VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – Government policy advocacy and fostering genuine fact-based conversations among all stakeholders in the minerals exploration and mining industries are main priorities for the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AME) this year.
"Government is increasingly getting more confident in leading, after transitioning from the role of playing opposition. We have an opportunity here to help guide how they'll implement their mandate," AME president and CEO Edie Thome told Mining Weekly Online in an interview.
The coalition provincial government was formed under a cooperation agreement between the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party of British Columbia, after elections held in May last year failed to deliver majority representation to the British Columbia Liberal Party, which won the most seats in the provincial legislative assembly.
"We've heard positive messaging from Premier [John] Horgan and Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Michelle Mungall that they're very supportive of mineral exploration and mining. We know that they recognise the value of exploration dollars being spent in the province and the revenue from mining and how those critical components come together to the benefit all British Columbians.
"We're looking towards the provincial budget that will come out February for more clues as to what policy actions they will take and to see whether exploration tax credits will be continued. This is a brand new government. They've already had some difficult decisions to make, such as whether to continue with the much delayed and controversial multibillion-dollar Site-C dam project," she said.
A seasoned business executive who previously worked as director for environmental risk management at BC Hydro, Thome says the provincial government has set itself an ambitious mandate. In fact, the mandates between the four key ministries the association works with closely – the Ministry of Environment; the Ministry of Indigenous Relations; the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development; and the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources – all dovetail with one another.
"Particularly in the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," Thome says. "That is a key influence on all of the technical things the ministries need to implement. We are well positioned in the industry to be able to [do so] and continue to advocate on how to do that."
She noted that there are many examples in the industry that can be held up as examples of how to implement best practice. "I know there's fear of taking big policy positions on how you will implement plans under it, for example. Our approach will be to continue to put forward success stories, saying what would be the motivation behind these policies that makes sense, and helping the legislation catch up with where the industry is today."
Thome said that work to maintain and increase access to land for mineral exploration in British Columbia has improved – not necessarily that more land has opened up for exploration, but that the message is being better understood, that new technologies and innovative approaches can help geologists assess land for mineralisation with minimal land disturbance.
"We are looking to access the land in coordination, and in collaboration, with all stakeholders. When we view things as being mutually exclusive, we run into the danger of conflict. We have to work together and collaborate among all stakeholders and try to have and maintain access where it is appropriate," Thome said.
The AME also continues to monitor the environmental process review being undertaken on the federal level from the latter part of 2016 onwards, for which the AME submitted a paper.
"Whatever the outcome, it is likely to bring some changes to the environmental process in Canada, and would impact every territory and province," she said.
"However, we must recognise that the environmental assessment process in Canada is exceptional to the global view. We are proud of that – there are improvements to be made – but putting forward practical and useful tweaks is what we'll be focusing on going forward."
The AME has been articulating the issue of access to land to all levels of government. Thome said it remains a concern in British Columbia in particular, especially when innovative tools are available to easily make new discoveries without disturbing lands. The association published a report on the issue in 2015, highlighting how restrictive land access and use regulations and policies are putting the future mineral exploration and development industry at risk. Today, more than 18% is closed to exploration activities, while access to another 33% of the provincial land base is severely limited.
Thome says the report is currently being updated with new data.
She further pointed to the significant overlap in the federal and provincial jurisdictions on species at risk and the association has been working with both levels of governments, specifically on the cariboo file, she says.
"If there's a desire to change the Endangered Species Act, it will happen under the provincial government, and we'll be here to support that process."
One area where the AME has been particularly vocal has been regarding the British Columbia Water Sustainability Act. According to Thome, the AME is working hard behind the scenes with government to make permanent a temporary exemption from water use permitting requirements for mineral exploration activities. "The exemption has been extended for another period and we're working to make that a permanent exemption," she added.
Thome recently attended the provincial Natural Resource Forum, held in Prince George last week, where the critical need for fact-based conversations between special interest groups and the exploration industry emerged as a key challenge.
Well-funded environmental activist groups have made life exceptionally difficult for some project proponents, using rare negative events such as the Mount Polley tailings dam failure, in central British Columbia, as platforms to spread misinformation, and tarnishing the public perception of the mineral extraction industry. Little attention is given to the fact that such incidents are also subject to full remediation, at significant expense to the offenders, noted Thome.
"To understand one another is critically important. We're not always going to agree, but we have to have a genuine conversation based on facts, with a view to work together and to understand.
"A lot of our members are environmentalists, they love the land – hunting and fishing and the benefit of having a healthy natural environment around us. The issue about the extreme groups – not all the nongovernmental organisations – [is that] there's always a concern that there might be a different mandate beneath that, and that it might not necessarily be about protecting the environment, but other economic drivers," she commented.
"We will focus our conversations [on reaching] anybody willing to have a fact-based conversation. And it doesn't mean that we're going to agree, but creating space for the conversation is very important, and we can do that at the association."
*The AME hosted its annual Roundup conference in Vancouver, from January 22 to 25. The event is focusing on technology and innovation in mineral exploration, including hosting the first ever 'Innovation Hub', where companies will showcase the latest technological advances.