If she becomes premier, Christy Clark says she will play hardball with Ottawa to secure federal approval for the $800-million Prosperity Mine project rejected last November by then-environment-minister Jim Prentice.
Ms. Clark, the former deputy premier seeking the leadership of the BC Liberals, said she would use her first meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to demand a reversal in the decision to halt the open-pit copper and gold mine near Williams Lake. She even suggested it would be in Ottawa's interest to reverse course to win support from B.C. voters in a spring federal election.
"This isn't the final decision as far as I am concerned," Ms. Clark said after outlining her Families First platform of policies, which includes a commitment to put the Prosperity Mine issue at the top of her federal-provincial agenda.
Ms. Clark said her leverage in the debate "is the common sense of it, the ridiculousness of this decision, the common sense of changing it. I think [Ottawa]does want to change it. At the political level, they see how dumb this decision is, so I think there's an appetite to change it. … They also have a federal election coming up, so I think they are sensitive to that as well."
Following Ottawa's November rejection of the mine in light of a federal panel's concerns about environmental impacts on fish and fish habitat, the B.C. government said it would help proponent Taseko Mines rework its proposal to try to win federal approval.
The mine was seen as badly needed economic help for a forestry-dependent region that has been hard-hit by a pine-beetle infestation and withering lumber markets.
Ms. Clark sharply cast the Prosperity Mine commitment against a proposal by leadership rival Kevin Falcon to use his first meeting with Mr. Harper to seek a reduction in the harmonized sales tax, possibly by 1 per cent, as a means of making the unpopular tax more palatable to voters.
"One is a choice between hacking $1.6-billion out of our budget before it's even balanced. The other is adding thousands of people-years of jobs that are going to add revenue to the budget overall and how people support themselves," she said. "To me, that's the choice that's there and it's pretty obvious which one is the common-sense route to take."
Premier Gordon Campbell, asked for comment on the Prosperity Mine issue, said Tuesday that the fate of the mine lies with the company, not his successor.
"We have to be smarter as governments, but the private sector has to make sure they're jumping over the hurdles and meeting the challenges that confront them," he told reporters following a speech to the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. "I think the federal government and the provincial government hope they will find a way through it and I am hopeful they will as well."
Ms. Clark said the issue highlights the need for a joint federal-provincial environmental assessment process "that respects environmental and social concerns, but takes into account the economic benefits of some of the projects too. The thing I don't understand about this process is that B.C. approved it, and the federal government comes in and says, 'It's not okay,' as though the British Columbia process somehow lacks integrity, and it doesn't. We need one approval process."
She said her key concern is jobs.
"I think the Prosperity Mine needs to move ahead, not just for the thousands of jobs that would be created over the years in the Williams Lake area, but as a signal to investors across the world that British Columbia is open for investment, and if you want to tell people not to come the Prosperity Mine is a pretty big signpost telling them we don't really want investment here. We have to change that."
Other measures in Ms. Clark's long-awaited platform include a commitment to increase the minimum wage by an undefined amount following consultations with business and an increase in the working income tax benefit to match a new federal initiative.
She would also implement a business-creation tax credit and other incentives to boost the economy and help create family-supporting jobs as part of a program that would cost $100-million a year.
"Families First is making sure that we are, in every decision that government makes, considering the impact on families - every cabinet submission, every ministry service plan, all of those proposals that come before government will have to justify the impact they have on families," Ms. Clark said.