Criticisms of the B.C. government’s mining strategy made by the Independent MLA for Cariboo North have sparked a reaction from the minister of energy and mines.
MLA Bob Simpson says his criticisms are both economical and environmental and that he’s been having discussions with people about whether there’s a need for a Crown corporation for natural resources extraction that sets limits on how much mineral resources are put into the market place at any given time.
“If you think about it, eight new mines, nine mine expansions in B.C. all coming into the market place at one time you’ll deflate the market. Most of these are marginal mineral resources that need a very high market so it doesn’t make sense even from that perspective,” Simpson says.
Reacting, Mines Minister Rich Coleman says he disagrees.
“I don’t know where he’s coming from, saying that we shouldn’t move too fast on mines because we might affect the world markets,” Coleman says. “It’s actually quite bizarre considering the fact that we’re a low producer given the world economy.”
For example, he says, in one year, the Three Gorges dam in China took a year’s worth of the world’s supply of copper.
“We’re a small percentage of the world’s supply of copper. We shouldn’t hedge away from any economic opportunity in and around mines in B.C.”
Countering Coleman, Simpson likens mining to oil and gas where companies are trying to feed China all at the same time.
“We’re not alone. Australia is coming on stream, South America is coming on stream, anybody with potential to extract minerals from the earth are all trying to ramp up their ability to sell those minerals to the big giant economies of China and India all at the same time,” Simpson says. “And they’ll all start just again, like natural gas, being able to come into that market place around the same time.”
Arguing that mining can be done environmentally and properly sustainable, Coleman confirms mine expansions and new mines will be pursued aggressively in B.C. because they provide good jobs.
“The average pays about $118,000 a year at a mining job. Those are family-supporting jobs. It would be crazy for us to say let’s not do this,” Coleman says.
Saying Coleman is correct that mining jobs are high paying jobs, and he doesn’t disagree that mining resources should be extracted, Simpson suggests they are unsustainable, short-lived and short-term jobs, and shouldn’t be pursued under a rapid political agenda.
“If you look at it at face value, why would we bring all of the jobs associated with eight mines and nine mining expansions all at the same time?” Simpson asks. “Why would you not disperse that job creation and job supporting activity over a longer time frame?”
Simpson says if they all come on stream at the same time, British Columbia wouldn’t have the work force to sustain them. Current mining operations and current oil and gas operations, he says, have already come up against a skilled labour shortage.
“Yes the government announced there’s going to be some money put to apprenticeship training, but it will simply not meet the demands bringing all of those mines on stream in the same time window.”
Not backing down, Coleman says a number of mines are in for application for expansion, two of them are already operating, and three are not too far away from their expansion plans, while a couple of others will come through in the new year.
“That goal will be achievable to get eight new mines, since we have three potential mines up Highway 37 and the northwest part of the province on their own right and there could be five there,” Coleman says. “Those opportunities are there.”
He says there are opportunities in southeastern B.C. and in northeastern B.C. in some significant coal deposits and other deposits.
“Achieving that goal isn’t an extensive thing,” Coleman says, adding he thinks it’s actually good news for B.C. because it will bring thousands of new jobs to people in communities where they need them.
And in reference to Simpson’s suggestion that the province needs a neutral body, Coleman points out he feels a neutral body already exists so there is no need to create another level of government.
“If you have a major mine, it goes through an environmental assessment process which is basically a statutory authority that is a neutral body that does the environmental assessment of any mine. We have statutory positions throughout government whenever we do something with regards to how we do permits,” Coleman says.
Simpson insists, however, like it’s done for the forests in British Columbia, where the chief forester determines an annual allowable cut, something similar needs to be done with non-renewable resources.