VANCOUVER — It has been over two years since Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals outlined a plan to make the province a national leader in job creation by 2015.
Part of this strategy is a pro-mining stance that includes a commitment help start up eight new mines and, while approving the expansions of nine more.
Fast-forward to the beginning of 2014, and the Liberal government is again beating its pro-mining drum and trumpeting the industry’s importance to the provincial economy. The new year was heralded by Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett’s visit to Toronto, where he rang the opening bell at the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Bennett’s visit to Canada’s financial centre is his second in about two months. He was meeting with Toronto-based mining executives to promote investment in B.C., and frontrunning the provincial government’s continued support for Taseko Mines’ (TSX: TKO; NYSE-MKT: TGB) New Prosperity copper–gold project in the Cariboo–Chilcotin region.
On Jan. 14 the Ministry of Energy and Mines reaffirmed 2014 as a year in which the government will push its “focus on mining.” The Ministry notes that since the onset of the BC Jobs Plan, two new mines have provided 1,755 full-time jobs in B.C. — namely New Gold’s (TSX: NGD; NYSE-MKT: NGD) New Afton copper–gold project near Kamloops and Thompson Creek Metals’ (TSX: TCM; NYSE: TC) Mount Milligan copper–gold mine northwest of Prince George.
The government estimates another 1,125 full-time jobs will be added in 2014 via a pair of projects in northern B.C.: Imperial Metals’ (TSX: III; TSX: IPMLF) Red Chris copper–gold mine just south of Dease Lake is slated to tack on 750 positions, while Anglo American’s (LSE: AAL; US-OTC: AAUKY) Roman expansion at its Trend coal mine near Tumbler Ridge is set to add another 375 jobs.
“B.C.’s mining industry has not only helped shape B.C. over the last 150 years, it is an integral part of our province’s strong and stable economic future,” Bennett noted in a prepared statement.
Despite the mine-friendly Liberal message, it’s becoming clear that the government will be coping with mounting pressure from environmental groups and First Nations. Taseko’s New Prosperity project, which is under review at the federal level with a decision expected by March, stands as the most prominent example.
Bennett was outspoken in his support for Taseko in mid-December at a B.C. Chamber of Conference event, and touted his first trip to Toronto where he would lobby for federal cabinet approval for the project. Just three days later, members of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation community organized protests outside of Taseko’s head offices in Vancouver.
Bennett’s unflagging support follows a controversial report in November by a federal environmental-review panel that found flaws in Taseko’s tailings facility, and a risk to the nearby Fish Creek watershed. The company has since mounted a court challenge of the panel’s findings, which it contends were based on incorrect project designs. The Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc First Nations continue to claim the project area due to its historic and spiritual significance.
A second challenge awaits the Liberals at Fortune Minerals’ (TSE: FT) Arctos anthracitic coal deposit, 330 km northeast of Prince Rupert in the Klappan region. The project sits at the headwaters of the Nass, Skeena and Stikine Rivers, which the Tahltan First Nation refers to as the “sacred headwaters.”
In September Fortune suspended its development activities at Arctos to create room for the provincial government to negotiate a solution with the Tahltan. The Liberals also imposed a one-year suspension on new coal mining tenures in the region.
Complicating matters is a campaign promise by Clark to protect the Klappan area for the Tahltan. Back in 2012 Shell Canada scored a $20-million provincial credit to cease activities in the region.
Another quietly brewing conflict is junior Pacific Booker Minerals’ (TSXV: BKM; NYSE-MKT: PBM) recent B.C. Supreme Court victory that found the government guilty of “procedural unfairness” during an environmental review of the company’s Morrison copper–gold project in 2012. Bennett declared in early January that the government would not challenge the court’s ruling, but said the court’s decision did not necessarily signify a change in the government’s stance on Morrison.
Overall 2014 is shaping up to be a busy year for the B.C. government. The mines ministry says five more mines are under construction or permitting review, with seven major mine expansions already approved and 20 “major mines and expansions moving through the province’s environmental assessment and permitting process.”
Government representatives and industry players will join forces at the end of January at the annual Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia Mineral Exploration Roundup in Vancouver. The date marks the event’s thirtieth anniversary, and will have a “resources for life” theme aimed at reflecting on the “importance of exploration for the mineral, coal and metal resources that we all use every day.”
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