B.C. auditor general says province doing poor job monitoring mines

VICTORIA – British Columbia’s auditor general has delivered a scathing report that concludes the government is not properly prepared to protect the environment from potential disasters in the mining industry.

Carol Bellringer said Tuesday that her office’s mines audit was already underway in August 2014 when the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine in central B.C. collapsed, spilling millions of cubic metres of silt and waste into nearby lakes and rivers.

Her report, “An Audit of Compliance and Enforcement of the Mining Sector,” took two years to complete.

It says almost all expectations for government compliance and enforcement in the mining industry are not being met.

She said in a telephone news conference with reporters that the enforcement and compliance activities of the ministries of energy and mines and environment are not set up to protect the province from environmental risks.

Bellringer highlighted major gaps in the ministries, citing too few resources and insufficient staff.

She said the results were inadequate inspections of mines to ensure operators complied with requirements.

Bellringer added that mining companies have not provided government with enough financial security deposits to cover potential reclamation costs if a firm defaults on its obligations. She said the fund is short more than $1 billion.

“We concluded the Ministry of Energy and Mines and Ministry of Environment compliance and enforcement activities of the mining sector are inadequate to protect the province from significant environmental risk,” she said. “Almost all of the expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program were not met.”

Mines Minister Bill Bennett said he accepts Bellringer’s recommendations and the ministry on its way to implementing a total of 43 recommendations from combined reports, linked to the Mount Polley disaster.

“We actually agree with the central opinion that is expressed in the report that our compliance and enforcement regime … in terms of our legislation and our oversight of engineers, is in need of some significant improvement,” said Bennett in an interview. “We are not backing away from this. The auditor general is correct.”

Bennett said the government and the auditor general differ on her call for the creation of an independent mining compliance office to keep watch on the industry.

Bellringer said the government has rejected her recommendation, but Bennett said the government is open to discussions.

The minister refused Opposition New Democrat calls for his resignation following Bellringer’s report.