Rural MLAs have to think strategically, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett told the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce during a recent tour of the Cariboo.
“We are in the minority,” Bennett said. “It’s particularly true in B.C. We’re the most urban province in the country. The majority of our population lives in the Lower Mainland and if they don’t they live in Prince George, Kelowna or Kamloops.”
The province is “highly urbanized,” which means not only geography, but culture and values.
Experiences and values are going to differ depending on where people live.
Bennett said government needs to focus on revenue by lowering taxes and by creating a responsible regulatory regime that is not an automatic “no.”
Referring to a book published by Harvard 20 years ago, Getting to Yes, Bennett suggested governments have to view projects from that perspective.
“When somebody’s proposing a mine comes to the province, the province goes and has a look at what the environmental risk is.”
The province “should” state the identified risks and the choice is then whether the risks are too great or getting to “yes” by encouraging companies to mitigate those risks.
“If we can do that we have found a way for the project to go forward. In my view Taseko Mines did exactly that,” Bennett said. “They came to the province with a project.”
There’s nothing unique from an engineering perspective with the project, he added. It’s an open pit mine and it’s got all the characteristics of a copper gold mine and the environmental risks can be mitigated.
“It’s being done all over the province and we do it really well here in B.C. but it takes elected people with some backbone because the opposition to that type of economic development is prophetically powerful in today’s world.”
There are a whole bunch of people in B.C. and in the world who will say “no” and it makes it difficult for rural MLAs to push projects, like New Prosperity.
“Lack of scientific literacy is a major problem for resource industries in Canada and around the world,” Bennett said. “Listen to the debate on the Keystone Pipeline and the proposed oil pipeline in B.C. You hear statements that are factually wrong.”
There are things to be worried about and getting to “yes” does not mean not worrying about environmental implications.
“I’m just trying to make a point that in a world that’s driven by values in cities to make decisions out on the land around resources. The people in Vancouver don’t realize they’re the biggest mining town, the biggest logging town in B.C. Their economy is driven by mining, forestry, oil and gas, and tourism.”
Bennett said the Liberals supported New Prosperity the first go around, but the federal government “let the provincial government down.”
“Here we are back in the process again,” he said adding the minister of energy, mines and oil and gas believes the federal government needs to speak first, whether they are going to approve it before the provincial government gives its opinion.
“I’m not going to prejudge what the environmental assessment office of B.C. is going to do, second time around. We need to wait for the federal government to decide if it is going to approve this project or not. I certainly hope they do. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t.”
Liberal MLA Donna Barnett said she wants the project to go ahead because it is vital to the region’s economy.
When she was chair of the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition, a study on keeping the region vibrant, she suggested new resource development, including mines, was the answer.
“We didn’t specify any specific projects at the time, but I will say I support New Prosperity to the fullest and am waiting for the federal government’s environmental review process,” Barnett said, adding there are issues that have to be dealt with.
“If the mine does not go, the future of the Cariboo Chilcotin looks very bleak. We have pine beetle and we know in the not so distance future the annual allowable cuts are going to come down.”
New Prosperity will be environmentally sensitive, she said.
“You cannot have an industry such as mining in this province without the strictest regulations at all times. We have to think about what is going to be here for our children. We talk about keeping the environment clean for our children. Yes, that is a priority, but it is also a priority that our children have jobs for the future.”