November 2010

Shaking off the past

B.C. poised for development, says the government’s mining point man

By Ryan Bergen

Mining put B.C. on the map, and the province remains full of potential, but for years it has seemed destined to remain full of unrealized potential. The current government committed to changing that. In 2003, as the sector began to heat up, a government task force started work to develop a strategy to support a reinvigorated and sustainable mining industry. The British Columbia Mining Plan was the result. The plan, released in 2005, listed a number of actions to be taken related to Aboriginal engagement, incentives, health and safety and access to land. In September, CIM Magazine spoke to the Honourable Randy Hawes, B.C. Minister of State for Mining, to discuss the planned and unplanned events that have unfolded.

CIM: This summer yielded three revenue sharing agreements with First Nations, inspiring some to declare a mining renaissance in B.C. What do these agreements mean for the province?

Hawes: It’s not a big secret that getting a mine permitted in B.C. has had a great deal of difficulty as we work through the consultation/accommodation process with First Nations. I think we were ranked 78 out of 78 in the Fraser Institute survey related to the Aboriginal question. We made the decision to change this and begin directly engaging First Nations. The first two successes were the Kamloops area bands that we made an agreement with on the New Afton Mine and now we have one with the McLeod Lake Band on Mt. Milligan. In the case of the New Afton Mine the agreements are going to provide probably $30 million over the life of the mines, as well as jobs and training, which sends an important message to First Nations across British Columbia.

CIM: Some suggest that these agreements are the “low hanging fruit” when it comes to reaching agreements with Aboriginal stakeholders. What do you believe these agreements mean for the future?

Hawes: I hope that what’s going to happen is other First Nations are going to see the benefit that is going to directly flow through these agreements, and when there is a revenue proposal in their territory, they’ll be anxious to sit down and discuss the same kind of thing with us. So I’m hoping that it makes the whole process much easier and it is much more like a partnership than the confrontational approach that has characterized the past.

CIM: What were the most important lessons you learned from the process of working out these first agreements?

Hawes: First Nations negotiators are very skillful — that was lesson number one. These are not easy agreements to put together. The bigger lesson was that by working together in a cooperative framework we are able accomplish some things that might otherwise have been much more difficult.

We have been talking to the Nak’azdli, although we don’t have an agreement with them yet regarding Mt. Milligan. We are also talking to the Upper North Simalkameen about Copper Mountain, and we will be sitting down with the Tahltan, as Red Chris gets underway.

CIM: If there are agreements to come, can we expect that they will be similar to the ones already completed?

Hawes: For all agreements, the money needs to go into building an economic base and community development in the First Nation territory. There is no fixed percentage; there is no dollar amount. There are many, many variables that go in: How big is the mine? What kind of revenue can we expect? How big is the First Nation? How many First Nations are going to be affected? It could be one mine with half a dozen bands sharing revenues.

CIM: We have not seen a progress report on the five-year-old BC Mining Plan from the province since the recession hit. Beyond the revenue sharing work, what are the greatest strides that have been made since the update in early 2007?

Hawes: We are continuing to push the federal government for the “one project-one review” which was one of the major elements of the mining plan. There has been a little bit of progress. The feds have passed legislation that I think streamlines the federal assessment process, but we are not where we want to be yet, although we have been working hard on that. We have continued to be a leader in mine safety in Canada; we’ve put a safety audit program in place; the annual mine rescue competition has continued as well. We’ve spent quite a bit of money on reclamation. The flow- through share agreement has been extended to 2013. We’ve extended the exploration tax credit until 2016. We’ve heard a lot from companies saying the permitting process is too onerous, so we are asking them to make a multi-year application.

We are also coordinating permits using a “single-window approach” for licensing, referrals, registrations and approvals.

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