The decision by the federal government to reject the New Prosperity mine could hurt future investments in natural resource projects, according to proponents.
On Wednesday evening, the federal government determined that the open-pit copper and gold mine project in the Cariboo could cause significant adverse environmental effects and decided against giving Taseko a certificate to continue with the project.
"This will have reverberations not only across the country, but around the globe in the world of mining," Taseko vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison said.
Taseko, along with regional business leaders and provincial and local government officials, had been hoping the federal government would overrule a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel, which found the mine could cause harm to fish, fish habitat, grizzly bears and traditional First Nations activities in the area. Aboriginal groups joined by some concerned citizens in the Cariboo led the charge against the mine, saying it was not the right project for the region.
Like Battison, Cariboo-Prince George Conservative MP Dick Harris is concerned about the message the federal government is sending to potential investors by declining to give New Prosperity the chance to proceed.
"Someone suggested that this decision might be the canary in the coal mine and maybe the canary has died," Harris said. "You can bet that investors have been waiting for this decision to come and it's going to be considered very carefully by investors in British Columbia. Will it have an effect? I'm sure it will have an effect of some sort."
Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen applauded the government's decision to reject the mine, but is also worried about the message the process has sent. He said there's too much uncertainty inherent in the environmental assessment process and a new system must be developed to ensure all sides have a clear view of what type of projects are acceptable.
"We need a better way to develop resources in Canada that doesn't lead to so much conflict," he said.
The project has led to divisions in the Cariboo between mine supporters and opponents. Tsilhqot'in National Government chief Joe Alphonse, who led the charge against the mine, said now it's time to start healing any wounds opened by the mine debate.
He said the federal government's decision shows the importance of working with First Nations from the outset with the goal of reaching a consensus before natural resource projects can proceed.
"I think the message has to be, to industry, to non-aboriginal politicians, we as a society have plenty of challenges and to move forward on projects like this we can't exclude anyone, we can only move these projects forward together," he said. "That means walking through each other's doors and treating each other in a respectful way."
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