By well-established precedent, Bill Bennett right about now should be typing his letter of resignation to Premier Clark.
Extreme? Not at all. Here’s a bit of history that, trust me, speaks directly to the mining minister’s duty after the catastrophic breach of the tailings pond at Mount Polley mine.
Just after the the Second World War, the British agricultural minister resigned. During the war, the Royal Air Force had expropriated a lot of farmland for airfields. After the war, this land was resold by the ministry to bidders. A lot of hanky-panky and plain unfairness came with the sales and it became a scandal.
When the scandal broke, the minister, Thomas Dugdale, who knew little of the scheme and had nothing personally to do with it, promptly resigned. When asked why, he explained simply that since he took credit for when things went well in the ministry, he had to bear responsibility when they didn’t. He perhaps was too hard on himself. Many thought so, including Winston Churchill, his prime minister. He, however, felt that his ministry had failed in its duty, which required that he take the fall.
During the Falklands War, Lord Carrington, the defence minister, felt that his ministry had not properly advised the prime minister on the ramifications. The prime minister didn’t think so but Carrington did. Again, in his view, the ministry had failed to do its duty, he was the minister, and so he must go.
This is called “ministerial responsibility” and has become considerably less fashionable these days, to the point that I doubt that Premier Clark has any understanding of the tradition. To be fair, most people don’t, but then most people are not the premier of the province.
I will deal with the notion of “ministerial responsibility” in a moment but first let’s take a look at the role that Bill Bennett assumed when he accepted the portfolio of B.C. minister of mines.
Who holds the line?
Some regulations in some ministries are casual. They are there to sort of guide things along.
With environmental matters they are not casual at all. One does not expect to have an environmental disaster the day after regulation is passed, which means — and I hate to sound pedantic but this government is not too bright — regulations must be constantly kept up to date and enforced. This requires regular inspections by experts even though, on the face of it, it seems such a waste of time and effort because things all seem to be safe and sound.
With a dam this is particularly true. Once built, the dam looks so nice and secure that nobody thinks for a moment there will be a problem. And there won’t be a problem, likely, until all of a sudden there is one. Obviously, this means there must be constant inspection reports and updating of the dam itself even though it all looks so permanently intact.
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