An array of cabinet ministers speak to resource development approvals at B.C. Natural Resources Forum Jan. 21: Energy and Mines Minister Bruce Ralston, Environment Minister George Heyman, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin, Minister of State for Lands and Natural Resource Operations Nathan Cullen and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy. (BCNRF)

An array of cabinet ministers speak to resource development approvals at B.C. Natural Resources Forum Jan. 21: Energy and Mines Minister Bruce Ralston, Environment Minister George Heyman, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin, Minister of State for Lands and Natural Resource Operations Nathan Cullen and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy. (BCNRF)

B.C.s low-carbon economy plan depends on faster resource permits

13 years to allow a mine won’t work, cabinet ministers reminded

B.C.’s advantages as a low-carbon, Indigenous rights-sensitive jurisdiction with an abundance of clean electricity, metals, minerals and natural gas were the talk of the B.C. Natural Resources Forum this week. But one big disadvantage kept coming up.

Participants in the annual forum, held online from Vancouver instead of its usual host city of Prince George, were greeted by an array of five cabinet ministers and one minister of state in charge of resource development permits. And as the moderator twice reminded them during the cabinet ministers panel, it currently takes an average of 13 years to go from investment decision to approval of a new mine in B.C.

Premier John Horgan acknowledged the problem in his address to the forum Thursday, describing the latest government reorganization to get ministries working together better to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we need to do is retool our permitting process,” Horgan told the forum from his office in Victoria Jan. 28. “The days of let ’er rip are gone. The days of responsible development have arrived.”

Forests Minister Katrine Conroy and Environment Minister George Heyman acknowledged the long-standing permit logjam, both saying the core issue is insufficient government staff to deal with permits in an increasingly complex world. B.C. is attempting to lead the country in implementing the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, starting with a new environmental assessment that requires Indigenous partnership before the application is even submitted.

Heyman said he was warned by now-retired forests and lands minister Doug Donaldson that without sufficient ministry staff to get permits done, a long backlog is inevitable. The problem goes back to the early years of the Gordon Campbell government, which created the mega-ministry the NDP government is preparing to break up. It was first raised by former B.C. Liberal minister George Abbott, who has since written a book on the topic entitled Big Promises, Small Government.

Skeena MLA Nathan Cullen’s assignment is to build a sixth ministry to deal with land and resource management, covering 95 per cent of the province and grappling with road impacts on caribou as well as the environmental risks of mining and logging.

“We want to make it easier for good products to come to market,” Cullen told the resource forum.

Energy and Mines Minister Bruce Ralston noted that mine projects awaiting approval include Blackwater gold mine south of Vanderhoof, a restart of the Eskay Creek gold mine in Tahltan territory in the far northwest, and an extension of Highland Valley Copper south of Ashcroft.

RELATED: B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in future

RELATED: Copper Mountain has expansion plans for 2021

Ralston said B.C. is well positioned for “ESG investment,” which stands for environmental, social and governance considerations in addition to a return to shareholders. He referred to the latest annual letter to CEOs from Larry Fink, head of Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager with $7 trillion in investments. Fink announced that environmental sustainability will become more important as the world economy emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

B.C. Hydro continues work on its increasingly costly Site C dam, with highway closures again this weekend to move a second huge water turbine from Prince Rupert to the site near Fort St. John. The federal government has committed $85 million for B.C. to shift industries using carbon fuels to electricity, with a key user of Site C power being the oil and gas industry.

“Whether it’s mining or the gas sector, we’re seeing innovation,” due to B.C.’s early adoption of a carbon tax, said Heyman, who headed Sierra Club B.C. before becoming an NDP MLA.

One of the biggest disruptions in B.C. resource projects has been objections from Indigenous communities. Taking questions from Kendra Johnston, CEO of the Association of Mineral Exploration B.C., Horgan said one of the biggest problems of the pandemic is a lack of progress with Wet’suwet’en people disputing the LNG Canada project, the largest private sector investment in B.C. history. With in-person meetings halted due to COVID-19, improving online connectivity with the scattered, remote communities of B.C.’s north is a high priority for the 2021 B.C. budget, he said.

Former NDP MP and law professor Murray Rankin is B.C.’s new Indigenous relations minister, who has to make all B.C. laws consistent with the UN declaration, as directed by legislation passed before the pandemic. He told the forum that B.C.’s transformation means moving from “transactional agreements” on resource development to one based on human rights and self-government for the more than 200 Indigenous communities in B.C.

“We’re trying to create an environment where people are confident in investing,” Rankin said.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureforestrymining

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is offering home compost bins at reduced prices until March 25. (Contributed)
Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen offers compost bins at wholesale costs

Pricing offer at participating stores in place until March 25

Council has left some grant money in reserves in case there is a need later in the year. File photo
COVID makes some of the 2021 grant decisions for Princeton council

Municipality doles out funds while striving to meet policy

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to Stoney and Minnie lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

About 50 people gathered Friday, March 5, 2021 in Penticton to protest city council’s decision to close a temporary winter shelter. (Jesse Day - Western News)
WATCH: Protest over Penticton shelter draws large crowd

People are gathering in Gyro Park to protest the closure of a winter shelter

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

Paramjit Bogarh, connected to the murder of his wife in Vernon 35 years ago, has been relerased on full parole, one year after he was sentenced to five years in prison for accessory after the fact. (Contributed)
Full parole for ex-Okanagan man who helped wife’s alleged killer escape

Paramjit Bogarh pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after helping brother flee Canada

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

Most Read