Auditor General

AG: “Business as usual cannot continue”


  • Ministry of Environment (MoE), Mary Polak, Minister
  • Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), Bill Bennett, Minister

bellringerExcerpts from AN AUDIT OF COMPLIANCE AND ENFORCEMENT OF THE MINING SECTOR, May 2016, by Carol Bellringer, with emphases added:


…protection of the environment needs to be ensured. This is only possible through strong regulatory oversight… [by] the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and the Ministry of Environment (MoE)…

We found almost every one of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program within the MEM and the MoE were not met.

We found major gaps in resources, planning and tools. As a result, monitoring and inspections of mines were inadequate to ensure mine operators complied with requirements…

We noted …too few resources, infrequent inspections, and lack of enforcement.

Our advice… is for government to remove its compliance and enforcement program for mining from MEM.

MEM’s role to promote mining development is diametrically opposed to compliance and enforcement. This framework, of having both activities within MEM, creates an irreconcilable conflict.

I am therefore disappointed in the resistance to this overall recommendation…


…The major risk to the environment from mining activities is water contamination from the chemical processes of acid rock drainage and heavy metal and non-metal leaching. Once these processes begin, they can continue indefinitely. In some cases, the only solution is water treatment and monitoring – in perpetuity – which can cost millions of dollars a year.

Industry is responsible for both building and maintaining these facilities indefinitely; however, the lifespan of mines and mining companies is finite, creating a risk that taxpayers may bear the costs. So, while the benefit from mining occurs for a limited time, the costs, including government’s obligation to monitor these sites, may continue for a very long time.

Audit Findings

…ministries lack sufficient resources and tools to manage environmental risks from mining activities.

…To meet the provincial goals for new mines and mine expansions, MEM and MoE are focusing on permit applications. As a result, there are few resources dedicated to the regulatory activities of monitoring, compliance and enforcement.

…Neither ministry uses a permitting approach that reduces the likelihood taxpayers will have to pay costs associated with the environmental impacts of mining activities (known as the polluter-pays principle).

MEM is not holding an adequate amount of security to cover the estimated environmental liabilities at major mines.

…neither ministry could demonstrate that its activities and guidance materials were effective in achieving voluntary compliance or government’s environmental outcomes.

…Neither MEM nor MoE are conducting adequate monitoring and site inspections and neither have assessed how this is impacting risks.

Both MEM’s and MoE’s enforcement responses have significant deficiencies and MEM’s enforcement tools are in some cases, ineffectual.

..Neither MEM nor MoE have adequately evaluated the effectiveness of their -regulatory programs…

Mount Polley

…We found that the ministry did not ensure that the tailings dam was being built or operated according to the approved design, nor did it ensure that the mining company rectified design and operational deficiencies. MEM continued to allow the mine to operate and to approve permit amendments to raise the tailings dam…

MEM did not use most of these enforcement mechanisms to compel the mine operator to build or operate the dam as designed and intended.

Elk Valley Coal Mines

Lack of sufficient and effective regulatory oversight and action by MoE to address known environmental issues has allowed degradation of water quality in the Elk Valley. Coal mining… has resulted in high concentrations of selenium in the water system. As selenium accumulates up the food chain, it can affect
the development and survival of birds and fish, and may also pose health risks to humans.

…MoE has been monitoring selenium levels in the Elk Valley and over that time has noted dramatic annual increases of selenium in the watershed’s tributaries. MoE tracked this worsening trend, but took no substantive action to change it…

MoE staff, with input from external experts, concluded that the selenium levels in the proposed [Teck] Line Creek Expansion Permit were not likely protective of the environment. The statutory decision-maker could not approve the permit. Subsequently, the permit was granted by Cabinet. This was the first time that Cabinet used this approval process. The rationale for the decision was not publicly disclosed…

…The ministry has not disclosed these risks to legislators and the public…

9 replies »

  1. By every parliamentary srandard, Bill Bennett must resign. However, ever since Gordon Campbell went to jail for drunk driving, resignation for misdeeds or rank incompetence is no longer even considered. I can only say that I can’t imagine running a ministry – and I ran 4 – like Bennett and most of his colleagues have run theirs, nor can I imagine any of my colleagues doing so, HOWEVER if any of us had, the “real” Bill Bennett, the premier, would have had our asses out the door before any of us knew what hit us.
    In competence begets incompetence and as demonstrated so clearly here, starts at the top.


  2. Didn’t the Auditor say something about regulatory capture? This from wikipedia:

    There are two basic types of regulatory capture:[9][10]

    Materialist capture, also called financial capture, in which the captured regulator’s motive is based on its material self-interest. This can result from bribery, revolving doors, political donations, or the regulator’s desire to maintain its government funding. These forms of capture often amount to political corruption.

    Non-materialist capture, also called cognitive capture or cultural capture, in which the regulator begins to think like the regulated industry. This can result from interest-group lobbying by the industry.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I certainly hope the Auditor General now turns her mind to the subject of hydraulic fracking in BC. Something tells me Mary Polak hasn’t been doing her job there either, and that Rich Coleman, who has the natural gas file, doesn’t lose much sleep over the environmental effects of the practice.

    He says, “British Columbia has been a leader in safe, responsible natural gas development for more than 50 years. Our experience has led to some of the world’s strictest rules for water use and protection.”

    Given he’s the same guy who said on May 5th last year in the BC Legislature that, “We live in the jurisdiction with the most successful housing strategy in North American history,” I’d like some independent verification of his credentials on fracking.


    • Great points and my guess suggests he’s not qualified for the position he occupies….neither does Ms. Clark qualify for her position. When Coleman refers to safety he is not responding to the fact that unlike decades ago, hydraulic fracturing has turned to horizontal fracturing to capture ever more gas reserves. Science is now well aware that horizontal fracturing is pulverizing large swaths of underground rock that leads to migration of stored liquid fracking toxins into underground aquifers. That is an indisputable fact. Pennsylvania is just one reference point for wide spread ground water contamination. Coleman reminds me of Big Tobacco. He uses their same rhetoric in the attempt to shut truth down. We will not shut up!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The Auditor General’s scathing report basically gives both the MEM and the ME F’s (for failure to regulate). Bennett and Polak would resign if they were honorable. If this were a private sector industry they would both have been on the street a long time ago. It looks like Christy sets the Liberal standards so low for ‘a good reason’.

    Bennett defended his Ministry and the BC mining industry but in doing so failed (as he has in the past speaking on the MtPolly tailings breach) in being fully transparent on all the facts. For example…

    With respect to the one billion dollar mine reclamation shortfall that has been waved/not collected… well that just transfers the risk and potential cost to us taxpayers, for present and future generations. A freeloading of corporate risk downloaded to us taxpayers!

    Bennett minimized this bond shortfall by assuring all that a large proportion of this unfunded amount was from very large mining companies. He noted that for example one was Teck Resources, a very long established, successful BC miner and assured us that they would be around for a very long time.

    Just an example how that promise can go sideways is Peabody Coal, the largest US coal miner. The stock was close to $100 US a year ago. It was batterered by the drop in demand and price as utilities switched to natural gas. The company could not pay its debt, went to pennies and filed for bankruptcy April 13. They left a lot of unfunded environmental messes in their dust. So much for sure things.

    The Auditor General has way more credibility then Mr Bennett.
    He needs to resign or at least be sent to the back benches (Ms Polak too). But unfortunately that s not going to happen.


  5. “business as usual can not continue” Gee why not? Its working so well for all those mine owners and the B.C. Lieberal Party.

    it might not be working for us the citizens or the environment, but as long as it is working for the mine owners, financial supporters of the B.C. Lieberal party, no ought to expect any changes.

    If anyone expects changes, B.C. will need another political party to form government. The recent conflict commissioner’s decision regarding all those nice dollars going to the B.C. Lieberals and Christy’s skimming is simply embolding them all.


  6. It is my knowledge that Murray Edwards, the principle owner of Polley Mines, also owner of the Red Chris Mine, CNLR, and a Calgary investment company, and a potential gas pipeline and LNG terminal in Prince Rupert, is a high value contributor to Christy Clark’s Liberal Party, and a member of the CCCE’s, is in the process of moving to England, Could it be that it is his intention to fly the coup with his Billions in tack. Considering the Polley Mine incident, and the uncontrolled oil leak coming from the tarsands mine at the CLNR, mine in Alberta, and the chummy relationship that he and Christy Clark have, I would suggest that further auditing should be under taken regarding Mr. Edwards other business dealings, as well as an investigation into his financial and banking practices, both here and in England. I recently read that there is a bank in England, or on a nearby Island, that specializes in secret off shore banking accounts.


  7. For sixteen years “Kootenay” Bill has turned a blind eye to Teck Resources’ systemic poisoning of the Elk River. Wondering why?

    Well [BC Liberals] don’t care for much of anything
    Land and water the least
    And animal life is low on the totem pole
    With human life not worth more than infected yeast

    [BC Liberals] don’t care too much for beauty
    They’ll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream
    They’ll watch dead rats wash up on the beach
    And complain if they can’t swim

    They say things are done for the majority
    Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear
    It’s like what my painter friend Donald said to me,
    “Stick a fork in their ass and turn them over, they’re done”

    Excerpt from Lou Reed’s “Last Great American Whale”


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