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By Gary Park
Mining News Calgary correspondent 

B.C. government takes heat from industry

 

Last updated 3/14/2004 at Noon



Simmering frustration among British Columbia's miners over the government's failure to settle aboriginal land claims and reduce red tap boiled over March 3 as the industry unloaded on British Columbia Minister of State for Mining Pat Bell.

A series of speakers said the industry was paying a heavy price for government cutbacks in gathering geo-science data and other related functions.

A recent survey by the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute found 159 mining executives gave the government a poor grade for its policy climate after a period when British Columbia's mining sector has declined to six companies with six producing mines from 30 to 40 operating base and precious metals mines at the industry's peak.

The Kemess copper and gold mining operation owned by Northgate Exploration is the only one of the six mines to have sufficient deposits to last into next decade, the Mining Association of British Columbia has predicted.

But a proposed expansion of that mine has collided with two local aboriginal communities.

With investors deterred by the land claims uncertainty, the industry is pessimistic that exploration spending can climb from C$50 million a year to the C$150 million-$200 million needed get back on a growth curve.

Nick Ferris, president of J-Pacific Gold, told Bell that British Columbia lacks the regional geologists, inspectors and staff to process staking claims after slashing staff to the bone in "virtually every category."

As he result, he said those left won't be able to handle any exploration rush triggered by rising commodity prices.

The British Columbia Geological Survey's 2003 review pointed to renewed exploration of gold and copper deposits that have gone untouched for many years, while predicting that mines owned by Imperial Metals and Taseko Mines could reopen within two years.

Bell, who has just been appointed to his portfolio, said the government is endeavoring to reverse a dramatic decline in direct mining jobs over the last decade by preparing a draft mining plan for release this year.

Bob Dickinson, co-chairman of Hunter Dickinson, which manages eight exploration and mining companies, said the industry's patience has been stretched.

But he credited the government for eliminating its corporate capital tax and for taking steps to reactivate the industry.

 

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