Sunday 20th September 2020

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The Fraser Institute and British Columbia’s mining minister discuss policies

Whether his presentation was a report or a political speech, provincial mines minister
Bill Bennett was warmly received by 180 members of AME BC in Vancouver.

Referring to his government’s revenue sharing program as “ground-breaking stuff,” he said, “I think that within the next five years the rest of Canada is going to realize that we’re ahead of them” on native issues.

On permitting, “notices of work have gone down to a 64-day average. Our target is to get them down by the end of this year to 60 days.”

The province will continue working with Ottawa to reduce duplication in environmental assessments, he promised. “We worked a long, long time on that and it’s an improvement,” Bennett said. “I think we can do better if we can get to substitution, personally, and we’re going to keep working towards that goal.”

Flow-through tax credits will be reassessed for next spring’s provincial budget, he pointed out. “I was told that the mining flow-through tax credit is expected to cost the province about $10 million in 2012-13. That to me is not a cost, it’s an investment. That’s the way I see it and that’s the way I’ll represent it.”

The Fraser Institute and British Columbia’s mining minister discuss policies

But the extent to which a mere cabinet minister can influence this government remains to be seen. Under Premier Christy Clark’s BC Liberal predecessor Gordon Campbell, policies were determined by the premier and his unelected inner circle, who sometimes kept ministers in the dark until major decisions involving their departments had already been made. Clark, who trades largely on her personality, has yet to show how she’ll govern.

It was under her leadership that the government rejected Pacific Booker Minerals’ TSXV:BKM proposed Morrison copper-gold-molybdenum mine despite a favourable environmental assessment. Speaking to following his speech, Bennett declined to discuss it. “I’m not going to get into the dissection of the decision,” he said. “It’s in court and clearly a minister would be far better off to let the courts figure that out.”

The company has asked the B.C. Supreme Court to order the government to reconsider the mine.

Bennett told he’s not aware of additional proposals similar to HD Mining International’s plan to hire exclusively Mandarin-speaking Chinese for underground operations at its Murray River coal project.

In October 2012 a spokesperson for Canadian Dehua, which holds a 40% interest in HD Mining (another 55% is held by Chinese coal miner Huiyong Holdings) said his company had three more coal mines proposed for B.C., which would all follow the same hiring policy. The BC Liberals overwhelmingly supported HD Mining’s plan despite widespread public concern about Canadian jobs and the Chinese mining industry’s notorious fatality record.

But when asked by, Bennett played down his government’s enthusiasm. “The only way that our government will support temporary foreign workers is if we are absolutely certain that they can’t find workers here in B.C. first of all, or in Canada, to do the work and we know that’s the threshold for the federal government…. We don’t have a categorical support or opposition to it, we just take it case by case.”

Isn’t he concerned that the imported workers are exclusively the same ethnic and linguistic group as the owners?

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Bennett replied. “It’s not relevant to me where somebody comes from or what language they speak.”

In an article about Chinese-owned mines in Tibet published last April, the Economist wrote, “Managers at big state-owned firms are usually Han Chinese, who in turn tend to regard their own ethnic kin as easier to control and communicate with than Tibetans.”

While HD Mining now says it will transfer 10% of its underground jobs to Canadians each year, those jobs might actually go to “temporary” foreign workers who become Canadian citizens. Under such a scenario, Chinese companies could maintain ethnic and linguistic exclusivity in their B.C. operations indefinitely.

But that might apply only to actual mining positions. HD Mining does hire Canadians for other jobs, including a former deputy minister and former BC Liberal minister of mines.

Regardless, Bennett’s AME BC speech went over well. No doubt some of the audience remembered the industry-wide trepidation that suddenly ended with last May’s unexpected BC Liberal re-election. Referring to the rival NDP’s decade in office, Bennett couldn’t resist reminding his listeners that “more mines closed in the 1990s than opened.” Now B.C. has “20 major mines and major mine expansions moving through the environmental assessment office,” he said.

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