Rumours, Rumblings & Rock Hard Resistance
Rumours, Rumblings & Rock Hard Resistance
CMA Monthly Meeting with Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson
By Arthur Topham
March 13, 2011
The regular monthly meeting of the Cariboo Mining Association, held at the Quesnel Senior’s Center on Sunday, March 13th, featured Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson, former representative of the NDP party and now sitting as an Independent in the B.C. legislature.
Bob was attending the meeting at the request of the CMA membership who are striving to find ways to deal with upcoming bureaucratic changes within the provincial government ministries affecting placer mining in the Cariboo region.
Attendance was good and interest high as CMA President Chris Winther introduced Simpson to an audience of placer miners eager to hear further news on some of the upcoming proposals and changes to ministries directly responsible for mining and exploration in the province.
Topping the list of concerns were questions regarding the new Ministry of Natural Resource Operations and how the proposed power structure will take shape and deal with issues of leases, cells, tenure management, First Nations, and, foremost for many of the placer miners in attendance, fee increases of such proportions that they threaten the very survival of the small operators.
Government de jure
Simpson prefaced his comments on all of these issues by doing his best to enlighten the audience about the present political situation in Victoria following the change of guard within the Liberal government’s leadership and pointing out that until noon on Monday, March 14th (which would be the day after the meeting) when Premier-elect Christie Clark was to announce to the province her government’s upcoming agenda, it was virtually impossible to know who and how the relevant ministries would be dealing with placer miners and their concerns.
What was clear, according to Simpson, was the reality that government at this stage was in a state of complete flux and disarray and any and all of the backlog of proposals, permits and possibly impending legislation formerly being discussed were all subject to this confusing scenario now unfolding in the political arena of the province. If Clark announces to the house this coming Monday that an election is not happening until 2013 then that will affect the mining industry in one fashion but if an election is going to pre-empt the reorganization of the ministries involved then that will essentially block any possible progress over the coming months ahead in terms of resolving the issues that placer miners are struggling to get answers to now.
The present negative image of placer mining in the province was voiced again by those present and the argument put forth that due to a number of misconceptions on the part of the news media, who inevitably are unduly influenced by some of the more strident environmental groups in the province and coupled with First Nations concerns, the general public perceives placer mining as an environmental threat and associates the behaviour and actions of small, independent miners with that of the big hard rock mining consortiums who tend to always capture the media’s attention with their giant projects that inevitably raise public concerns about environmental damage.
Simpson was quick to agree that this image problem was definitely a clear and present danger to the small operators who are and have been working for years now under very strict guidelines and regulations that ensure a minimal amount of environmental disturbance relative to the major corporations who tend to dismantle mountains rather than move mere cubic meters of pay dirt and overburden. And in this sense, Simpson stated, the ecological footprint left by the small placer miner and their operations is barely noticeable relative to larger mining companies yet the image of possible impending environmental damage of vast proportions tends to stick in the public’s mind and override the facts surrounding the actions and effects of the smaller operators.
Examples of this, according to Simpson, are two major gold mining operations located in the Cariboo at Mount Polley and Gibraltar.
Initially these mines were legislated to operate in a manner that precluded the discharging of any effluent that might negatively effect either the Fraser River or Quesnel River watersheds where these operations are now in place. Recent changes and updates plus added investment dollars have increased former levels of production resulting in the companies’ recent applications for permits that would allow additional discharge of material outside the former containment areas. Whether these permits will meet the approval of both the provincial and federal governments waits to be seen. Should they go ahead the footprint left will again be of a much larger scale than anything the small placer miner will be leaving behind. If the changes prove to be environmentally sound all will be okay but should problems arise the placer miner will most likely also bear the burden of any negative publicity.
How to counter such problems should they arise becomes an added burden for the placer miner on top of dealing with all the other legislation and ministerial changes in government.
The issue of federal fisheries and their impact on placer mining operations in the Cariboo was also raised, with Simpson wholeheartedly agreeing that the fed factor is clearly problematic when it comes to placer mining. Specific to this discussion were concerns about specific areas in and around Likely/Keithley Creek where CMA members are dealing with land use issues surrounding the opening up of ground that currently restricts placer miners from operating yet allows major forestry companies to log and also gives the hard rock mining industry access to do drilling and exploration work.
Part of this discussion included Simpson remarking on the 2003 Task Force document that was produced by the provincial Liberal government which apparently covers issues like what is occurring in the Likely region. Chris Winther, CMA President, pointed out that he was unable to access the information contained in the document and Simpson added that it was deemed a “Cabinet Report” and therefore, by definition, inaccessible to the public and beyond the scope of even the Freedom of Information (FOI) act. Obviously the audience was not impressed by this refusal to withhold information affecting their ability to mine in areas where the big boys are given free rein in the sandbox yet they were being told they couldn’t explore or mine.
A further conundrum voiced during the meeting, for placer miners who, for the most part, are small operators working within already strict government guidelines and under continual financial pressure, was the question of First Nations and how the small placer miner is to deal with the bureaucratic nightmare that has resulted from the province’s and the fed’s apparent inability to deal with one of the most fundamental and basic land use problems – the resolution and final settlement of the Treaty issue with the former owners of the province’s land and natural resources. As Simpson went on to explain it’s an issue of primary concern to all the players involved and due to the fact that the provincial and federal governments have not addressed and settled it the haunting effect tends to override every decision on land use management and play a major role in how the placer miner is caught up in the problems and unduly affected by them.
As a number of members pointed out to Simpson respecting this spectre of added red tape, they don’t see it as being their personal responsibility to deal directly with yet another level of government in the form of further First Nations bureaucracies. They felt that the regulations put in place should be such that when they apply for licenses or permits or mineable ground that they deal with the appropriate provincial mining ministry rather than having to also represent themselves individually to each and every First Nations group that wishes to have a say in their placer operations.
Simpson did his best to explain how and why the problems arose and at the same time tried to explain to the obviously disgruntled audience that it wasn’t necessarily all a negative thing that First Nations were demanding a voice in the management of lands which they had, in actuality, never ceded to the provincial or federal governments. He went on to explain how he had visited a number of different areas of the province where the native bands were working in partnership with different mining interests and cutting deals that turned potential conflicts into win-win situations for all parties concerned. Whether or not these agreements were comparable with those of smaller, individual placer miners wasn’t clarified but the point that Simpson appeared to be making was that there was a certain degree of responsibility that the placer miner had to recognize as being his or hers and ultimately it might prove profitable in the long run for placer operators to take on this aspect of negotiating on their own behalf.
Rumours of fees
The ongoing discussion regarding fee increases for placer miners was also brought up for Simpson’s consideration and comment. Again he cautioned the audience that due to the turmoil and confusion at the present time and also due to the rather nebulous and shady manner in which the former Campbell government arranged the province’s financial books, fighting against and justifying the increases won’t be a simple task. Revenues generated by the placer mining industry have been funneled off like larger aggregate in a screened shaker plant and deposited surreptitiously in other budgetary bins that tend to disguise their whereabouts and origins and make them susceptible to manipulation for political purposes, thus posing difficult problems for the small operator who expects transparency when it comes to government demands for more and more fee increases. Simpson’s basic message was that until we know the direction and the schedule of the present government and are able to identify all the new players within the various ministries responsible it will be virtually impossible to get answers to these questions but once things have settled down and the high water run-off from this latest political storm in the province subsides, we can then proceed upon the only reasonable course left, that of lobbying directly for changes that the placer miners of the province can live and work with.
Ministries of DoubleSpeak?
A final topic of discussion brought to Simpson’s attention by CMA President Chris Winther was that of the closing of the province’s mining offices. Given the fact that the Cariboo Mining District is the largest and richest gold producing area of the province Winther felt that shutting down the government’s mining office in Quesnel was counter-productive and placed a number of additional burdens on the placer mining industry that once functioned quite well under the old system. Simpson responded by saying that under the new proposals being implemented by the Liberal government it was virtually a dead issue that ANY mining offices anywhere in the province would be left in existence. The closest placer miners could expect to such a government office would be the new venues known as “Front Counters.” Like the government’s “Service, B.C.” outlets now found in every provincial building the names change and any direct encounter with government agents who can address local, immediate problems, becomes more and more impossible to achieve. It appears to be all part of the new DoubleSpeak that affects government bureaucracies at all levels these days.
The best that we can hope for is a “Front Counter” in Quesnel Simpson stated and from what he had heard this latest bureaucratic shuffle may place the dance floor in the former Forestry Offices building in another part of town where they too are experiencing the bungling effects of impending bureaucratic changes.
The meeting culminated in a discussion about ways and means of lobbying the various levels of government in order to gain answers to all the unresolved questions that originally prompted asking Bob Simpson to attend the CMA meeting in the first place. Once again Simpson advised the audience that until the political upheavals of the day settle down and heads of ministries were in place it would be fruitless to expect any changes. Afterwards though will be the time to begin educating the bureaucrats about the concerns expressed at the meeting. Mention was also made that the CMA’s new website was a valuable tool in helping to communicate the concerns of the placer miners in the Cariboo and would undoubtedly prove useful in the long and lonely lobbying process ahead. Ultimately, it appeared, the CMA is being forced by factors beyond its immediate control into playing the waiting game along with the rest of province.
Time, we hope, will resolve these issues. A hearty and encouraging show of appreciation for Bob Simpson’s advice and comments was given at the end of the meeting and the CMA looks forward to more positive dealings with the MLA in the days and months ahead.