B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark carved her name in the fresh concrete foundation of the new Burns Lake sawmill, saying it is proof of her "strong leadership" that helped convince the owners to rebuild after a deadly explosion 16 months ago.
But those same owners, Hampton Affiliates, could still face charges over the condition of the old mill.
Speaking to reporters, Ms. Clark defended her government's role in suppressing parts of a four-month-old safety report that pointed to a buildup of wood dust as the source of combustion.
"The whole report should be public except for the parts that could compromise Crown's ability to pursue charges," she said. Ms. Clark said there was no political motivation for the delay.
"Crown hasn't finished pursuing their decision on whether or not there are going to be criminal charges laid," she said.
Her tour of the construction site was designed to support the Liberals' campaign message about supporting the province's natural resource sector.
"Strong leadership is important to our resource economy. Nowhere is that more apparent than right here in Burns Lake," she said. "We cannot afford weak leadership in Victoria."
Ms. Clark reminded the crowd of construction workers that she travelled to Burns Lake immediately after the explosion in January, 2012. "We talked about hope for your community... We cannot replace what has been lost, but we can rebuild."
The B.C. government offered Hampton Affiliates a guarantee of long-term supply of timber to justify the investment in reconstruction – a key issue given the depletion of timber in the region due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
Ms. Clark was invited to smooth some fresh concrete and then sign her name to mark the official start of construction. The new, smaller mill is expected to open in early 2014.