Mine proposal becomes key election issue – by Gordon Hoekstra (Vancouver Sun – April 19, 2013)

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Two city ridings have been consistent bellwethers in every provincial vote for the past century

The proposed $795-million Ajax Mine looms in Kamloops as a symbol of the hard choices that must be made between the economy and the environment. Supporters want the benefits of the 580 construction and 380 permanent mine jobs the project could bring.

Critics are concerned the copper-gold mine – which encroaches less than two kilometres from an elementary school – will bring pollution into the city limits.

And a mine that close to the city will undermine Kamloops’ efforts to position itself as a recreation and tourism mecca, Canada’s so-called Tournament Capital, say opponents of the mine who have formed a group called Stop Ajax Mine.

A recent poll commissioned by the Kamloops Daily News showed 40 per cent support for the mine and about one-third opposed. And four out of 10 people said a candidates’ stand on the project would affect how they vote in the May 14 provincial election.

The classic resource conflict – protection of the environment versus a desire for jobs – may underpin the provincial election debate not only in Kamloops’ two ridings, but in the province as a whole. How Kamloops votes in the election could be a sign of how the province will decide these debates.

In virtually every election in more than 100 years, the party that elects MLAs in Kamloops wins the province.

Kamloops-South Thompson NDP candidate Tom Friedman said a lot of people are angry over the mine proposal, and he shares their concerns.

“Looking at the risk in terms of environmental and health risk, and weighing that against the possible economic benefits, certainly a lot of questions remain with this project,” said Friedman, an assistant professor of English at Thompson Rivers University.

But it’s mining that has provided an economic boost to the Kamloops area as forestry jobs have taken a hit.

The area has seen hundreds of jobs disappear as sawmills shut down in the past decade. And Domtar recently closed one of its pulp mill lines, cutting 125 jobs.

On the mining front, New Gold’s $760-million New Afton mine created about 400 jobs when it opened in 2012. A $475-million modernization at Teck Resources’s Highland Copper completed in 2011 increased the longevity of the mine for another decade or more, protecting about 1,200 jobs.

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