Cariboo-Prince George MP Dick Harris concedes he lost the political battle around the proposed New Prosperity mine, but he likes the project's chances in the courts.
Harris has been one of the staunchest advocates for the development of the copper and gold deposit near Williams Lake for the last decade and he believes Taseko has a strong case to make at the federal court as the company challenges environmental assessment findings of significant adverse environmental affects. Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq used that report when she and her cabinet colleagues ruled Wednesday that the federal government would not be giving the mine a permit to proceed to the detailed design phase.
"I've already seen some of the affidavits that have been filed and they're coming from some pretty eminent sources talking about the evidence that was presented [during] the panel hearings," Harris said Thursday. "You can never tell with the court, but the government could be in pretty tough on this one if it gets to court."
Taseko launched the judicial review of the environmental assessment in November, citing what it believes is incorrect evidence presented by Natural Resources Canada regarding the nature of the soil liner the company proposed for the tailings pond. Taskeo believes that evidence led to faulty conclusions and is asking the federal court to get the panel to revisit its findings.
"Because a mistake is made by Natural Resources Canada, the panel then relies on that mistake and comes to flawed conclusions and then [Minister Aglukkaq] relies on those conclusions and comes up with a decision [Wednesday], the wrong decision," Taseko vice-president of corporate affairs Brain Battison said.
The case is winding its way through the federal court system, but it's unclear how long the process will take.
Taseko also has the option of requesting a judicial review of Wednesday's decision.
Harris has lobbied for the project because he believes the jobs it could have provided are critical to the economic sustainability of the region. He repeatedly spoke in the House of Commons in support of the mine and said he was disappointed at his party's eventual decision to reject the mine a second time.
An initial proposal was turned down in 2010, also due to environmental concerns.
"I keep trying to think, what else could I have done?" Harris said. "When something like this happens, I'm sure that most people that were intimately involved in it asked themselves what more could I have done, so I'm doing some soul searching today and taking a day of pretty profound reflection trying to think of all the things, what did I miss?"
Harris had hoped at the very least the government would have allowed the mine to continue to the provincial permitting stage where B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said the province would have been able to provide sufficient oversight to ensure the mine was operated safely.
He said the rejection "shatters the hopes and dreams" of people in the region who were hoping the mine would provide new jobs to compensate for those lost in the forest industry due to the pine beetle epidemic.
He considers his inability to convince his government to support the project a "personal failure."
While Harris has spoken out strongly against the government's decision, he didn't want to discuss any future political steps he might take to protest the decision.
"I don't want to talk about the politics side of it, what's important here is the opportunity that has been taken by this decision," he said. "The sun will come up and set and come up and set but Dick Harris isn't going to make it come up any sooner or last any longer but the pain of this decision will last a long time in the Cariboo-Chilcotin."
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