Vaughn Palmer has been the point man in the media on the recent $30 million settlement between the BC government and Boss Power Corp. over uranium exploration and mining rights in the Kamloops-Kelowna region. Here is Palmer’s first article in the Vancouver Sun on the controversy, which lays out the basics of why it’s a controversy in the first place:
Such a notice of work, to give the application its official name, is subject to vetting by the chief inspector of mines. In the usual course of events, the inspector would give due consideration to the notice and approve it, perhaps with conditions, or reject it outright. But that is not what happened in this instance, according to the government’s own statement in the court record.
Instead the deputy minister for mines – Greg Reimer at the time – instructed the assistant deputy – John Cavanagh – to direct the inspector of mines – Douglas Sweeney – “not to consider the notice and that approval for that work was not to be granted.”
The assistant deputy then sought a legal opinion from the Ministry of the Attorney-General as to whether there was any legal basis for rejecting the notice out of hand.
The opinion came back that the inspector of mines “had a statutory obligation to consider the [notice of work] on its merits and that a failure to do so would be a breach of his statutory duty.”
The inspector of mines could not simply disregard the application from the mining company. To do so would amount to a dereliction of his statutory duty.
Straightforward enough. But look at what happened next, again quoting the government’s own statement of facts: “After receipt of that advice,” the assistant deputy minister again instructed Sweeney, the inspector of mines “that he was not to consider the notice of work on its merits and that approval for that work was not to be granted.”
Stop for a moment to absorb the full implications of that admission on the part of the government. The Attorney-General’s Ministry advised that the mines inspector was obliged to consider the application on its merits. He was nevertheless ordered to do the opposite and disregard it.
It gets worse.
When Sweeney hesitated, he was “relieved of his responsibilities for the notice of work” and those responsibilities were handed to other public servants in the ministry, “who gave no consideration to the merits of the notice.”
Despite the government’s reluctance to compensate Boss Power for this spectacle, it only did so when its legal battles with the company came dangerously close to being aired openly in court. Then bam! $30 million.
Why go through all this? Why not just go over Boss Power Corp.’s application on its own merits instead of rejecting it out of hand? Well, Vaughn Palmer has written that up for the Sun, too:
The application was, as the provincial government conceded in a subsequent court filing, “compliant in the sense that it was properly completed and contained the requisite information. If it had been considered by the chief inspector of mines, it might or might not have been approved.”
But things were moving quickly inside the provincial government as well. Three days after Boss Power made its move, the government announced it was slamming the door on any further exploration for uranium in the province.
“Confirming our position” was the way Krueger described it in the press release, never mind his assurances a few weeks earlier that there was no moratorium on exploration nor was one likely to be imposed.
Because of the after-the-fact nature of the announcement, it did not apply to the application filed three days earlier. Still, on May 8, Krueger and his officials met with Boss Power to explain why they would treat the application as a non-starter.
The government’s version of that meeting, derived from one of its court filings, is that Krueger explained that “the chief inspector of mines would not consider the notice of work because the government intended to ban uranium mining in B.C.”
The ban was not derived from any scientific or environmental evidence but by “widespread public opposition to uranium mining.”
More from Paul Willcocks in the Vancouver Courier-Islander, Michael Smyth in The Province, and Vaughn Palmer with a third article on the settlement. Since this story became a story, the BC Liberals have taken a significant amount of heat from the BC NDP, as Justine Hunter reports for the Globe and Mail:
The B.C. government’s “ham-fisted” move to ban uranium mining in 2008 – and its subsequent negotiations with a mining company – unnecessarily cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more in compensation, the opposition NDP said Tuesday.
More on the NDP’s probing from Tom Fletcher for Black Press, and Andrew MacLeod for The Hook. Meanwhile, Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman goes on the defensive.
You’d think that the BC Liberals would have learned their lesson with the uproar over the Basi-Virk settlement. Apparently not.