The B.C. government’s “ham-fisted” move to ban uranium mining in 2008 – and its subsequent negotiations with a mining company – unnecessarily cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more in compensation, the opposition NDP said Tuesday.
The province paid Boss Power Corp. $30-million in an out-of-court settlement earlier this year. The government precipitously yanked the rug out from under the company three days after the firm filed an exploration application in the mountains east of Kelowna.
Energy Minister Rich Coleman defended the settlement Tuesday, saying the province always intended to pay compensation for stripping the company of its rights. But he said the province erred by rushing a policy announcement without providing the legal framework for the change.
“If government made one mistake, it would have been that we didn’t have the [cabinet order]ready when we made the announcement on uranium, which put some of our staff in an untenable position,” he told reporters.
Boss Power announced in 2007 it intended to file an application to explore its claim, encouraged by the mining minister of the day, Kevin Krueger, who said at the time that the application “will be given full consideration, just like any other application. The chief inspector of mines will make a decision on it.”
Three days after the company filed its application, in April of 2008, Mr. Krueger lost a battle within cabinet, and the government announced a ban on uranium mining. “We made a decision contrary to what the minister personally thought he would like to see,” Mr. Coleman said.
The company was promised compensation, but court documents show the province chose a circuitous route to reach a settlement.
Two years into negotiations, the government’s lawyer contacted the company’s lawyer, Murray Clemens of Nathanson, Schachter & Thompson, to explain yet another change in course.
“I regret to advise that there has been a change in my instructions,” government lawyer Ted Gouge wrote. “The province is not willing at this time, to enter into settlement negotiations.”
New Democratic Party critic John Horgan said that tactic drove up the cost of the settlement because Boss Power eventually extracted an admission from the province that it did not follow the law in assessing the company’s application.
Late in 2010, the province admitted in court that its chief inspector of mines, Douglas Sweeney, was ordered to ignore the application because of the new policy. But Mr. Sweeney was required by law to consider the application. Instead, he was relieved of his responsibilities. It wasn’t until almost a year after the government’s policy announcement that cabinet passed regulations to give its bureaucrats the legal footing to deny the application.
“It put our staff in an uncomfortable position because they had some statutory obligations, but they also knew we were moving on changing the rules,” Mr. Coleman told reporters Tuesday. “And for that, I’m sorry.”
Mr. Horgan said the government “ruined” Mr. Sweeney’s career and called for his reinstatement.
The NDP supports the ban on uranium mining, but he estimated that the province could have settled for as little as $4-million had it been upfront in its dealings with the company.
“It’s a ham-fisted way to go about things,” he said. “Had there not been public misfeasance, they could have settled for much less.”