Panel exposes B.C. Liberal failures on Aboriginal rights and title

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HAZELTON — A federal environmental assessment report that concluded the proposed New Prosperity open-pit mine would have significant adverse effects for the Tsilhqot’in is a condemnation of the B.C. Liberals approach to Aboriginal rights and title, says Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson.

Donaldson, the Official Opposition Aboriginal relations critic, says the position the B.C. Liberals are taking on the proposed project is unhelpful for resource industry jobs in rural areas of the province because avoidable conflict with First Nations creates uncertainty on the land base.

“The panel found the project will have significant adverse effects on Tsilhqot’in use of the land and resources that cannot be mitigated,” says Donaldson. “It also concluded there would be adverse effects on Aboriginal rights and title. It’s the same conclusion that was reached on the original Prosperity proposal three years ago.

“Despite this overwhelming evidence, Premier Clark and the B.C. Liberals continue to ignore science by rejecting the independent panels’ findings and lobbying the Prime Minister Harper for project approval. That approach of wilfully disregarding Aboriginal rights and title does not create conditions for certainty on the landbase that is needed to attract investment and create jobs in rural areas.”

The federal review panel released its report Nov. 1. The final verdict on the proposed mine now rests with the federal environment minister, who is expected to make a decision by March 2014. The provincial environmental review process ignored many factors that were critical to the federal process, which led the B.C. Liberal government to approve the Prosperity mine proposal in 2010. After that original proposal was rejected by the federal government, the province waived the need for a review of the New Prosperity proposal entirely.

“Premier Clark has backed her government into a corner on Aboriginal rights and title and I am concerned the rest of us living in this province are going to suffer the consequences,” said Donaldson. “They are ignoring the issue of governance in favour of a narrow, short-term focus. What we are seeing as the results of such a strategy are increasing incidents of delays, confrontation and uncertainty for communities, First Nations and industry, whether it’s in mining, forestry, LNG, resort development or other activity on the landbase.”

Donaldson is calling on Premier Clark and her mining minister Bill Bennett to demonstrate they understand the legal weight of Aboriginal rights and title by reversing course, supporting the federal panel findings and encouraging the Harper conservatives to not approve this project.

“It’s time we work together with First Nations on the rights and title issue. The Liberals need to step back and take a more considered approach before the government poisons the well for other mining projects in the Chilcotin or elsewhere and for the future of other natural resource dependent projects in the province.”