosperity and New Prosperity mine proposals put forward by Taseko Mines. Instead of fostering an inclusive process and encouraging Taseko to work with local first nations, the B.C. government promoted the mine — even before the federal environmental assessment process was complete.
British Columbians hear every day that the Liberals won’t take a position on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline because it is under federal review. But in the case of Taseko’s original proposal, they were more than happy to weigh in. After the federal review rejected the mine, calling the environmental concerns “pronounced” and “scathing,” while citing the “loss of the entire ecosystem,” Premier Clark said it was a “dumb decision” not to allow the mine to be built.
As Taseko moves into a new federal hearing based on revised plans that would save Fish Lake, but locate the tailings pond upstream of it, we find yet another example of strained relationships with first nations. The federal minister has been asked to ban aboriginal prayer ceremonies, remove any consideration of native spirituality in the review and ensure assessment panel membership does not include those of first nations descent. A request like this displays an unfortunate lack of understanding of the cultural reality under which resource companies must operate in B.C. to be successful.
The province needs a stronger framework for first nation consultation so industry knows what is expected of them in support of the government-to-government negotiations on resource development. Despite industry asking for such a framework, the B.C. Liberal government has failed to develop one.
Adrian Dix and B.C.’s New Democrats believe the way forward to increased prosperity and reduction of inequality should include measures to help the rural, resource-based economy, including a focus on trades training, restoring trust in the environmental assessment process, and improving the framework for first nations and community consultations.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.