Just how neutral is Environment Minister Terry Lake on the Ajax mine?
He insists he’s totally so, and took offense when NDP candidate Tom Friedman accused him at the party’s recent nomination meeting of “enthusiastically embracing an open-pit mine.”
Lake shot back in a letter to the editor that “I have never given any such impression.”
So why do some people have the impression he favours the Ajax proposal?
It can be traced to an interview back in June with Shane Woodford, filling in as host on Radio NL’s Jim Harrison Show. Lake came on strong about the potential benefits of Ajax.
“These projects, we must keep in mind, do provide tremendous employment, 400 jobs at $100,000 a year, plus all the spinoff benefits,” Lake said.
“There are many pluses to a development like this.”
And, “If we want all these financial benefits and economic benefits . . . lots of people have opportunities provided to them and their families through these kinds of projects. . . .
“The reclamation of mine sites now is so much better than it used to be. . . . The processes we employ in terms of regulation are so much more robust now than 30 or 40 years ago. . . . The regulatory approach is much different. I think people should take comfort in that. . . . These projects have to go somewhere.”
And, “I don’t apologize for Kamloops and the working nature of our city. . . . I think we have to understand if we want prosperity in a resource-based province like British Columbia then these projects do in fact have to go somewhere and I don’t think we should be embarrassed about that or apologize for that. . . .
“These kinds of jobs do provide opportunities for people to move to Kamloops, it provides opportunities for industrial taxation that support all the services that people in Kamloops enjoy.”
Listening to that, it sounds very much like the minister is an admirer. But, throughout the interview with Woodford, there were disclaimers — like sprinkles on a Krispy Kreme — including every politician’s favourite word, “sustainable.”
He acknowledged there are downsides as well as up. “There are positive impacts and there will be some negative impacts.”
And, “There’s no question there’s an impact while the mine is operating.”
And, “I do think they need to be done in the most sustainable way possible and, you know, I think the proponent will take that into account.”
And, “. . . It has to be done in a way that’s sustainable.”
Taken in context, the interview sounds like an environment minister trying to be neutral, though you might argue about how successful he’s being.
One thing the interview does strengthen is the impression that the Ajax question is all about whether the company can satisfy the technicalities of environmental assessment rather than the impact on lifestyle.
In his interview with Woodford, Lake alluded to that issue only once, when he said, in response to a question, “We look at the economic impact, the environment impact, of course, we also look at the health impact, the cultural impact, the heritage impact. It’s a very comprehensive look.”