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Rafe: Mount Polley Mine proves Liberal “de-regulation” doesn’t work

Posted August 7, 2014 by Rafe Mair in Mining
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Rafe: Mount Polley Mine a "colossal screwup" by BC Liberal govt

Blame the BC Liberals’ lax regulations for Mount Polley Mine, says Rafe Mair (BC Liberal facebook page)

The Mount Polley Mine/Imperial Metals disaster is such that one scarcely knows where to start. Fortunately, the people of British Columbia have a writer like Stephen Hume, who in the Vancouver Sun tells chapter and verse about the failings of the Ministry of Environment’s statutory obligations to regulate.

You know, there must’ve been a date back when that all of the civic dignitaries and the executives of the company and a number of politicians had a glorious day opening the mine and telling everyone how safe it was and how the company’s record was perfect and that in the very unlikely event they missed something, why, there were always those faithful government inspectors to make sure that things were up to snuff.

Expect same (de)regulation of LNG, pipelines, tankers

This naturally got me thinking about the same things now being said about LNG plants and tankers; about Tar Sands pipelines and tankers. Same corporate public relations departments – same addle-headed politicians.

But, I can’t shake it! How come no one has to resign? This is a colossal screwup by the government of British Columbia. Is no one to blame? Whatever happened to the notion of ministerial responsibility?

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I suppose the answer is that when you have political lightweights like the Christy Clark government, totally unmindful of their responsibility to stand by their actions, you’re not going to have anyone even pause for a moment to think that they should pay a price. The whole question of ministerial responsibility has become less and less fashionable as the years go by, but surely there must be some point where the screwup is so bad that someone must run up on their sword.

They should have seen this coming

Lest one think that the Clark government hasn’t had the faintest idea the trouble was brewing in the inspections department, Stephen Hume tells us that the University of Victoria’s Environment Law Center reported in 2012 that environmental assessment certificates issued by government were often “vague and unenforceable”… and that by 2008, the number of mine inspections had fallen to one half what they were in 2001. The Ministry of Environment staff shrank during that time by 25% and the chief mining inspector had insufficient staff to complete the annual the monitoring reports required. And – this has to shake you – the report said:

This ramshackle enforcement regime is not good enough for an industry that can create environmental and financial catastrophes.

Thus the Clark government knew that their enforcement system was inadequate to the task, yet when that breach of public duty spawned disaster, they pay no price!

The Campbell/Clark liberal government has been playing Russian roulette with the safety of British Colombians since it took office in 2001.

Same lax regulations applied to fish farms, IPPs

You may remember that one of the first things this government did was return all of fines levied against fish farmers for illegal practices.

Then came the “raping” of our rivers by private power concerns who were given the opportunity to bankrupt BC Hydro at the same time. These private schemes, which put up dams on the rivers which they prefer to call weirs, are under strict guidelines as to how much water they can use and when, in order to protect the fish. The trouble is that the companies have paid no attention whatsoever to these guidelines unless it suited them and the government hasn’t enforced them, nor has it demonstrated any intention to.

Thus, when you look at the failures of the Ministry of Environment as outlined by Stephen Hume, you see a systemic avoidance of enforcement going right back to the days the Liberals were elected. Yet no minister nor the government need take any responsibility for this!

“Red Tape” and other euphemisms

Enforcement rules are usually referred to by industry and their captive politicians as “red tape” and “de-regulation” or “streamlining” become buzzwords. It’s assumed that if all of these silly bureaucrats would stop trying to enforce idiotic safety regulations, we would all make lots more money. The notion perpetuated by industry is that every rule and regulation is there to stop them making money and, of course, distributing that generously amongst the less well-off in the community, and that these stupid bloody rules should all be tossed aside or ignored; that government regulation, whether it be by way of safety in a factory or a mine, or protection of fish and wildlife, are all bureaucratic nuisances set in place by “socialists” to prevent the entrepreneur from doing great things.

This is the history of these matters. When you read about the struggles of labor unions to get essential safety features into the workplace and see just how minor those reforms were and the fuss the politicians and industrialists made, you can’t believe that caring human beings with souls were involved on the corporate and government side.

Corporations have but one objective

The problem with the general public is that by and large it doesn’t understand what corporations are all about. Companies have one sole purpose: making money for their shareholders. Every penny that is taken from that undertaking is a penny misspent. This is not some sort of socialistic cynicism – it’s simply describes the beast. It has always been that way and it always will be.

Does anyone seriously think that entrepreneurs would go out of their way to voluntarily provide safety regulations and environmental protection and things of that sort that were adverse to their ability to make money? History is crystal clear on the point.

Of course, there are areas where it makes sense for companies to do the right thing by the general public. But it has to make sense on the balance sheet.

What about salmon?

Dead fish found downstream from Mount Polley tailings pond breach (Chris Lyne)

Dead fish found downstream from Mount Polley tailings pond breach (Chris Lyne)

I haven’t spoken about the sockeye salmon. Here we are in a year where huge returns are expected and the Quesnel run may be destroyed. It’s too soon to know what the total impact will be but it bodes to be huge.

The sad thing here is we’re not talking about natural disasters but man-made disasters that could’ve been and often were predicted but ignored. We’re like Charlie Brown and football – we know Lucy’s going to pull it away at the last minute, but we play the game anyway and we always lose. It’s as if we don’t want to know the answers.

Just what are the dangers associated with an LNG tanker crash? What will be the consequences of a Tar Sands tanker crashing in one of our beautiful and sensitive fjords? What will be the consequences of a punctured pipeline in the rugged territory they pass through from Alberta to the BC coast?

Lessons learned

This may seem unrelated to the Imperial Metals disaster, but it actually is very apropos. It is not just the likelihood of a disaster we must concern ourselves with but the extent of that disaster. We then must decide whether or not we’re going to take adequate steps to police these undertakings or just blissfully ignore them because the public relations departments of large companies tell us there’s nothing to worry about?

The Imperial Mine disaster story has legs. We now have in front of us a snapshot of what happens when large undertakings with potentially catastrophic consequences are not policed.

This is what happens when we leave it all to the Company.

This is what happens when a right-wing government takes over and decides to go easy on big business.

This is what happens when we allow ourselves to be deluded into buzz phrases such as “we’re being ruined by red tape”.

This is what happens when we turn a blind eye to common sense and assume that because nothing has happened yet, it’s not going to happen.

The Imperial Metals disaster proves, as if proof were necessary, that no large corporation will do anymore than it has to and then it will always place money in shareholders pockets ahead of money in public safety. It proves again, as if it were necessary, that governments in the pockets of industry will pay no attention to troublesome details like public safety and the security of our Wildlife.

What now?

The real question is what do we people think or care about this. If we believe that industry knows best and that our wellbeing depends upon our accepting their terms – so be it. We can’t be heard to complain about the consequences.

If, on the other hand, there is more to life than making money for foreign companies and we do care about the safety of our people, the preservation of our environment and the wellbeing of our wildlife, then we have to make some economic sacrifices. These economic sacrifices include not just passing regulations to ensure that those who invade our environment do so safely, but enforcing those regulations and being prepared to spend the money to do that.

Heads should roll on this one, but of course they won’t. Premier Clark hasn’t the faintest idea about responsibility of cabinet ministers to back up their mistakes with resignations. We the public should learn that laissez-faire government carries with it the inevitable consequence that the rich get richer and that the public and the environment in which they live get much the poorer.

If we don’t learn these lessons from this disaster, then we get what we bloody well deserve.

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About the Author

Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

28 Comments


  1.  
    adanac

    Good gawd!! Christy is such a ridiculous ditz. Everyone knows she doesn’t run this province. Ditzy Christy is just a mouthpiece for Herr Harper.

    Jason Kenny is very serious about, giving foreigners Canadian jobs. He out and out blatantly lied regarding, his TFW program.Harper his Cons and the Campbell/Clark are the most evil entities we have ever heard of in Canada, since Hitler.




  2.  
    Davood Hersh

    This incompetent premier couldn’t foresee after what’s happening in the USA that deregulation is suicide. This pathetic premier comes to Likely BC to give her heart instead of her brains. This is just plain criminal to risk our environment at the whim of an industry that cares nothing for what we as taxpayers hold as a top priority.

    Christy Clark looked absolutely stupid with paint on her face with a supposed air of grief and regret.




  3.  
    KWD

    Whoever did the page layout for this article missed a golden opportunity. The photo of Christie … arms outstretched … could have been set against a backdrop featuring the Titanic about to slip to a watery grave.

    Or use a little ‘photoshop’ to change BRING IT to BC TITANIC. A picture is worth a thousand words.




    •  
      Shelley Falk Ouellette

      That pic was taken in Fort St John, Bring It Welding went brke shortly after. ww.change.org/en-CA/petitions/the-concerned-citizens-of-british-columbia-ask-for-the-resignation-of-premier-christy-clark#




  4.  
    Bas Stevens

    I am sorry but I can not help but think that this disaster is somehow related to the former head of CSIS comments in regards to his fears of interference and “snuggling up” to China by British Columbia politicians.

    Our safeguards against these types of disasters has been dismantled by both the provincial and federal governments all in the name of allowing China to “own” not only our province but also our country. As Bob Dylan wrote and sang, “The times they are a’changin'”.




  5.  

    Eons ago, namely 1979, I was Environment Minister in British Columbia. If this had happened to me then, Premier Bill Bennett would have instantly fired me. It wouldn’t of mattered that I didn’t know about the lack of enforcement of regulations the only question would have been “did the government fail in its duty to protect the public? If the answer to that was yes – is it clearly is here – as minister in charge, my resignation would’ve been automatic.

    The notion of ministerial responsibility seems to of died on the vine. Even worse, the premier herself hides for several days rather than making a definitive statement. When she does talk, she babbles about restoring the lake not about why this happened, what the consequences will be for British Columbia’s, and how the government is going to accept its responsibility for this gross negligence.

    Here we have the Minister of finance balancing his budget, considering how much off budget losses we’re incurring a gross insult to the public intelligence, while inspectors haven’t got the money to do their job and prevent mine disasters.

    It truly is to weep.




    •  
      Shelley Falk Ouellette

      ww.change.org/en-CA/petitions/the-concerned-citizens-of-british-columbia-ask-for-the-resignation-of-premier-christy-clark#




  6.  
    Anoymous

    Deregulation is a good idea Jim Shepard and the Liberals say so

    2 min 11 Sec into the video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7LbcPyOSJk




  7.  
    tom baker

    1 million dollar fine , not enough. my question is where does the fine money go ? to the government to share? It should go to the people that have to live near this mess,and the mine should pay to clean it up as well as close the mine and start looking at all the other disasters waiting to happen because of this deregulation.




  8.  
    vicki

    The more I observe Christy Clark the more it becomes apparent that she has a low full-scale IQ. She simply isn’t capable of much. She is very good at lying and that is how she was able to win the election. It really is too bad as the Province of B.C. deserves a leader who is much more intelligent and wiser than she is.




  9.  
    Greg

    Excellent Article. Imagine how many jobs could be created in Forestry, Parks, Conservation, Highways, Mining,Hospitals if we went back to things the way they were during the Socred times. To think we thought they were incompetent. Contracting out doesn’t save money in the economy ,it only takes the money out of many peoples hands and puts it in to a few. I would rather have 100 people making $70,000 for the above jobs and using the multiplier effect put it back into the economy than 1 person making $7 000 000 and spending it around the world. Our roads are crumbling , hospitals falling apart, no policing of our forests and mining, our parks are being abused, and good luck for the wildlife. We need to look to Scandanavia and move to Socialism and build back the middle class. Yes that requires everybody paying more taxes.




  10.  
    Lincoln

    It’s stunning how the bigwigs of companies and political leaders seem to think that crapping in their bed will produce gold bricks, the problem is they don’t do it in their bed, they do it in our bed. Capitalism is the new communism folks, get ready, it’s only going to get worse!




  11.  
    margot izard

    The Polley gold leaching operation must have involved a huge amount of cyanide. It wasn’t tested for and hasn’t been mentioned. Can anyone explain this? It wasn’t included in the disposal list for 2013 either.




  12.  
    Don F.

    Very well thought out and written article Rafe and every word of it true. I am recently of the thought how effective though this all has become. Is it all forsaken.
    The internet is wonderful thing, we can share our thoughts, give our input, get connected, but sadly accomplish zero!
    An example in recent times would be the sale of BC Rail and the corrupt trial that followed. There must have been a billion words, I myself wrote thousands, all to accomplish nothing!
    We think we can accomplish things by sitting at our computers but we really can’t.
    In fact we are waisting what good thoughts, thoughts possibly leading to change by doing so.
    Governments know this! They just label us idiot bloggers and with the backing of media that gives them permission to not even respond or worry.
    People are going to have to speak with a physical voice or show up with a physical presence to be heard. Words typed on a keyboard are not heard.
    I know this has become our way of communicating but it may as well be silence.




  13.  
    norman jack

    Being in government seems like their a bussiness not a government for the people what a shame




    •  
      Shelley Falk Ouellette

      ww.change.org/en-CA/petitions/the-concerned-citizens-of-british-columbia-ask-for-the-resignation-of-premier-christy-clark#




  14.  
    Star

    Is the Mount Polley Mine disaster a BAD omen for Squamish and Howe Sound? There is an uncanny connection between Imperial Metals and (proposed) Woodfibre-LNG. Byng Giraud, the Vice-President of Corporate Affairs for Woodfibre-LNG was with Imperial Medals just prior to joining Woodfibre-LNG in April 2013.

    Mr. Giraud has “extensive political experience at the national, provincial and municipal level …” http://www.canadalngexport.com/speaker/byng-giraud/

    Rafe is spot on … “expect same (de)regulation for LNG, pipelines and tankers”. On mining projects, this is what Byng had to say on needing a more ‘streamlined’ permitting and approval process (aka (de)regulation) … “Processes have to be tighter and there have to be outcomes,” Giraud said. “There needs to be a public realization that the costs imposed on industry to remove extreme risks—reducing a risk from one in 1,000 to one in 10,000—comes with a price.”
    http://www.miningandexploration.ca/mines/article /how_bc_can_win_a_gold_medal_in_the_economic_olympics/

    Definitely a BAD omen!




    •  
      Shelley Ouellette

      Heads should roll in the aftermath of this industrial disaster. I think Christy Clark is the one who should resign. Not only did she know that there were major structural issues at the mine, she ignored it. The mine should have been shut down, fixed and inspected by independent engineers. This catastrophe was 100% preventable. When the problems became evident to the gov’t of BC, they sent letters instead of inspectors. This disaster is going to impact our environment for generations to come and someone needs to stand up and be accountable. The blame lays directly at the high heels of Christy Clarke and she needs to step down and answer to this province in a court of law. Maybe the next premier won’t be so quick to deregulate and put revenue ahead of our environment.




      •  
        Star

        Stephen Harper a role in this as well … omnibus budget bills C-38, C-45, federal environmental law rollbacks etc. Two from Environment Canada used to work at the Mount Polley Mine, overseeing operations and safety, but they were gone thanks to Harper.





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