British Columbia voters are going to the polls for the 41st time on May 9, 2017, with three parties contesting the election: today’s BC Liberals, who are the incumbents; the BC New Democratic Party; and the Green Party of BC.
Mineral Exploration magazine asked each of the three parties to explain its respective plans for the mineral exploration industry in particular. All of the parties replied by email. Below is a summary of the parties’ answers to our questions.
Leader, BC Green Party
As the leader of the BC Greens, I welcome the opportunity to provide you with a summary of our policies regarding mineral exploration.
For the past 25 years, I have been a professor in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria. I suspect I have taught quite a number of your members during this time.
The BC Greens are proud to be strong supporters of British Columbia’s mining and mineral exploration industry. We support the continuation of the mining flow-through share (MFTS) tax credit that encourages investment in our province. While the B.C. MFTS tax credit expired on December 31, 2016, a BC Green government would continue this program for the duration of our term.
The BC Greens believe that British Columbia’s environmental assessment process (EAP) is structurally broken. Fundamentally, we believe that this is because the professional reliance model needs to be replaced.
First Nations and the general public no longer trust the government’s EAP. As a result, exploration and development in British Columbia has ground to a halt.
In particular, beneficial projects are needlessly delayed as a few bad apples have sullied the mining and mineral exploration industry’s reputation. This is incredibly unfortunate, as B.C. has historically been a global leader in this area.
A BC Green government would reinvest in the BC Geological Survey that has been decimated by cuts over the last two decades. The provincial government has an important role to play in protecting British Columbia’s natural resources and in ensuring that knowledge of our geology is broadly available to the general public.
Finally, the recent Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia Supreme Court of Canada decision is a game changer for resource development in B.C.
While First Nations across the rest of Canada have largely signed treaties, this is not the case in B.C. As a result, in B.C. it is critical that resource development occur through a bottom-up process of community engagement. Ultimately, in so doing, the communities engaged become the strongest proponents of individual projects.
Minister of Energy and Mines, BC Liberal Party
BC Liberal Government Mineral Exploration Policies
Government policy for mineral exploration requires the recognition of four principles:
- Government policy matters, because capital flows to jurisdictions that welcome investment;
- British Columbia is competitive because we have reasonable turnaround times for permit applications, modest taxes, fair tax incentives and a balanced approach to environmental assessment;
- The first rule of engagement with First Nations in B.C. is to recognize they have a legal right to expect to know what is happening on their traditional territory; and
- Certainty on the land base is key to successful mineral exploration.
Flow-Through Financing and Tax Policy
Because mineral exploration often does not lead to a revenue-generating mine, tax incentives are required to encourage this high-risk investment. We renewed the mining exploration tax credit until the end of 2019 and have also advocated to the federal government that the flow-through [share tax credit] program be made permanent. These programs should be enhanced over time to increase mineral exploration investment and jobs.
British Columbians working in the exploration industry pay less income tax than anywhere else in Canada on the first $120,000 of income.
The BC Liberal Government created Geoscience BC in 2005, the only such geoscience organization in the country, because public geoscience leads to investment and job creation.
Since 2001, British Columbia has increased its share of Canadian exploration investment from six per cent to 20 per cent.
We have funded Geoscience BC $61.7 million so far and we will continue to fund it. Every $1 invested in public geoscience returns $5 to the people of British Columbia.
Aboriginal Reconciliation and How it Could Affect Mineral Exploration and Mining
British Columbia was the first province in Canada to share mining royalties with First Nations. We also have hundreds of agreements with First Nations that enable training, information sharing, shared decision-making and benefit sharing.
It is, however, important to acknowledge that there is no revenue in mineral exploration and, as a result, there is no revenue to share until and unless a deposit that can be mined is discovered and developed.[Our] government stresses the importance of exploration companies sharing information with First Nations early in the exploration process and being respectful.
Environmental Assessment Process and Notice of Work Permits for Exploration
Most exploration activities do not become sufficiently advanced to trigger an environmental assessment (EA). For those projects that do require an EA, British Columbia’s Environmental Assessment Office is a neutrally administered office that is required by law to undertake rigorous, thorough reviews of major projects in the province. British Columbia’s EA process balances economic, social and environmental values fairly. It has a legislated time period of 180 days to make a decision.
Notice of Work (NoW) permits are more relevant to the exploration industry. Our NoW permit turnaround time has been reduced by one-half; in 2016, the average was less than 50 days.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines also created the Major Mine Permitting Office. The office provides more intensive service, for a fee, where a deposit has been identified and a mine can now be planned, financed and built.
The following initiatives assist the Ministry with faster turnaround times on permits:
- Multi-year, area-based permitting – it authorizes exploration activities, typically for up to five years, within identified areas of activity;
- E-application system through FrontCounter BC;
- New regulations, which allow amendments to existing Mines Act permits, are not required for some lowimpact mineral exploration activities;
- Improvements to First Nations consultation;
- Business process improvements and staffing additions; and
- According to Order in Council No. 134, the Mines Act Permit Regulation, certain mining exploration activities are considered authorized under an existing Mines Act permit.
Leader of the Opposition, BC NDP
I understand the importance of mineral exploration for rural and urban jobs across B.C. Investor certainty and public trust are critical to supporting and growing those jobs, and both have suffered under Christy Clark’s government.
Provincial mineral exploration expenditure by companies has dropped from $680 million in 2012 to $272 million in 2015. Commodity prices account for part of this drop, but people tell me it’s about more.
This government’s inattention and crisis management approach to the industry has taken its toll. Investor certainty requires action, not just photo ops and press releases.
We took the initiative by advocating for the flow through share tax credit with the federal finance minister under his taxation review. We strongly support this measure, along with the mineral exploration tax credit. I know that capital can go anywhere in the world. I want it to come here. We will work with the industry to put further measures in place to attract investment in mineral exploration.
The BC Liberal handling of Aboriginal title has led to increased uncertainty and costs through endless court challenges. We will work with Geoscience BC, the BC Geological Survey and First Nations to develop comprehensive mineral land-use plans as one step in addressing this uncertainty.
Public trust is every bit as important as investor confidence when it comes to your industry. A BC NDP government will restore public trust by demonstrating that compliance and enforcement works, and [by] separating that function from the ministry’s promotional mandate, as was recommended by the auditor general.
We support efficiencies in the provincial and federal environmental assessments to ensure processes, monitoring and inspections make sense for British Columbia, not Ottawa.
Focusing on investor confidence and public trust are the essential first steps to positioning the mineral exploration industry for stable growth into the future.
It’s time for real, sustained attention to the exploration industry as the foundation for mining development in this province.
That’s my commitment.