NDP environment critic Rob Fleming is calling on Comox Valley Liberal MLA Don McRae to defend shellfish jobs and to speak out about the proposed Raven underground coal mine in Baynes Sound.
“It’s time for Don McRae to end his silence,” the Victoria-Swan Lake MLA said at the annual Comox Valley NDP fall dinner Saturday at the Filberg Centre. “Hundreds of long-term sustainable jobs would be lost if this mine harms the shellfish industry in Baynes Sound. But so far Mr. McRae won’t even join the community in calling for the strongest form of environmental assessment.”
Fleming, who said he supports sustainable mining based on vigorous environmental standards, claimed Premier Christy Clark and the Liberals want to weaken the environmental assessment process that could allow the mine to proceed without a thorough study of impacts on air quality, water quality, wild salmon and the shellfish industry.
“This is Don McRae’s chance to show he’s learned from the HST fiasco and start listening to constituents,” Fleming said. “He should at least speak out for a strengthened environmental review.”
While the Raven project will “have to stand on its own merits,” McRae said Tuesday in an interview that he is “hugely supportive” of the Baynes Sound shellfish industry.
“If it were to go forward, the mitigation measures have to make sure the shellfish industry is not going to be impacted in a negative way,” McRae said.
He notes the shellfish industry represents $24 million to $28 million a year to the east coast of Vancouver Island, and is sustainable and long-lasting.
“That’s a source of jobs and revenue and West Coast culture we can’t afford to lose,” McRae said. “I’m glad that British Columbia has an environment where people want to try to make opportunity happen.
“We need jobs and investment, but a mine on the east coast of Vancouver Island close to the richest shellfish beds on the coast, and close to large urban populations that don’t have a social licence for the most part for mining, it’s not an easy test.”
McRae said Environment Minister Terry Lake is well aware of the issue, having visited the Valley several times.
Lake has said the environmental assessment process in B.C. is more rigorous than usual.
“At this stage it’s not in the politicians’ hands, it’s in the environmental assessment process, both at the federal and provincial level,” McRae said, noting other mining proposals have taken 17 years to work through and even then are not approved. “There’s no guarantee on when it’s coming forward, or if it’s going to come forward…The Comox Valley isn’t an economically depressed area like some places in central or northwestern British Columbia, and this is not going to save our community.”
He also notes the proponent, Compliance Coal Corporation, needs to respond to about 3,000 public comments about the mine.
“Another step that not normally is in process here is the public now gets to comment on the proponent’s comments,” McRae said.
In terms of politics, McRae said the Opposition is “looking for wedge issues” as it tries to win a riding and form government in B.C.