As the Feb. 28 deadline nears for Canada’s environment minister to issue a decision statement on whether the New Prosperity Mine is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, both sides are hopeful the decision will land in their favour.
Former Tsilhqot’in Chief Ervin Charleyboy has been a vocal supporter of the project since 2011.
“It’s in the federal government’s hands,” Charleyboy said.
“I’m optimistic. If it’s a yes for the mine, it’s going to be a perfect opportunity for our young people.
“What kind of future are our grandchildren going to have after logging?”
Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse (TNG), said he is confident in the TNG’s strong opposition to the project.
“We’re awaiting a decision that’s going to favour our position,” Alphonse said.
“The federal government would have way too much to lose if they were to try and move forward with the project.”
The government may have political will, but they don’t have legal grounds, he said.
Taseko’s vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison said the decision could be a yes, a no, or under unusual circumstances, a delay.
“I have no idea what they will possibly do,” he said. “Rather than speculate I would rather answer questions when the decision has been made.”
Patricia Spencer, a member of the Friends of Fish Lake, has been one of many non-First Nations people opposed to the mine.
“To me sometimes it feels like a popularity contest whether to protest or support the mine, but it’s about doing what’s right,” Spencer said. “The government needs to uphold the findings of the federal independent panel. There will be other mines, but the impacts of this one are unacceptable.”
Charleyboy said he continues to advocate for the mine because of the economic benefits it will offer people living in the region.
“I meet many young First Nations who are working in mines and many others are taking the BC Aboriginal Mining Training and that’s good,” Charleyboy said.
Those young people are happy and supporting their young families, he said.
“They get paid good money, it’s better than sitting on welfare. New Prosperity would open up a whole new opportunity.”
Alphonse, however, said if the mine is rejected then First Nations will be allowed to continue to have ceremonies and preserve the area.
“We will take comfort in knowing that we followed the mandate that was set out by our people to do what we can to preserve the land, the wildlife and the fish,” Alphonse said. “The more we can introduce our young people back into our culture, the less social issues we will have.”
Battison said if the federal government expresses a willingness for the project to proceed, it will go back to the provincial government for further approvals.
“They’re the ones who have the lion’s share of the regulatory jurisdiction through the mine act and the environmental act.”
Spencer added she hopes the minister will say no to the project.
“We know cabinet will want to say yes, but if the government of Canada approves it they’ve lost a lot of credibility,” she said. “The credibility of the environmental review process will be gone.”
Of course people want economic development, however, the challenge is to find a way to move forward without sacrificing the environment, Spencer said.