The Cariboo region has an abundance of opportunities to expand mineral exploration and extraction as a means to offset any falldown in economic activity resulting from the mountain pine beetle. Along with the expansion of the Gibraltar and Mount Polley mines, opportunities exist for both new and expanded hard rock and placer operations.
Every mineral opportunity realized will create jobs and bring economic benefits to Cariboo communities. In order to realize this potential, however, mining must adhere to three basic principles: minimal ecological footprint, respect for First Nations rights and title, and maximum economic and social returns to British Columbians, who are the true owners of B.C.’s mineral resources. The evolving relationship between Mount Polley Mine and the Williams Lake Indian Band serves as an example of how companies can have productive relationships with First Nations. Spanish Mountain Gold provides another example.
The government has also recently taken a leadership role in addressing the First Nations referral backlog in the Cariboo region by assigning a specific staff person to this function for placer operations. However, the mining community has informed me that they still have “permitting angst” — that the permitting process is still understaffed and economic opportunities in both mineral exploration and extraction are being lost as a result. The industry also has concerns about a growing skilled labour shortage and fears that without a plan to address this, more temporary foreign workers will need to be used, limiting the social and economic benefits that local communities will receive from mining activity. A concern I’ve also heard is the increasing regulation and fees imposed on mineral exploration and small to medium-placer operations.
As we celebrate Mining Week, my hope is that the government will make sure the issues that may prevent us from realizing the full potential of mining in the Cariboo region are addressed, in partnership with miners, First Nations, and local communities.
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.