British Columbia is famous in Canada for politics that are seemingly forever polarized between a freewheeling pro-business crowd and a coalition of left-leaning labour and environmental groups. And B.C. politics has never been short on drama, as voters unexpectedly lurch from hard left to hard right and back again every decade or so, with more than a few characters thrown into the mix.
The past week has delivered another doozy as B.C. Premier Christy Clark was forced to resign after her newly re-elected, pro-business minority Liberal government lost a confidence vote and the province’s Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon asked left-wing New Democratic Party Leader John Horgan to become Premier and form a government with the backing of the environmentalist Green Party.
The provincial Liberals had won a minority 43 seats in the 87-seat legislature during the election on May 9 and a cabinet had been sworn in June 12, but the government fell on a confidence vote of 44 to 42 on June 29, with 41 NDP members and three Green Party members voting against the Liberals’ 42 (one Liberal member was Speaker and could not cast a vote).
With a total of 44 seats, the NDP-Green coalition has a one-seat advantage over the Liberals.
If the NDP sacrifices one seat to the Speaker’s role this immediately puts the long-term viability of the new government in doubt, with many political observers expecting voters will return to the ballot box within a year.
Miners and mineral explorers in the province have enjoyed stability in provincial leadership since the pro-mining Liberals first came to power 16 years ago, but there has been a wholesale turnover in familiar faces at the top over the past few months, with the retirement from politics in May of long-time and indefatigable Mines and Energy Minister Bill Bennett, the resignation of Premier Clark and fall of her government, as well as the resignations of Association of Mineral Exploration president and CEO Gavin Dirom and Mining Association of British Columbia president and CEO Karina Briño.
Most people in the B.C. mining industry look back with dread and loathing at the NDP’s last turn at the helm in B.C. from 1991 to 2001. The government infamously expropriated the Windy Craggy copper deposit in 1993, killing off an exploration boom in the Golden Triangle in the province’s northwest that had started in 1989 with the Eskay Creek discovery. Mineral investment in B.C. during the “lost decade” dried up to 50-year lows, forcing the once-parochial B.C. miners abroad, where they found success in more welcoming locales, such as Mexico, Chile, Peru and Mongolia.
The B.C. Liberals were good friends to the mining industry, with such accomplishments as streamlining bureaucracy, creating Geoscience BC in 2005 and in more recent years building the $746-million Northwest Transmission Line to bring power to new mines and communities in the province’s remote northwest.
Mineral-exploration expenses in B.C. reached an all-time high of $680 million in 2012, in no small part due to the provincial government’s creation of an attractive regulatory setting.
In looking through the policy statements of the NDP and Green parties in this most recent election, both parties look to have mellowed in their outlook towards mining. Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver (a long-time professor of environmental and earth sciences at the University of Victoria) both pledged to be supporters of mining and mineral exploration and recognized the industry’s role in job creation in both urban and rural B.C., and supported a continuation of a flow-through share tax credits.
The area where the NDP and Greens most criticized the Liberals was their handling of environmental permitting and Aboriginal title disputes, claiming the process had become “structurally broken” and resulted in unnecessary permitting delays, investor uncertainty and a loss in public trust.
Still, with the new government hanging so precariously to power, it seems unlikely any major policy changes are in store, at least until another election can bring a clearer outcome.
For now, we’d predict the biggest impact on miners will be in dealing with provincial government officials as higher-ups in the government move in and out of office, and mining-related decisions get delayed amidst the political to and fro.