August 11, 2014 BC Chamber Public Affairs Update

Public Affairs Update Header
August 11, 2014
In This Issue
State of emergency declared after tailing pond breach
$3.3M investment helps integrate skilled newcomers into B.C.’s workforce
Gitxsan First Nation blocks railway over ongoing territory dispute
B.C. launches consultation on Society Act
The Public Affairs Update is your weekly insight, perspective and analysis on politics in British Columbia and Canada.  This newsletter is brought to you by the largest, and most broadly-based business organization in the province, the BC Chamber of Commerce – the Voice of Business in B.C.

State of emergency declared after tailing pond breach
The Cariboo Regional District is in a state of emergency and a full water-use ban is in effect after a massive breach of a tailings pond dam at Mount Polley mine, Imperial Metal’s copper and gold mine near Likely, B.C., east of Williams Lake. It is estimated the breach released 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand, contaminating waterways in the region, including the Quesnel and Polley Lakes.Imperial Metals said it’s too soon to say what caused the incident and there was no indication of any trouble before the breach occurred. The mine has been shut down while emergency response efforts are under way.

While initial water quality tests say water in the region meets drinking water standards, people in the region and federal and provincial government officials say they are concerned about the sand that was released into the local waterways and the longer-term impact it could have on water quality and fish habitat for salmon and trout.

The incident also raises issues with First Nations. For Imperial Metals, its proposed Red Chris mine in northwest B.C. will continue to be under the microscope of the Tahltan First Nation, which has yet to sign an agreement with the company. Furthermore, this incident is likely to make First Nations relations more complicated for other mining companies with projects in development, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling on aboriginal land title.

Premier Christy Clark visited the region on Thursday. She promised that B.C. government officials would find out what happened and ordered Imperial Metals to submit a comprehensive report on the failure by August 15. The report must look at the long-term impacts, including on fish habitat, water quality and sediments. A failure to submit the report or comply with pollution abatement orders carries fines of up to $300,000 and six months in jail.

The Mount Polley incident has put a stronger spotlight on other mines in the province. B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said there are about 20 other operating mines and many other closed mines across B.C. that will be subject to increased scrutiny because of what happened at Mount Polley.

$3.3M investment helps integrate skilled newcomers into B.C.’s workforce
More skilled immigrants will be able to have their professional qualifications recognized in B.C. with the renewal of the Foreign Qualifications Recognition (FQR) funding agreement between the federal government and the Province of British Columbia.Under this agreement, federal funding of $3.3 million over three years will help speed up and improve the process for recognizing the foreign credentials and qualifications of immigrants in B.C. With over 280 regulated occupations in the province of British Columbia and approximately 38,000 newcomers to B.C. each year, a fair, efficient process for immigrants to get their certification and/or license to work in these occupations is essential to meeting B.C.’s labour-market requirements.

The federal government in co-ordination with all provinces and territories recently announced 10 additional priority occupations that are part of a national framework to streamline foreign credential recognition. Service standards for priority occupations are established so that internationally trained professionals can have their qualifications assessed within one year, anywhere in Canada.

Gitxsan First Nation blocks railway over ongoing territory dispute
The Gitxsan First Nation blocked a CN Rail line in northwestern B.C. last week due to an ongoing territory dispute with the federal government.At issue is territory that the federal government has offered to two Tsimshian bands – the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum. The Gitxsan say those lands rightfully belong to them.

Gitxsan members shut down the stretch of rail line for eight hours last Tuesday night and early last Wednesday morning. The blockade ended without serious incident. CN Rail said its operations were unaffected by the blockade, but they sought and obtained a B.C. Supreme Court injunction ordering anyone who blockades the mainline to stop.

Last month, 54 hereditary Gitxsan chiefs issued eviction notices to sports fishery operations, the forest industry and CN Rail after the Supreme Court of Canada upheld First Nations title rights.

Gitxsan representatives say they wish to continue negotiating with the federal and provincial governments and have no plans for future blockades, but warn that this blockade was potentially “only the beginning.”

B.C. launches consultation on Society Act
B.C.’s 27,000 non-profit organizations are being invited to provide input on changes being proposed to the legislation that governs them, Minister of Finance Mike de Jong announced. The Ministry has published a White Paper on the Society Act for consultation and suggestions until October 15, 2014.De Jong said the review will identify and address legislative obstacles that prevent societies from functioning efficiently while ensuring the public interest is being protected. The latest consultation is part of a review process dating back to 2009, when the Ministry of Finance first flagged the need for reforms.

Know what’s going on in Columbia Valley’s Business community.

Sign up for the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce newsletter for news, coming events, membership benefits and more!