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B.C. premier extends mining tax credit, launches environment assessment review


B.C. premier extends mining tax credit, launches environment assessment review

Written by Derek Penner for The Vancouver Sun, January 27 2014

Premier Christy Clark bolstered mining’s place in her economic platform Monday with a review of the province’s environmental assessment office to make it “more effective” and extending tax breaks to mineral prospectors.

Clark extended the gestures to mining during the opening session of the annual convention of the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C., characterizing mining as the province’s “comeback industry” for its revival of activity over the past 10 years.

The premier revealed few details, but said she has given Environment Minister Mary Polak the task of reviewing the Environmental Assessment Office with a focus on making it “as effective and efficient as we possibly can.”

It was only a short reference in her speech, but afterward Clark said: “It is my belief that the (environmental assessment process) has gotten less certain, less predictable and probably not as efficient as people want.”

Clark said she wants to see any reviews get quickly to a yes or no decision, because “over the years, the environmental assessment process has gotten so long, so difficult and so complex that communities, proponents, can’t get a yes, can’t get a no.”

However, in reaching quick decisions, Clark added, she wants to “make sure that the work we’re doing is rigorous, make sure that it’s clear, make sure that it’s timely.”

The premier made the declaration, which came without a timeline, a little more than a month after B.C. Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Affleck ordered her government to reopen the Environmental Assessment Office’s decision to reject Pacific Booker Minerals Ltd.’s application for a proposed $2.5-billion mine north of Smithers.

It also comes as the federal cabinet is weighing a final decision in Taseko Mines Ltd.’s controversial New Prosperity mine proposal, which was subject to a critical assessment by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. It concluded the mine would adversely impact water quality, fish and fish habitat in the nearby Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), and aboriginal interests.

The Tsilhqot’in First Nation adamantly opposes the $1.5-billion proposal, a project that is championed by Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett for its economic benefits and his belief environmental risks can be managed.

“Mining investment depends on certainty,” Clark said, “and the jurisdictions that provide more certainty are the ones that are going to win the sweepstakes for the investments that create jobs.”

On taxes, Clark’s gesture toward greater certainty was to extend the province’s mining-exploration tax credit at least for 2014, which honours a promise she made in the 2013 provincial election.

At an estimated cost of $10 million for the upcoming fiscal year, she considers the tax credit a “small price to pay for the tremendous amount of investment it attracts (to B.C.).”

Clark told reporters that government will consider making that tax credit, which flows back to the investors who buy shares in exploration companies, a permanent feature to offer the industry more certainty of its investments in B.C.

B.C. experienced a dent in exploration spending in 2013, when prospectors spent an estimated $476 million looking for minerals, Clark said. That was down from $680 million in 2012 due to a drop in commodity prices and a tougher environment for mining.

Gavin Dirom, CEO of AME B.C., said spending on mineral exploration was down across the globe last year, but the provincial tax credit is important to help keep B.C. competitive.

“What’s important is that B.C. is attracting its fair share, and more than other jurisdictions,” Dirom said.

He noted that the $476 million spent in 2013 was still the second-highest amount for a single year on record, and represented 20 per cent of all exploration activity in Canada.

That, Dirom said, is a considerable improvement on 2000/01, when B.C. was drawing only five to six per cent of exploration spending to the province.

Clark touted B.C.’s mining successes, including the creation of 800 new jobs since 2011 with the opening of two new mines. And with two more expected to open this year, Clark said her government is halfway to the goal it set in its Jobs Plan to enable the opening of eight new mines and nine mine expansions. She added that 20 mine proposals are at some stage in the environmental assessment process.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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