Mayor Gerry Thiessen left the Minerals Roundup conference in Vancouver both enthused and optimistic about mining opportunities in Vanderhoof and elsewhere.
On a fact-finding mission on behalf of council, Thiessen talked with numerous representatives of companies conducting mineral exploration in Vanderhoof and Fort St. James. He also spoke with delegates from one of the largest gold companies in the world, based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“It’s an interesting time and we as a community need to make sure we’re aware of that and take advantage of good things, doing what we can to eliminate any deficit in our social ability, security, or health care,” he said.
Almost 8,000 people attended the three-day international mining exploration conference. By the time Thiessen left, he said his head was pounding from the enormity of the event.
Thiessen also had conversations with high-ranking officials from the B.C. government, including Steve Thompson, Minister of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, as well as Doug Donaldson, MLA for Stikine and mining critic for the NDP Party of B.C, about the town’s strategic location amid so much mining and exploration activity.
Increasingly, people in Vanderhoof are asking for amenities like a community centre, a theatre, an aquatic facility and a new college campus, all of which will attract skilled trades people to Vanderhoof, said Thiessen.
“From what I sense, this is a really, really exciting time to be in Vanderhoof, and so much is going to hinge on involvement of residents,” he said.
At the conference, Premier Christy Clark welcomed delegates with a prediction of record investment in the B.C. industry this year.
“Last year, as you know, was a record-breaking year for mining exploration, $462 million,” Clark said in a speech that previews the coming election campaign.
“Compare that to the 1990s, when $26 million a year in exploration was underway. We’ve come a long way in 12 years, and it’s pretty tough to beat those record-breaking years.”
She predicted that mark will be shattered with another 47 per cent increase, mostly due to a few large projects underway now.
While exploration is up, five mining expansions are permitted to proceed in the province.
They are: Endako Mines’ molybdenum mine at Fraser Lake in Central B.C.; Teck’s Highland Valley copper mine at Logan Lake in the Okanagan; Huckleberry Mine, an open-pit copper and molybdenum mine near Dease Lake in northwestern B.C.; Quinsam Coal, an underground thermal coal mine on Vancouver Island; and Elkview, a Teck metallurgical coal mine near Sparwood in the Kootenays.
Conference delegates applauded another recent development, the first mineral royalty sharing agreements with aboriginal people for Huckleberry Mine and New Afton, an expansion of a Kamloops-area copper mine.
Clark also touted an improvement in permit approval times for land and water use as well as “notice of work” permits. The waiting time has been reduced from 110 days to 80 days, and another $7 million will be spent to get it down to 60 days, she said.
NDP mining critic Doug Donaldson said the B.C. Liberal government is still working to fix a problem it created, when mining permit time went from 55 days in 2007 to 110 days by 2011. The 60-day target for notice-of-work permits was supposed to be met in November, Donaldson added.
Clark also took aim at another prominent election issue, the need for skilled trades training. She said the public school system is making a mistake when it spends 13 years and billions of dollars, then tells students they need a degree before they can work.
High schools and post-secondary institutions are getting new equipment and more access to instructors so they can enter the workforce sooner, she said.
“Let’s cut completion time for trades training in half, and let’s stop training people for jobs that don’t exist,” Clark said.
A major part of the NDP campaign for the May election will be focused on overall cuts to post-secondary funding in recent B.C. Liberal budgets.