Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett winds up work at the energy and mines minister's office at the B.C. legislature. After four terms in politics

Mining on rebound, minister moves on

Combative MLA Bill Bennett takes a few parting shots as he heads back to private sector to 'make some money'

After the Mt. Polley mine tailings dam failed, B.C. government staff searched through boxes of paper files to locate inspection reports dating back to its construction in the 1990s.

More than two years after the deluge of tailings and water from an open-pit copper mine near Williams Lake sparked a wholesale review of B.C. mining regulations, Mt. Polley is one of 15 large mines included in a new mine information website, where permits, inspection and reclamation reports issued from 2013 on are being posted.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett described that and other changes that have taken place under his watch at his last speech to industry representatives in Victoria for the annual Mining Day. Because of Mount Polley, B.C. now has administrative penalties for non-compliance, an alternative to pulling a mine’s permit or taking the owner to court.

After four colourful terms as Kootenay East MLA and three stints as minister responsible for mining, Bennett is retiring from politics as the May 9 election approaches.

“We have been through a really difficult downturn for the mining industry,” Bennett told a luncheon gathering of industry executives. “It was a long one, it lasted many years, and hopefully we’re coming out of it.”

Despite a global downturn in metal and coal prices, with shutdowns of some operating mines, B.C. has seven new mines permitted or under construction in the past five years. That includes Brucejack, a gold mine north of Stewart in northwest B.C. where 1,100 people are working to put it into production this year.

That project and others in the region required delicate negotiations with aboriginal communities including the Tahltan Nation, which demanded and got a halt to coalbed gas exploration in its territory. Tahltan members are now among those working on the Brucejack site.

Once expelled from cabinet for criticizing former premier Gordon Campbell and pushing him to retire, Bennett stayed blunt to the end of his time in office.

Speaking to mining executives, Bennett poked fun at urban attitudes towards the industry. The rise of electric cars and digital technology means strong demand for copper, one of B.C.’s most abundant metals, he said.

“What is the relevance of mining to the mayor of Vancouver?” Bennett asked, noting there are 1,000 mining head offices in the city. “We’d all be naked as jaybirds sitting outside on the grass.”

As for the NDP, “those jackasses on the other side of the house” criticize him for having seven new mines on the way in a commodity downturn, when Premier Christy Clark’s 2011 jobs plan called for eight.

It was the NDP who started diverting a “dividend” from BC Hydro revenues to government – “I’ve got the quotes from Moe Sihota” – and Bennett is proud to wind it down.

“Next year we take it down $100 million, and it goes down until it’s nothing,” Bennett said. “And then it doesn’t come back until the debt-to-equity ratio goes from 80-20 to 60-40. That’s at least a decade.”

So what’s next for Bennett, who ran fly-in fishing and hunting lodges in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories before going to law school, then gave up “a really lucrative law practice” in Cranbrook to go into politics?

“I’m going to go back to the private sector, and work probably in mining, oil and gas. I’ll probably associate myself with one of the big law firms in Vancouver,” Bennett said in an interview. “I can’t and don’t want to lobby government for anything, so the two years [ban on government relations] is a blessing for me. I don’t want any part of it. But I do want to get back to the private sector and make some money.”

 

Just Posted

Over thirteen percent of Bella Coola residents rely on Food Bank

Demand for Christmas Hampers up by 45 families this year

Site C dam goes ahead, cost estimate now up to $10.7 billion

Premier John Horgan says Christy Clark left him no other choice

Verdict to be delivered December 15 for three on trial in Anahim murders

The fates of Christian Craciun, Andrew Jongbloets, and Serena Rhem (Mack) will be decided on December 15 at 10am.

‘I fell asleep’ admits second mate in Nathan E. Stewart fuel spill

The tug spilled more than 100,000 litres of diesel off B.C.’s northern coast

Northwest’s new MRI hits milestone

Stakeholders celebrate 500th scan of diagnostic imaging device

Me Too At Work: Sexual assault and harassment in the B.C. workplace

Introducing an in-depth look at who is affected and what can be done

Proposed snowmobiles along Sicamous roads concern RCMP

RCMP, ICBC and province not yet on-board with proposed off-road bylaw in the B.C. Interior

‘Assemble your own meal’ kits grow into $120M industry in Canada

Kits offer a middle ground between eating out and grocery shopping

Millennials closing in as B.C.’s biggest wine drinkers

Generation X leads the way in current consumption of B.C. wine, as more wine drinkers are enjoying local varietals

Canadians lag behind Americans in giving to charity

Only one-in-five Canadians donated to charities in 2017

B.C. children adoption rates lagging, despite increased funding: watchdog

More than 1,000 children children are still waiting to be adopted, new report shows

FortisBC to lower natural gas rates in 2018

Rate changes to impact the Lower Mainland, Kootenays, Interior and Vancouver Island

Four-month-old baby girl critically injured in Toronto

Baby, a man and a woman in serious condition

Google searches suggest 2017 a tough year

What were Canadians were curious about: Google searches suggest 2017 a tough year

Most Read