$10 million more funding for mine safety and permitting process: Premier Clark

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark speaks at the opening of the Association for Mineral Exploration BC's mineral roundup in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday January 26, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER - A mining disaster and increased pressure to speed up the mine-review process in British Columbia has prompted Premier Christy Clark to promise more funding.

Clark told a crowd at Roundup 2015, the annual mineral exploration conference in Vancouver, that her government would hike the budget this year for B.C.'s Ministry of Mines and Energy by nearly $10 million in an effort to improve safety and efficiency.

"We're increasing resources so that we have more boots on the ground, performing more inspections," said Clark on Monday.

"(We're) making sure, in light of what's happened at Mt. Polley, that we all recognize our greater responsibility to … ensure that mining is done safely and mining is done in a way that maintains public confidence and public trust."

In August 2014, the tailings dam at the Mt. Polley gold and copper mine near Williams Lake, B.C., burst, releasing millions of tonnes of effluent into nearby salmon-bearing lakes and streams and prompting a temporary water ban for hundreds of area residents.

Cleanup of the massive spill and remediation of the mine, owned by the Imperial Metals Corp. (TSX:III), are expected to take years and cost millions.

B.C.'s chief inspector of mines approved repair work for the tailings pond just last month. It's unclear when the mine could start operating again.

Besides boosting resources to employ more inspections staff, the additional funding announced by the province will go towards the creation of a major mines permitting office designed to fast-track the mine review process.

"Its role is to improve co-ordination across government so that the ministries aren't tripping over one other and putting each other's deadlines at risk," said Clark.

The increase puts the overall spending authority for the province's mines and mineral resources division at just over $20 million.

At the same time, the province committed to extend an industry tax credit until 2020 that allows new mines and major expansions to deduct 133% of their capital costs.

The premier said the province is more than halfway to its goal of opening 15 new and expanded mines by 2015 and the new funding will further improve the permit process.

She also forecasted balancing the province's books for the third straight year when the budget is released next month.

On the same day as the government announcement, a First Nations group called on the province to divide up some of the resources with First Nations.

"If this year's (mining conference) focuses on how to hold on to control of the industry rather than sharing it, then we will remain on a path of confrontation and B.C. will be in no position to capitalize when the markets rebound," said Bev Sellars, chief of the Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation and chair of the First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining group.

In the speech to conference attendees, Clark referenced the government's past failures and the need for better engagement and collaboration with the province's aboriginal groups.

"For 100 years we have done a great job of developing resource wealth in our province. We have not done a great job of sharing those resources from government with First Nations," she said.

"Government needs to find a way to share resources better with First Nations and share decision-making better."

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