The NDP's criticism of the provincial government's mine worker plan is misguided, according to the jobs minister.
The BC Liberals have come under fire for the approval of 200 temporary foreign workers from China to do exploratory underground mine work near Tumbler Ridge.
On Tuesday, BC New Democrat mining critic Doug Donaldson was in Prince George and he characterized the exercise as a failure on the part of the Liberals' jobs plan to provide the necessary training to get B.C. residents in those jobs.
"[Donaldson's] lack of understanding of the mining industry is disturbing given that he's the critic for mining for the NDP," said Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell, also the minister in charge of jobs, tourism and skills training.
Bell explained that, along with 290 British Columbians, the Chinese workers are conducting a six- to eight-month project to extract a 100,000-tonne sample of coal for analysis. That analysis will then determine whether or not the Murray River mine will be a long-term operation.
"To try and do it with British Columbians is impractical," Bell said, citing the skill sets needed to do the dangerous underground work require a significant amount of training.
There are two underground coal mines currently in operation in Canada - Grande Cache Coal in Alberta and Quinsam Coal Mine on Vancouver Island. Neither of them use the "long wall" mining technique that will be employed at the new project, Bell said.
The Opposition have said the government had time to get training for local workers underway in the years leading up to the project start date.
"I lay the blame firmly at the feet of the B.C. Liberals for having an ineffective and inefficient training plan to go along with the so-called Jobs Plan," Donaldson said.
But Bell said the idea of training people for three or four years for a short-term job with no guarantee of a permanent position doesn't add up.
"That does not bear any common sense at all," he said. "On top of which, simply recruiting people who are prepared to take that type of training and go underground is very difficult. Add to that, where would you train them? Because there are no long wall underground mines in Canada at this time."
If the exploration is deemed successful, construction on the Murray River mine would begin by 2015, bringing with it 600 direct jobs, 700 indirect jobs and about $55 million in annual revenue, according to Bell.
The cabinet minister also said he has had discussions from the beginning with the HD Mining CEO about making the necessary commitments and collaborating with Northern Lights Community College and College of New Caledonia to ensure B.C. residents are trained for those permanent jobs.
"When I hear the rhetoric that's coming right now from the NDP it's clear they're engaging in an election process as opposed to trying to make good economic decisions," Bell said. "If you really want to build the economy, you have to find ways to work collectively to advance these large projects. And when you start scaring away the investment, this particular company will take their $400 million and put it somewhere else and we'll have lost the 1,300 jobs that would have come along with it in 2015. That is not a recipe for success."