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First Nations call outgoing B.C. Liberals' Taseko mine permits 'unbelievable move'

Indigenous anger at 'parting gift from Liberals to Taseko on last day of their government,' despite B.C. Liberal vows to maintain purely 'caretaker' government.

Outgoing B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark stands by a sign as she spends her last hours leading the province visiting wildfire evacuees in Kamloops — the same day the B.C. NDP are in Victoria being sworn in as her party's replacement in government. Her own riding is Westside-Kelowna.

Supplied/Twitter/Christy Clark

Outgoing B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark stands by a sign as she spends her last hours leading the province visiting wildfire evacuees in Kamloops — the same day the B.C. NDP are in Victoria being sworn in as her party's replacement in government. Her own riding is Westside-Kelowna.

Just days before handing over the Legislature keys to the New Democrats, the outgoing B.C. Liberals issued pre-construction drilling permits to one of the province's most controversial mines, Taseko's New Prosperity gold and copper project, the Tsilhqot'in National Government said.

Calling the move "shocking" and "an insult" to Indigenous people, the chief behind the Tsilhqot'in's ground-breaking Supreme Court of Canada victory said it was particularly upsetting given the wildfires currently engulfing the nation's six member reserves.

"While our elders and children are threatened by wildfire, B.C. decides to add insult to injury by granting these permits," Xeni Gwet’in First Nation Chief Roger William said in a statement. "… Our people are understandably angry and cannot believe that BC would approve more destruction in an area of such spiritual and cultural importance for us. Especially when we are experiencing a state of emergency."

Variations of the mine proposal have been rejected twice by the federal government, and it remains embroiled in court cases, including an ongoing defamation case the company launched against environmentalists opposed to the project's tailing pond.

Taseko Mines President and CEO Russell Hallbauer issued a statement Tuesday celebrating the new permits, saying "approval from the Province of British Columbia to undertake a site investigation program to conduct exploratory work at the New Prosperity Gold-Copper project site," he said. "The Notice of Work , which is a multi-year permit, will allow the Company to gather information for the purpose of advancing mine permitting under the British Columbia Mines Act.

"… In authorizing Taseko to do this work, the Government of British Columbia is giving us the tools needed to move the project towards its ultimate development."

The Tsilhqot'in expressed outrage over the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines-granted permits issued in the last days of the B.C. Liberal government, as the B.C. NDP has a new administration sworn in Tuesday afternoon.

"This is a typical move by the Liberal government," said Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG), in a statement. "They are a dead political party trying to mount a dead horse and hoping to ride it to a come back."

The B.C. Liberals, who have maintained power since the May 9 election pending the B.C. NDP swearing-in Tuesday, vowed to respect convention which dictates that it make no new major policy shifts, but to maintain a purely "caretaker" government until the hand-over.

"We're in caretaker mode," outgoing Premier Christy Clark told reporters on June 22. "We're not proposing new policy changes."

According to the TNG press release, the permits would allow the company to drill 122 holes on the proposed mine site, to dig 367 test pits, to build more than 75 km of new or modified trails, and 20 km of seismic lines.

Other B.C. First Nations expressed surprise at the decision, including Snuneymuxw Coun. and chief negotiator Doug White, who called the new mine permits "a parting gift from Liberals to Taseko on last day of their government" on his Twitter account.

Alphonse, whose own Tl’etinqox First Nation is currently refusing wildfire evacuation orders as it takes a stance against the blaze surrounding it, said the area affected by the drilling permits is "very special" to his people.

"For British Columbia to authorize more drilling and destruction for a project that is rejected and can’t even be built … we won’t stand down now."

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