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Opinion: Province ignores B.C. Jade Day as it nixes new northwest jade mines

Government double standards sees it shutting down domestic jade industry while ignoring Myanmar
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Vancouver International Airport's iconic The Jade Canoe sculpture.

Premier David Eby had little to say on B.C. Jade Day this year, which came and went without any of the usual encouragement since the province launched the event on May 28, 2016 to increase knowledge and awareness of the province’s official gemstone. As recently as last year, the premier celebrated B.C. Jade Day and had nothing but positive things to say about the future of jade mining in the province. Contrast that with the immediate order issued last month banning new jade mines in the northwest, and it starts to make sense why the mining industry can’t trust what comes out of the premier’s mouth.

Seemingly unable to enforce its own compliance regime, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation noted that since 2020, they have been conducting analyses and studies of jade mining, ultimately concluding that “the cumulative impact of jade mining in northwestern B.C. is causing harmful effects to sensitive alpine environments and creating significant regulatory challenges for permitting, compliance and enforcement due to many of the activities taking place in locations accessible only by helicopter.”

Jade mining has been active in B.C. since the late 1950s, but the message now appears to be that the distance to effectively manage regulatory enforcement and conduct on-site inspections is just too much to bear, so the best option is to scuttle the industry. B.C. is a resource-based economy with 17 active mines in remote parts of the province and many more in the development stage. If government can’t afford to travel within its own territory to enforce its standards, they may as well take a hammer to every industry outside of the Lower Mainland.

While the NDP government says that apparent concerns with jade mining have been studied and known for some time, none were mentioned when the premier issued a statement to industry on B.C. Jade Day last year, stating: “Jade has been an important part of British Columbia’s artistic and business communities for many years.” The premier ended his message by saying, “I wish you all the best for a wonderful celebration and continued growth in the years ahead.”

Whatever the situation on the ground, it’s now difficult to take the premier’s word for it. Either he had no idea his government was looking to shut down jade mining while he was championing its growth, or he knowingly bolstered an industry before stabbing it in the back.

At a time when the global jade market is dominated by Myanmar, a country ruled by a military junta with abysmal human rights, environmental and safety standards, we’re giving up our share of the jade market to a regime that Canada has sanctioned with special economic measures.

Both federal and provincial leaders have given the impression that Canada should be doing everything possible to keep industry within its world-class, well-regulated jurisdiction for the benefit not only of Canadians, but everyone who might otherwise suffer the consequences of driving industry offshore to jurisdictions with poor environmental standards. However, when the opportunity arises to demonstrate how we can effectively maintain and grow industry within our borders, collaborate with First Nations and maintain environmental standards, the NDP can’t seem to muster the effort to follow through.

Following decades of positive relationship building between industry and First Nations that has seen the mineral exploration and mining sector thrive, the NDP is now sewing distrust with industry and uncertainty with investors. Neither the Association for Mineral Exploration B.C. nor any industry members were initially told about proposed amendments to the Land Act, and they weren’t invited to participate in the working group negotiating amendments to the Mineral Tenure Act.

The continued double-speak, lack of consultation and behind-closed-doors approach for those affected by policy changes seems to be a common theme. Continuing on this course is likely to ensure mineral exploration and development for anything, including critical minerals, will be so strangled by uncertainty that there is no chance to contribute in any meaningful way to the development of much-needed supply—nor will British Columbians benefit from possible tax revenues, jobs and spin-off benefits, unlike other jurisdictions that will certainly attract our expertise and investment.

Warren Mirko is a regulatory and public affairs consultant.