Little leadership in mining disaster
A view of the Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach. (REUTERS)
This week’s Duel topic: Can B.C.'s mining industry rebuild public trust?
An age-old bit of wisdom says, “You can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable.” Likewise, after closely watching the response and actions following the disastrous breach of the Mount Polley tailings pond, it might also be said, “You can tell a lot about a government or corporation by the way it responds to a crisis.”
In the days since the dam breached, it’s been one public relations blunder after another for both the government and Imperial Metals. While Premier Christy Clark was scolded for not immediately taking a leadership role in flying to the disaster area to survey the damage, company president Brian Kynoch faced harsh criticism as well. In an effort to minimize concern for residents worried about toxic tailings material released when the dam broke, he made the now-infamous statement that the tailings water in the pond was “almost drinkable.” When asked if he would drink the water, he said he would — once the solids had settled.
There have been criticisms by First Nations in the area claiming they were not immediately notified by the company when the spill happened and other residents reported concerns over a lack of information in the first few days. As the story has progressed, documents have come to light alleging Imperial Metals knew there was a problem with the tailings pond dam, and the government did as well.
Public trust of the mining industry as a whole appears to have fallen to an all-time low. And that’s unfortunate.
Read Brent Stafford's column here.
I’m not anti-mining. In fact, my dearly departed grandfather worked many years in the Bullmoose mine in Tumbler Ridge while I was growing up. Mining, strategically planned and managed with strict environmental oversight, is an economic engine that has sustained entire cities and contributes to our provincial revenues past and present.
Can public trust be rebuilt? Not with the kind of embarrassing actions and leadership we’ve seen so far in what is becoming a crossroads for the future of the industry in this province. There has been no commitment from our government to immediately inspect other tailings pond to ensure public safety, something I asked immediately of Minister of Mines and Energy Bill Bennett.
Trust comes from actions built on honesty, integrity and transparency. It takes years to build and seconds to destroy.
Not unlike the tailings pond dam at Mount Polley mine.
Laila Yuile is an independent writer, blogger and political commentator. You can read her blog at lailayuile.com.
Who wins this week's Duel?