BC Government support for New Prosperity sends confusing message to First Nations

The Canadian Government has rejected the New Prosperity Gold & Copper Mine southwest of Williams Lake, BC for the second time. Federal Conservative Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced that she, like her predecessor Jim Prentice, had turned down the mine proposal concluding the “Project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated.”

No doubt the announcement caused a collective sigh of relief from the Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc Nations who have spent more than two decades opposing the project. The Federal Review Panel’s final report to the government last October found New Prosperity would “adversely affect” the local First Nations way of life and that the impact would be “significant” and “could not be mitigated.”

Despite the fact that the Tsilhqot’in and Secwepemc are opposed to the New Prosperity Gold & Copper Mine, the BC Liberal Government continues to support the project. This is both profoundly troubling and inconsistent with their commitments to First Nations.

In the last few weeks alone there has been no shortage of BC Liberal rhetoric about the importance of building relationships and partnerships with First Nations that are founded on respect:

“These agreements between government and First Nations help to build respect. It helps to build the relationship, and more importantly, it leads as building blocks on reconciliation.”
(Hon. John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation – Hansard – February 18, 2014)

“We will continue working closely with First Nations and communities to make sure that development aligns with theirs and the province’s needs and priorities.”
(Hon. Michael de Jong, Minister of Finance – Hansard – February 18, 2014)

“Today mining is all about partnerships — industry, government, communities and First Nations. We are the first province in the country where we are sharing our provincial royalties from mining with First Nations: 37½ percent of every provincial royalty dollar from a mine goes to the surrounding First Nations.”
(Hon. Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy & Mines – Hansard – February 19, 2014)

“Well I think the province has done a lot of engagement already with the Tsilhqot’in but I think we have to do a lot more. I think we need to be very respectful of the opposition. I think there are some features of this that we can bring forward to the First Nations over time.”
(Hon. Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy & Mines – CKNW 980 – January 1, 2014)

Yet, when it comes to New Prosperity mine, the BC Liberal government has demonstrated that the relationships with First Nations appear to be of little real concern.

The Tsilhqot’in are not against mining. Tribal Council Chairman Joe Alphonse said in an interview, “We would be open to mining proposals if companies come to our door, work with us, treat us with respect and allow us to develop proposals together. ”

The New Prosperity Mine project fails on two fronts: the mine will cause significant and irreparable damage to the environment and the provincial government has yet to arrive at an acceptable relationship with First Nations. BC must take a cue from the federal government and reject this mine.

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