The “Say Yes to New Prosperity” campaign visited Williams Lake, making a stop at the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce on March 28.
Len Doucette, from the 100 Mile House Chamber of Commerce, said he co-ordinated the campaign about one year ago.
“After the first proposal was rejected by the federal government in 2010, I was disappointed it wasn’t going ahead,” Doucette told the Chamber.
“I had sat idle thinking it would be a shoe-in.”
After Taseko Mines Ltd.’s vice president of corporate affairs Brian Battison gave a presentation on the New Prosperity proposal in 100 Mile House, Doucette decided he wanted to do something to support the project.
“I contacted Walt Cobb and Claudia Blair at the chamber here. They gave me warnings and good ideas,” he said.
Part of the campaign involves a Facebook page, that has gathered more than 1,000 likes.
On March 16, Doucette and his crew hosted an Open House in 100 Mile House, inviting proponents and opponents of the project to be in one room together.
“I put Taseko Mines Ltd. on the right and the Friends of Fish Lake on the left,” Doucette said, adding around 200 people attended.
He thought the event went well. “There wasn’t a war and people who wanted to get information from both sides had the chance. Everyone behaved.”
Doucette also noticed of the 43 people who had applied for interested party status in the upcoming environmental panel review of New Prosperity, only three were in support of the project.
He immediately encouraged supporters to file write asking for Interested Party status.
“There are 20 people now so we feel it’s a more level playing field. We’re going to have a meeting to determine how we will all move forward. We need to get the message out. We’re thinking many voices, one message. That’s what we’re doing in 100 Mile House,” he said.
Because the panel hearings won’t take place in 100 Mile House, he said a bus load of people from 100 Mile House will be travelling to Williams Lake and communities in the west to participate.
Doucette has hats, buttons and a sign on his truck advocating the campaign.
The hat gets him free coffee at Tim Hortons and his truck sign garners him a thumbs up from other drivers on a regular basis.
“I’ve had great response from the public,” he said.
Having lived in 100 Mile House since the 1970s, Doucette has watched the region’s economy change.
“In 1983 we had a mine close nearby and a plywood plant. It went from booming to nothing. I pulled up some more stats for the School District. There were well over 8,000 students in 2000. Today there are 5,000.”
100 Mile House has 37 store fronts for rent, he added.
Chamber president Jason Ryll said he’s wondered if Williams Lake should start a similar campaign, although he’s worried about burn out.
“We have much more to lose if we don’t stand up and say ‘yes,” he said.
Ryll encouraged chamber members to continue to apply for interested party status, even if the deadline has passed, and suggested as many people as possible attend the panel hearings when they come to Williams Lake.
Doucette voiced concerns about the upcoming provincial election and how it might impact the project.
“We know Donna Barnett is definitely for the mine and Charlie Wyse and Adrian Dix have made it clear they don’t like the project,” Doucette said, adding that’s one of the battles his campaign faces.
Cariboo North NDP candidate Duncan Barnett attended the presentation and said he made three observations.
He said Doucette and Ryll’s encouragement to participate in the public process of the review panel is a good thing.
“I’m concerned, however, that the point is being missed about First Nations interest in this matter,” Barnett said. “I would encourage the campaign to connect with First Nations because aboriginal rights and title is very significant.”
Talking at a table with chamber members, Barnett said heard clearly how small people are concerned about the future of the local economy.
“I get the sense that there’s desperation out there. If we are in this situation then I will get political and say maybe it’s time for a change.”