Fish Lake (Teztan Biny)

Fish Lake: A battle worth fighting


The Campbell Government signed off last year on turning Fish Lake (a.k.a. Teztan Biny), home to 85,000 rainbow trout, into a toxic dump for Taseko Mines’ proposed “Prosperity Mine,” west of Williams Lake. Now, as the federal government wraps up its public Panel Review of the proposal, is calling on all Common Sense Canadians to write to Stephen Harper and let him know they what they think of turning lakes into toxic mining dumps. Even the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has expressed grave concerns about this one – and is it any wonder? The plan is to turn a perfectly healthy lake into a tailing pond, then build a new lake to replace it! Where’s the sense in that?

I want to talk about two matters here … and they’re very much related – Fish Lake and the Federal Government’s aquatic policy. I’m deeply indebted to John Werring, Habitat Specialist for the David Suzuki Society, who once worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, for much of the background information on this story.

I want to speak especially to citizens who basically support the federal Tories and Liberals, and those who support the Liberals in BC. I’m going to plead with you to put your province and country ahead of politics. If we’re going to have any chance at all to save our environment we must rise as one and say that party loyalties must be trumped by caring citizens and that if we don’t take this position, we will be, as Churchill said at the time of Munich in 1938, quoting the Bible, “weighed in the measure and found wanting”.

Our sights must be set mostly on the federal government because the Campbell government has told us, decision by decision, non-decision by non-decision, that they simply don’t care. Wild salmon be damned, lakes and rivers be damned, sensitive ecological areas be damned – we’re going to let our friends in the corporate sector do what they please and any environmental actions we take will be shams and we won’t even try to make it look good.

Campbell & Co, like Harper & Co, couldn’t care less about aboriginal concerns.

Let’s look at Tory policy and come back to Fish Lake specifically in a moment.

Harper has selected 18 lakes or rivers across Canada as open to mines for dumping their tailings into. This is where their heads are!

A recent survey by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), looking at key sustainability indicators, found that over half of our rivers and lakes in Canada are fair to poor in terms of water quality.

Who cares?

It is the firm policy of the Tory government that Aquaculture will double – and DFO has been warned not to even mention “closed containment”.

We have, John Werring observes, on a broad range of environmental issues, reached the tipping point and the public is still dozing, content or at least complacent with governments’ unwillingness to protect the environment and the creatures in it.

Let’s tackle the existing government policy head on: they believe that corporations will find it in their interest to care for the environment so we needn’t trouble them with tiresome regulations let alone enforcement.

Many years ago, our local and very influential right wing think tank, the Fraser Institute, put out a study that claimed that it would be in the public interest for all rivers to be privately owned. The then Executive Director, Michael Walker, told me that private use would mean the best available use.

Stunned, I replied, “But the best available use of a river for industry is as a sewer”, the proof of which is evident worldwide. I asked, not believing what I was hearing, what would happen to Rafe Mair’s Fishing Camp, down stream from the Anything Goes Paper Mill when it spilled black liquor into the river and killed all the fish?

He replied that my little fishing camp could sue the company and he was astonished to hear me say that was cold comfort indeed for my little fishing company.

We must understand that the sole rationale for a corporation is to make money – if they are “good corporate citizens” it’s because it’s in their interest to be so.

I believe in the “free market”, provided there are laws and policemen to enforce them. Tories and Campbell Liberals don’t like rules that impede the “progress” of their political donors.

When Campbell came into office I asked Joyce Murray, who was as close as they would get to an environment minister, if she was the policeman in the environment?

Heavens no! she replied, “I’m here to help industry get past all that environmental red tape”. You’ll be comforted to know that she’s a Liberal MP now and, no doubt, she stands up boldly in Caucus for the sanctity of our fish and wildlife with the same dedication we’ve come to expect from her ilk.

Let’s look now at Fish Lake. I’ve written about this on – A priceless BC asset threatened by mining – but I want to deal with just two of many available points here.

What the hell sort of society have we become when we would even consider killing 85,000 Rainbow Trout so that a mining company could dump its tailings and assorted crud in their lake – and not see the black humour in their offer to build another lake?

Why aren’t we rising as one in protest? Did our mothers and fathers not instill in us any respect for what God gave us?

Let me pose this question: if killing lakes and all that’s in them is acceptable practice, why hold hearings at all? Better just get on with it rather than waste time with “show” hearings.

Last, but for sure not least, involves First Nations. They aren’t going to lie down and take it either over killing Fish Lake or over the proposed Enbridge Pipeline from the Tar Sands to Kitimat, thence by tanker down the coast. Governments aren’t paying attention – they’d better.

I know we’re all tired. Never in my long life have I seen so many serious assaults on our outdoors by so many people in so many places.

But damn it, we have to fight! This is war! A real war on us by our own governments. We must do all within lawful means to stop these bastards now – for if we don’t, there won’t be much left for those we leave behind.

Blue Gold: The Tsilhqot’in Fight for Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) from Susan Smitten on Vimeo.


About 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

7 thoughts on “Fish Lake: A battle worth fighting

  1. Yippee! thank you Rafe and Damien…
    with a great sense of relief I am looking forward to participating in team work with common sense Canadians. There is so much to do , not a lot of time to head off the mindless disaster that in some circles is called “progress”
    Let common sense for our commons prevail – and may we meet at this sight so we may band together to learn and share greater wisdom and demonstrate decisive alternatives for a sustainable future!

    ps. kick the addictive media newspapers -participate in reality!

  2. Dumping toxic mine wastes into a lake, is asinine. That will kill every animal and fish, that depends on that lake. That toxic waste, will leach into the eco system. However, the Canadian Constitution, has been decimated. Our Civil Rights and Liberties, have been taken away from us. Democracy and Freedom, is null and void. We live in a Nazi like dictatorship. Campbell and Hansen, have many projects, that are going to totally destroy this province. Corruption and greed, is what governs. They have put BC, second from the bottom, of the poorest provinces in Canada. Campbell and Hansen, have made such a financial mess of BC. They are now setting out, a path of destruction, to try and recoup the money, they have lost. They have to scurry around like rats, to plug holes, where the truth may leak out. Hence, the blacked out FOI papers, and the order to destroy, the e-mails regarding the BC Rail corruption case. Someone, who knows how, should organize a general strike, involving every working person, in the entire province. And stay out, until the BC Liberal government is destroyed.

  3. who cares who was what before now. the trust for all of these old school parties is long long gone. the point is simply that if we are to leave anything to our descendants other than a big fat disaterous carcinogenic mess to clean up, we have to forget all party politics and start over. green democratic party for the rivers, for the salmon, for the watersheds… for the next generations.

  4. Once the Stein Valley was to be logged. It took years, festivals and tenacity, but that battle was won. Yes the
    present rulers are ruthless kleptocrats, but if this attack will not resonate internationally, nothing will…

  5. Apologies to Rafe and Bill. I should have said real “veteran” conservatives – not “old” 🙂

  6. I’ll let Rafe respond to this charge himself, but if you’re seriously equating the old Socreds with this Neo-Liberal Fraser Institue/Milton Friedman Campbell bunch then you’re out to lunch. These guys are a whole other animal. Which explains why you have real old conservatives – Socreds like Vander Zalm and Rafe speaking out against this current conservative government over the privatization of our precious crown assets and beating up on working people with unfair policies like the HST.

  7. If working people are not empowered, if workers are not paid a fair wage, then their souls will be torn away from the world around them. Mr Mair, you were a Social Credit cabinet minister who was part of the neoliberal process that strips working people of their right to a decent life. Part of the right-wing agenda that led to the present destruction of salmon, lakes, and rivers.

Comments are closed.