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B.C. mining leading the way, Bennett finds at conference

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett spent some time this week at a renowned international mining conference in Toronto, and found that British Columbia mining is the star attraction.

"I'm walking around here and about every two minutes I'm running into someone from British Columbia," the Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Core Review told the Townsman on Monday.

The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference is one of the biggest such trade shows in the world.

“The main reason I’m here is to support the mining companies who are here, trying to find investors, essentially,” Bennett said.

“Half the people here are in the mining industry, the other half are in the financial industry.”

Bennett last attended the annual conference in 2006, when he was Minister of State for Mines. This time around, he’s found there’s a different attitude towards towards the B.C. mining industry.

“I’d say we’re number one in Canada from what I’ve seen,” he said. “There’s certainly been a change from when I was last here in 2006. And I’m understanding that change to be related to decisions that other provinces have made around their policies. They’ve really alienated the mining industry in some ways, similar to what happened in B.C. in the 1990s.

“Whereas we’ve taken this approach that it’s constant improvement. We make changes, it gets better, then a few years later we find we have to make additional changes. We are constantly trying to improve our permitting process. I’m pleasantly surprised that B.C. is as popular as we are.

“The organizers of the conference actually put me at the head table for the big lunch (Monday). I was the only provincial minister there. They’re giving us a chance to feature the province, and they’re impressed with what we’ve done in terms of our policies.”

Some of the talk at the conference concerns the federal government’s rejection — once again — of the proposed New Prosperity gold and copper mine project near Fish Lake. It has been rejected once again by the federal Ministry of Environment, in the latest of a long back-and-forth between Taseko Mines Ltd. and the Canadian government.

An independent review panel found environmental damage to the Fish Lake water supply would be irreparable. This is the second proposal Taseko has put forward for the open pit mine, roughly 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.

Bennett offered his comments on that situation:

“The international mining industry is really plugged in,” he said. “They know what’s happening in every jurisdiction in the world. And there’s a lot of disappointment.

“But I also think the federal cabinet was really boxed in by the federal environmental assessment panel. When your panel says there’s going to be significant adverse environmental impact if you allow this mine to go ahead, really, what’s cabinet going to do?

“The question for me is not the decision the feds made. I’m disappointed by it, but how is that a federal process comes to the conclusion that you can’t do something that we’re already doing? We already have these mines operating, and they don’t pollute lakes that are two kilometres. How can the panel come to this kind of conclusion?”

Taseko Mines has said it will apply again.

“Minister Oliver did speak about it this morning, and indicated they’d like to see it come back for another look,” Bennett said. Joe Oliver is the federal minister of Natural Resources.

Bennett is also in Toronto to raise awareness of the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL), which will open up northwest B.C. Once complete this summer, the line will support access to  mineral deposits  and the development of new mines. This includes the new $500 million Red Chris mine project — one of the largest copper-gold deposits in the world —scheduled to open this summer.

“On the conference floor right now there are 50 B.C. companies who are invested in the northern part of the province,” Bennett said. “Given the interest of these B.C. companies who are here, we (the B.C. government) should help them tell their story to potential investors — though investors should be aware of the new power line.”

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