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Harper stands firm on rejecting proposed B.C. mine project

Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks down the gangway of the MV Ocean Lady following a photo opportunity in Delta, B.C. Monday, Feb 21, 2011. The MV Ocean Lady, which was carrying illegal immigrants to Canada, was seized and towed into a port in Victoria, B.C. by the Navy on Oct 17, 2009.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government would reject high-level lobbying to revive the Prosperity Mine project.

Christy Clark, seeking the leadership of the B.C. Liberals, had promised to press Ottawa to change its decision on the $800-million mine if she became premier, but Mr. Harper told reporters on Monday that he was not interested in "political bargaining" over the fate of the project.

Mr. Harper was not referring specifically to Ms. Clark's pledge, but rather to a question about a possible bid by B.C.'s next government to save the project. A new premier will be elected Feb. 26 by B.C. Liberals.

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"The government has rendered a decision. That decision is final. That's a legal decision," Mr. Harper said during a news conference.

"We acted on a comprehensive federal environmental assessment that was absolutely categorical and we have invited the proponent to redesign the project if the proponent is interested in proceeding in a way that would respect the myriad and serious environmental concerns that were raised by that assessment," Mr. Harper said.

"These kinds of decisions are made on the basis of facts - not just economic facts, but also environmental facts in this case, and proponents will have to address that. This is not a matter of political bargaining."

Mr. Harper's comments came as Taseko Mines Limited, leading the project, said Monday it had submitted a new proposal for the copper and gold mine.

The company said in a statement it can now save Fish Lake, near the community of Williams Lake, which was a point of concern in their previous submission. Such an effort would add $300-million to the planned $800-million project.

The company said it has been assured by the federal government that it wants to see resource projects developed, and is only opposed to the way Prosperity was originally proposed.

A provincial assessment of Prosperity supported the original project but acknowledged the controversial planned destruction of Fish Lake to store toxic waste from the mine.

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B.C. was looking forward to the predicted $5-billion economic injection over the 20-year life of the mine and $600-million of revenue for various governments, in a region of the province devastated by the mountain pine beetle. The destruction of Fish Lake was vehemently opposed by local natives, who hold it to be a sacred site.

However, the project was eventually rejected by the federal government after a negative environmental assessment.

A spokesman for Ms. Clark said Monday that the former deputy premier was only ever interested in supporting the company's efforts to make the process work.

But Ms. Clark was more blunt in comments to The Globe and Mail earlier this month, saying that "this isn't the final decision as far as I am concerned," and that she thought Ottawa wanted to change it.

"At the political level, they see how dumb this decision is so I think there's an appetite to change it," she said.

Shares in Taseko fell sharply two weeks before the federal government announced that it was rejecting the Prosperity project. The B.C. Securities Commission is reviewing the mid-October drop in the stock's share price, and the federal Liberals have urged the RCMP to launch a probe into the matter.

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With files from David Ebner

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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