Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, says his government will be making two announcements this week — one on how the BC Liberal government will handle the inquiry into the Mount Polley tailings spill, and two, how the government will deal with tailings ponds throughout the province. Both will have independent elements, he says.
Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, the NDP critic for Mines and Energy says an inquiry is definitely in order, but it should be independent of the government entirely. In fact, Macdonald says, the government bears responsibility for the spill because they have cut the number of people who do inspections significantly.
“Inspections at mines have fallen by 50 per cent since 2001,” Macdonald said. “It is a massive failure on the part of government, which is responsible for public safety.
Macdonald says that there were numerous warnings that the Mount Polley tailings ponds had a problem.
“Bill Bennett has admitted he knows there was a problem with the tailings pond. The company that originally engineered the tailings ponds indicated that they were beyond capacity and said in a letter they could no longer be responsible for them. In 2009, Mount Polley was asking for the ability to release water.”
Bennett says you can’t plan for something that has never been a problem.
“Tailings dams at operating mines have not ever failed in British Columbia. This is the first time. It is hard to plan for something that never happened.
“I want to make it really, really clear that there have not been repeated warnings to this mine,” Bennett continued. “It’s been in the media over and over again and it’s just wrong. We’ve provided a list of directives given to the mine. There have been five overall on the entire mine site. Someone twisted that to mean they were all for the tailings ponds. In fact since 1996, there has been one directive to the tailings ponds, and that was in May of 2014 telling the mine that the water level was too high. The mine was ordered to take the water level down. That was the only time the company was warned.
“There is so much misinformation and the opposition is trying to take political shots. If John Horgan (NDP leader) and Norm Macdonald truly cared about those affected by this they would have lined up with myself and the Premier when we visited the site last week. They are simply taking cheap political advantage.”
Macdonald says it is the BC Liberals who are politicizing the spill by controlling the investigation.
“An open public investigation is needed so we can re-establish trust in the mining industry. All I’ve heard from Bill Bennett and the Liberals are attempts to minimize what has taken place,” Macdonald said.
Bennett absolutely refutes that suggestion.
“Who would believe that? This has been as traumatic for me as anything,” Bennett said. “I will spend the rest of my career finding out why it happened and making sure it doesn’t happen again. To suggest it is being minimized is pure political opportunism.”
There is a local piece to this story. One of the largest shareholders of Imperial Metals, the owner of Mount Polley Mines, is Calgary business man Murray Edwards. Edwards own 36 per cent of Imperial Metals. Edwards, among his other businesses, owns Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, the parent company of the Kimberley Alpine Resort. `