NDP Leader John Horgan is calling for the resignation of Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett following yesterday’s damning report from the province’s Auditor General, Carol Bellringer.
Horgan says the report is a scathing condemnation of Bennett’s tenure as Minister and that the Ministry’s lack of oversight directly led to the 2014 breach at Mt Polley tailings pond dam.
But Bennett says perhaps it’s Horgan who should resign, pointing to the independent expert panel of engineers who released their findings into what caused the failure.
“They said what caused the accident was the lack of site inspection when the mine was first designed and built in the mid 1990’s. That’s what caused the accident, not finding that unstable layer of clay that exists under the perimeter embankment. Who was in power when that happened? The NDP-not the BC Liberals.”
Horgan says otherwise.
“The operating permit at Mt. Polley been’s amended a dozen times since 2005. Not on my watch, but Bill Bennett’s watch and that just speaks to the lack of seriousness that these people bring to the importance of these files.”
Horgan says Bennett had said publicly that if there was negligence he would resign.
According to Horgan no progress has been made since the 2014 breach and one of the first things that needs to be done is separating “promotion from enforcement”.
“When the government does not enforce its rules, it has a negative impact on the environment to be sure, but also on employees,” says Horgan. “The people in the mining sector want to stay employed in the mining sector and the way you avoid black eyes like Mt. Polley is to make sure that you have adequate enforcement and that you make sure that the operators of mines are complying with regulation.”
An investigation into the breach by the Conservation Office Service, Environment Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans and RCMP has yet to be released.
“The leader of the opposition asks for my resignation on a fairly regular basis, but I’m not planning to resign,” says Bennett. “The Ministry has listened to what the Auditor General has to say. We are implementing all of the recommendations with the possible exception of one part of one recommendation.”
According to Bennett, there are now 43 recommendations from three different reports over the past year, including 17 from the Auditor General’s report released yesterday, and the government will be implementing nearly all of them.
“We actually have more geotechnical inspectors on staff today then they did in the year 2000. It’s a bit of a mess to suggest that we don’t have inspection staff on the ground,” Bennett says. “Listening to the Auditor General herself and answering her questions, she said that it’s not a matter of resources – it’s not necessarily a matter of a bunch more people – it’s the processes and the legislation that we have in place and she’s right in terms of us needing to change our legislation, and we’re very busy doing that.”
As for Bellringer’s recommendation of removing the compliance and enforcement function from the Ministry to an independent body, Bennett stopped short of rejecting it but doesn’t support it either.
He said that there no other jurisdiction in Canada that does that, adding that there are important reasons for keeping it within the Ministry.