The provincial government’s $30-million payout to Boss Power Corp. stinks.
Taxpayers are paying compensation to the company because the government bungled its ban on uranium mining
The last-minute settlement suggests the government paid a premium so damaging evidence wouldn’t be heard in court.
And there is every reason to believe politicians ordered government managers to break the law and penalized a manager who tried to do the right thing.
Boss Power had the rights to the Blizzard claim, a uranium deposit about 50 kms southeast of Kelowna. The company could expect fierce opposition to any mine, but a seven-year moratorium on uranium mining lapsed in 1987. The company planned to press on with the project.
In 2007, Kevin Krueger, then the junior minister mines, confirmed the government had no policy or regulations prohibiting uranium development, although he acknowledged public opposition.
In 2008, that changed. The government issued a news released headlined “Government confirms position on uranium development.”
It set out a new approach. Uranium mining wasn’t part of the province’s plans, Krueger said.
Boss Power sued. The company had staked its claim, spent money on developing the deposits and said it had been encouraged by the government.
The ban took away its rights and the government should pay compensation, the company said.
The government’s statement of defence was revealing. It said the ban only applied to new projects. Boss was free to go ahead.
But 10 months later, the government brought a blanket, retroactive ban. The lawsuit went ahead.
Meanwhile, the government, according to the its own court filings, was breaking the law.
Boss Power applied in 2008, before the ban, to do exploratory work on its claim. The law requires the chief inspector of mines, then Doug Sweeney, to assess the application on its merits.
But the then-deputy minister, Greg Reimer, and assistant deputy minister John Cavanagh ordered Sweeney to ignore the application. They had asked the Attorney General’s Ministry for an opinion on whether it was legal.
It wasn’t, they were told, according to the government’s admissions in the legal case.
Then they repeated the order that Sweeney not fulfill his statutory duty.
Sweeney had legal and ethical concerns. He was relieved of his responsibilities for the file, and the marching orders went to more compliant officials. Sweeney ultimately left government, and says his family, career and reputation were damaged by the affair. (Cavanagh disputes the accuracy of the government’s admissions.)
These facts emerged as Boss Power’s case moved through the courts.
When Boss found out what had happened behind the scenes, it added a charge of “misfeasance of public office” to the lawsuit.
Basically, that alleged the government abused its power, which would givethe company a claim to additional compensation.
All this was set to come out in court if the case went ahead. The officials would have testified, and had to answer questions about whether politicians ordered them to break the law.
Until the government came up with $30 million of your money, plus more to cover Boss Power’s legal costs, to end the case.
Which inevitably brings to mind the decision to cover $6 million in legal costs for Dave Basi and Bob Virk to head off the revelation of potentially damaging evidence in that case.
The NDP raised the issue in question period Monday, but got no answers.
So we don’t know who gave the order to ignore the company’s application, or why the Attorney General Ministry’s legal opinion was ignored. We don’t know how much the settlement costs rose because of the government’s abuse of power.
We do know that a government that can’t find money to meet the needs of people with developmental disabilities can come up with $30 million to keep potentially damaging evidence from being heard in court.
Footnote: The government issued a news release on the settlement late on Oct. 19, the day the shipbuilding contracts were dominating the news. If it was an attempt to hide the news, it failed miserably.
The other interesting question is whether this would be an issue, or if there would be ban, if the deposits were in the north, not the Okanagan.