More at stake than a $1-billion mine – by Peter O’Niel (Vancouver Sun – February 16, 2014)

Decision on B.C.’s New Prosperity project will set national tone for Ottawa-aboriginal relations, First Nations warn

OTTAWA — Lobbying has intensified as the Harper government prepares to make a high-stakes decision on a controversial $1-billion B.C. mining project.

A delegation of West Coast First Nations leaders, accompanied by Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn Atleo, spent the past week on Parliament Hill, trying to get across their message that approving the New Prosperity mine near Williams Lake would deal a huge setback to Ottawa’s relationship with aboriginal Canadians.

Ottawa must make a decision the end of the month. But the native leaders left for home Friday after meeting only B-list political players, people of similar rank to those who met pro-mine members of the Williams Lake community a week earlier.

That’s far different from the high-level arm-twisting during two recent visits here by B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett, an enthusiastic New Prosperity supporter. Bennett met with a total of 13 federal MPs, seven of them cabinet ministers, as he tried to convince Ottawa to endorse New Prosperity despite a federal review panel’s Oct. 31 call for the mine be rejected.

The First Nations leaders asked for meetings with several ministers, but got to meet with just one government MP, the parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

While there might be a mismatch on the lobbying front, both sides have a compelling message that is presumably weighing heavily on a federal cabinet facing a true dilemma.

For proponents of Vancouver-based Taseko Mines Ltd., approval isn’t just about creating hundreds of high-paying permanent jobs in a region that needs them. It’s also about sending a signal to the world that B.C. is open for business.

“The New Prosperity Mine project is critical to the economic future of Williams Lake and British Columbia,” Bennett said in an interview.

Taseko, which has publicly accused the review panel of making an “outrageous” and “nearly unfathomable” error, was even more blunt in a 15-page letter to Aglukkaq shortly after the panel report was made public.

The company, President Russell Hallbauer told the minister, has made numerous major accommodations to First Nations while investing $100 million and more than 18 years in various federal and provincial environmental review processes.

“Accordingly, unless the project is allowed to move into the detailed permitting stages, we believe Canadians and international investors would be left to wonder whether any major project can be developed in this country,” he stated.

For opponents, approval would send a damning signal to Canada’s First Nations and the world that the Harper government isn’t serious about consulting and accommodating First Nations on major resource projects.

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