One of the B.C. Liberal government's most vocal natural-resource-industry advocates plans to stay on the job.
In an interview this morning on The Early Edition on CBC Radio, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said he has no plans to quit in the wake of a devastating auditor general's report on regulation of the mining industry.
"The auditor general didn't call for me to resign," Bennett said on the air.
Auditor General Carol Bellringer wrote that "almost every one of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program within the MEM [Ministry of Energy and Mines] and MoE [Ministry of Environment] were not met".
"The ministries have not publicly disclosed the limitations with their compliance and enforcement programs, increasing environmental risks, and government's ability to protect the environment," Bellringer concluded.
She added that "these risks became a reality and disaster occurred when the tailings dam at Mount Polley failed", which resulted in approximately 25 million cubic metres of wastewater moving into the water system, contaminating drinking water for a while in the town of Likely.
B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan has called on Premier Christy Clark to fire Bennett.
“This report is a scathing condemnation of Bill Bennett’s tenure as minister," Horgan said in a statement. "The auditor general concludes that the ministry’s lack of oversight directly led to the breach at Mount Polley. She has judged the minister in the harshest possible terms."
Bennett, however, told CBC Radio that Bellringer's office conducted "a performance audit".
"This was not an investigation into what caused the acccident at Mount Polley," he said.
Bennett cited last year's independent review, which concluded the breach in the tailings-pond dam resulted from a failure in the foundation of the embankment. This went undetected for years.
The independent review also noted that the "failure was triggered by construction of the downstream rockfill zone at a steep slope".
Bennett is the B.C. Liberal MLA for East Kootenay, which is home to several coal mines.
Bellringer recommended that the government remove its mining compliance and enforcement program from the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
In her view, this would address an "irreconcilable conflict" between the ministry role in promoting the mining industry and its role as a regulator. Bellringer concluded that the Ministry of Energy and Mines "is at risk of regulatory capture".
Bennett told CBC Radio that the government is considering having a "separate board" to oversee compliance, which would be "accountable" to the deputy minister of mines, the deputy minister of the environment, and the associate deputy minister for the Environmental Assessment Office.
"People who work in compliance and enforcement don't promote mining," Bennett insisted to CBC Radio host Rick Cluff. "That's not their job."
The auditor general included 16 other recommendations, including that the government "review its security mechanisms to ensure taxpayers are safeguarded from the costs of an environmental disaster".
In addition, Bellringer urged the government to publicly report "results and trends of all mining compliance and enforcement activities" and the "estimated liability and the security held for each mine".
Meanwhile, the Wilderness Committee issued a statement yesterday calling on the B.C. government to implement all of Bellringer's recommendations.
“The most important aspect is the urgent need for the compliance and enforcement program to be an independent unit from the Ministry of Energy and Mines,” said Wilderness Committee national policy director Gwen Barlee.