As I read article after article about the recent tailing ponds breach at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine, I am overwhelmed with the facts and the many more questions that the incident has left us
What we know is that 10 billion litres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden fine tailings were discharged into Hazeltine Creek. We know that this water system is connected to the Fraser River, one of our most important salmon bearing waterways. We also know that the breach happened after multiple warnings from the Ministry of the Environment about the pond exceeding its permitted height, the most recent warning coming this past May.
|Photo: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press
What we don’t know is when communities in the area will be able to drink the water nearby. We also have no idea what the medium and long-term impacts will be, in particular because the incident happened just as salmon are starting to enter the area. Some say the region may never fully recover. We don’t know.
But we do know something else – this incident was preventable and that it is guaranteed that similar incidents will happen again. We know this because when industries are allowed to self- regulate and governments believe that economic growth can only happen one way – at all costs – harm is inevitable.
So what do we, the citizens of this province, do?
As issues of democratic reform and loss of democracy in this country bubble over, it is clear to me that the apathy that Canadians show regarding voting has left our governments with a false sense of empowerment. Contrary to what Canadians say they want, they are deregulating our environmental protection laws and giving over environmental stewardship over to industry whose primary driver is profit, not protection.
With every provincial and federal election that passes, fewer and fewer of us vote. We have abrogated our right, and in my opinion, our duty to vote and take part in the most important opportunity we have to influence what kind of country we want to live in. But it’s important to note, it isn’t our only opportunity. They are our governments, they work for us and that accountability has to be kept up not just at election time but every day in between. If we don’t like the way they protect our environment, we must let them know.
Many of us our heartbroken about the Mount Polley incident, devastated by what we know will be impacts on our waters, salmon and other wildlife – for years to come. But we can’t stop at hand-wringing. If we want accountability, we must demand it. If we want better environmental protection laws, monitoring and enforcement, we must ask for it.
Please contact your MLA or MP and let them know that “enough is enough”. We did not elect industry to protect our air and water, we elected our government and they must do their job.
We must raise our voices – because if we don’t, in a few weeks when this disaster fades from the headlines, things will go back to the new normal, where projects are approved without proper environmental assessment and monitoring of laws are left to this system which puts industry in charge. And then, it’s just a matter of time before our communities, our environment and our economy pay another ultimate price.
I say “enough”.