Saturday, August 23, 2014
Mount Polley Lessons
Is the BC government trying to 'defy gravity'?
Released by Dermod Travis,
economy is already facing what seems like the perfect economic storm
of stagnant job growth, an acute skills shortage and the recent
Supreme Court of Canada decision on First Nation land title claims
can now add one more low pressure system into that mix: the Mount
Polley Mine disaster.
In its wake to date:
government announced delays to Imperial Metals' Red Chris Mine and
the suspension of the environmental assessment of the Morrison
open-pit mine project northeast of Smithers. For the mining sector
who had wanted environmental assessments and mine approvals reduced
from upwards of ten years to as little as three Mount Polley threw
a big wet dish rag on that one as well.
But what hurts the most about Mount Polley? It may prove, at least
in part, to be self-inflicted, laying waste to that old cliché that
'a penny saved is a penny earned.'
In its obsession to balance the budget at all costs, the B.C.
government may have overlooked the fact that cutting corners doesn't
always payoff in the long run. Sometimes you need to spend money in
order to save it.
As part of its 2001 'Core Services Review: The Original' (not the
sequel), the government of Gordon Campbell cut the public-sector by
roughly 7,000 positions. Red tape was out, deregulation was in.
Industry, according to the senior mandarins of the day, could be
trusted to inspect itself for the most part, with an occasional
personal appearance from a government inspector but never
Despite early warning signs from the Walkerton tragedy in Ontario
that cutbacks might not work out so well, the Campbell government
continued on its merry cost-cutting ways.
A few months later, in 2002, Justice Dennis O'Connor, who had been
appointed by the Ontario government to conduct the Walkerton
Inquiry, formally concluded that government cutbacks had made the
environment ministry less capable of identifying and dealing with
Fast forward to 2010, when the Testalinden Dam burst near Oliver,
B.C. Commenting on the failure at the time, B.C. Public Safety
Minister Michael de Jong stated: going forward, we will ensure
communities are better protected from this kind of risk. That
commitment didn't work out so well.
And just as there were early warnings over the Testalinden Dam,
there were also warnings over Mount Polley.
If the lessons from Walkerton and Testalinden didn't sink in, maybe
this time they will. As they say: third time lucky. Some of those
lessons start at the top.
First: political leaders who like parades need to be present when
communities are hurting and shouldn't have to be chased by the media
to show up.
All point bulletins shouldn't have to be issued for key ministers to
report for duty either. It sucks when things go wrong on your
holidays, but you signed up for the job. And that means being
available to your office 24/7, 365 days of the year. Out of cell
phone range doesn't cut it.
The government needs to shoot straight with the public. No more
references to toxic sludge as fine sand or comparing a tailings dam
breach with an avalanche or saying this shouldn't have happened.
British Columbians had that last one figured out all on their own
without the assistance of the B.C. Government and Public Engagement
The government's duty, first and foremost, is to British Columbians,
not the shareholders of Imperial Metals. They can handle their own
Stop trying to defy gravity. Case in point: in an August 8 interview
on CBC Radio, Environment Minister Mary Polak claimed that "the
number of inspections of mines has not changed," since the B.C.
Liberals came to power in 2001. On the very same day, David P. Ball
reported in The Tyee that the number of mine inspections in 2001,
were nearly double the number as there were in 2012.
And while it may seem an eternity ago, only last year British
Columbians were being promised yellow brick roads paved with $100
billion in LNG prosperity gold. Promises that seem more fanciful by
But despite that hoopla, the single biggest job creation project in
B.C. for 2014 may very well be the clean-up at the Mount Polley
Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.
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