Our Position Against AJAX

Statement from the Kamloops Club of the Communist Party of Canada

For Immediate Release

January 28, 2016

The Kamloops Club of the Communist Party of Canada stands in absolute opposition to the AJAX Mine development as proposed by the KGHM mining corporation.


There are many problems with the AJAX proposal. Our greatest concern, which has largely gone unmentioned, lay in the economic model and false assumptions by which the project is being promoted.


Like most colonial exploitation projects, the people who live closest to the project are going to be the ones who are at greatest risk of harm, while investors who live elsewhere will be in the greatest position to reap the benefits. More specifically, those who are the most financially vulnerable, who cannot easily relocate from the ensuing pollution onslaught, will not have a choice in the matter, while the investor class, upon seeing a slightly greater return-on-investment in another corporation, will absolve themselves of all “responsibility” to the community and move their money elsewhere – all-the-while never having to live anywhere near the AJAX Mine.


Corporations are not people. There is no connection between the KGHM Corporation and the community of Kamloops. KGHM has hired some high profile, somewhat local, figures to put a face on their corporation, but these individuals were obviously not hired for their knowledge of the mining industry – they were hired to ease the discomfort people generally feel about faceless corporations.


KGHM may dissolve one day, or it may live for a thousand years, with CEOs and corporate shills doing their dirty work along the way, but, KGHM does not have a conscience. KGHM does not have a heart. KGHM is responsible to its shareholders and no one else. No one should expect that KGHM would ever put the needs of Kamloopsians ahead of the need of their investors – this is the sad fact behind corporate governance and its regulatory obligations to shareholders for the maximization of profits. There is no such thing as “good will” or “humanity” when it comes to the bottom line, especially not in the mining industry.


It’s true that corporations will throw money around and do much influence-peddling to win over desperate members of the community, or to bolster the accounts of certain influential charities, or even politicians and political campaigns, but, these efforts are part of the corporation’s efforts to, some day, turn that political capital into profits by way of a project that would otherwise not likely ever gain the support of the local political class. Such peddling might sway fence-sitters to their side, or, it might convince skeptics to stay quiet. There are many community members who have expressed a desire to “wait-and-see” or simply stay quiet because they have already been co-opted into the KGHM camp via the many donations KGHM has made to their favourite charitable organizations, or, in some cases, the direct assistance they’ve provided to “mine friendly” and “development friendly” politicians.


The mining industry donates more to the BC Liberal Party than any other industry. No ordinary citizen should feel comforted by this fact. Canadian political parties can not function without money. They can not run ads, hire staff, rent offices, conduct polling and research, hold conventions, travel, meet with constituents, hold press conferences, or run a successful campaign of any sort, without funding. This is the sad fact of politics in Canada. And, of course, the very purpose behind funding one or more political parties, as all major industries do, especially when we’re talking about donations in the millions, over many years, is to purchase the political clout needed to “help” one’s industry. If corporate donations were about improving democracy, then donations would be sent to every party and every candidate, but, that never happens, because it’s not about democracy, it’s about buying political clout.


It’s not by chance either that the BC Liberal Government has been instrumental in dismantling the social safety net and has made it harder and harder for working class British Columbians to survive. Such dire situations create a wonderful opportunity for corporations like KGHM to walk into a community and throw millions around in donations to desperate community groups: buying their silence along the way. The return on such a small investment could ultimately result in the approval of a multi-billion dollar project.


By absolving themselves of their governmental responsibilities the Liberals are actively fostering the desperation that big corporations need in order to maximize profits on the backs of “desperate” communities. This desperation is easy to hear in the claims of mine proponents who routinely say, “Kamloops needs this mine”, or, “we need growth”, or, “we need these types of good-paying jobs”, or, “we’re losing our kids to places with better paying jobs”. These pleas are commonly heard opposite the health concerns raised about the mine, as though Kamloops were so desperate that it should simply stop worrying about all the negative health, environmental and economic problems this mine will bring, “…because growth and jobs (no matter how poorly arranged) is all that can save communities like Kamloops…”. Such arguments arise out of the economic fear-mongering that the resource extraction industries are famous for.


Many have come to understand that influence peddling is simply the way politics is done in Canada, and, understand that this practice constitutes corruption. It may largely explain the vast levels of cynicism about our politicians and our political system. These are fundamental and legitimate concerns about the state of our democracy; that decisions are not made on the basis of doing what’s best for the most amount of people, but that decisions are heavily influenced by doing what’s best for the biggest funders of the political system.


AJAX will grossly violate the ecological integrity of the unceded territories of the Tk’emlups and Skeetchestn First Nations as well as threaten the waterways which run through many other First Nations territories in BC. AJAX supporters claim that mining accidents are seldom, which may be true, but, they do still happen, and some, like the Imperial Metals disaster at Mt. Polley, are catastrophic to the surrounding area, and, obviously, much much worse when posited near an urban centre.


Not only is there a risk to the waterways, but there is absolutely no way to make any use of the mined area while mining is still occurring, which obviously violates a fundamental understanding between the Crown and our First Nations – that the land would be available for the continued use by First Nations in the ways they’ve always known. Given the boom and bust cycle of the copper industry, with regular start-ups and shut-downs, AJAX could be operating on-and-off for many more years, possibly decades, before any reclamation efforts are made. In addition to the direct restricted use of the land being mined, there will be negative impacts on the air, land and water near the mine. Even the blasting noise from the mine will negatively impact the livability of the surrounding areas.


Issues around mineral “rights”, as exercised by corporations like KGHM, and the fact that most of BC exists on unceded territories, provide a significant legal backdrop which must be respected; activities that negatively impact the long-term use of any area should be ceased until an understanding is achieved with all affected First Nations regarding the use of their unceded territories.


Putting aside the First Nations territorial claim for a moment, there is still no need for this project, or any like it, to be done under the direction of far-off corporations with all the wealth being extracted from the land that lay under us and deposited into the accounts of corporate investors from all over the world. Our provincial and federal governments have every right, and obligation, to nationalize the entire mining industry and ensure that any and all profits are put towards the socially conscientious needs of our society.


The royalties received by the provincial government, from extracted resources such as copper, is simply not good enough compensation. Under the current regime the revenue generated by royalties are so minute that they are not even listed as revenue in the BC government’s own budget charts, and you almost never hear the mining industry talk about royalties because even they know they’re embarrassingly low. It’s nice that mine workers make a good wage, but why shouldn’t the rest of society also benefit from the resources to ensure we have our basic rights met, such as housing, food, education, and health services. Of course, capitalists absolutely revile the nationalization of any industry, because, how will the capitalist make a living when there are no more workers or resources to exploit?


Many high-profile and prominent members of our community have already spoken against this development. There are union leaders like Richard Boyce, with decades of experience representing mine workers at Highland Valley Copper, to the Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment, to various faculty of TRU, including scientists and economists, to entire organizations like the Kamloops and District Labour Council which, itself, represents 10,000 union members from all sectors of the work force.


Regardless of whether the current government allows KGHM to build AJAX, most Kamloopsians understand that a significant level of influence has already been applied to many well-meaning community members of Kamloops as well as to the very politicians responsible for its final approval; not only through the direct financing of the Liberal Party of BC, but through KGHM’s direct involvement in the 2014 municipal election when KGHM registered as a “Third Party Advertiser” and spent thousands in a last ditch effort to promote candidates friendly to their project. Unfortunately, for those interested in transparency, the murky election laws in BC allow for an unlimited exchange of funds from donors to municipal candidates outside of the disclosure period, so, it is highly unlikely that we will ever know just how much direct fiduciary meddling occurred.


One of the weakest arguments, yet most touted, for building AJAX, is for the sake of jobs. However, KGHM is under no obligation to hire Kamloopsians and possibly not even Canadians. KGHM will hire whomever they like; there’s no legal obligation to hire locally; thousands of unemployed Kamloopsians will be competing against tens of thousands of more qualified unemployed Canadians from across the country. With the recent influx of industrial workers laid off from the oil patch, not many of whom were from Kamloops to begin with, there will be an over-abundance of available workers with far more industrial experience than the ordinary working class Kamloopsian. KGHM has stated they might even utilize the Temporary Foreign Worker Program – a program known for exploiting vulnerable workers and denying foreign workers the basic rights that are afforded to all Canadian citizens.


Many locals look to nearby mines like Highland Valley Copper, and likely even know at least one person who works there, who makes a very good wage, and then assumes that this will be the case for AJAX workers. But, Highland Valley Copper has been operating for many decades, and there are strong, hard fought-for, collective agreements in place between the owners and the workers. KGHM, like every major corporation, will fight tooth-and-nail to keep a union from organizing their workforce. But we shouldn’t assume that there will even be KGHM “staff” in the way that there are Highland Valley Copper staff.


One can look at some of the newest mines in Quebec and Ontario to see what the future of mining offers. Mining in Canada, as presented in the 2011 National Film Board documentary The Hole Story https://www.nfb.ca/film/hole_story/rental , will likely not follow the same workplace model that most industrial workers are accustomed to. There are already a number of major industrial worksites around the world, including in the Alberta oil patch, that have replaced equipment operators with fully automated equipment, thereby replacing hundreds of workers with just a half dozen or so computer programmers. New mines also cut production costs by only having managerial staff and a handful of administrative staff and then have all other work performed by contractors. Of course, contracting out all your operations also means that work, for the contractor and his crew, may last for a few weeks at a time, or a few months at a time, or maybe a few years, depending on how well your competitors can underbid you. The natural progression for such business practices is to drive wages lower and lower for the sake of “competitiveness” and “flexibility”, which is great when you’re an investor, but terrible if you’re looking for a regular pay cheque.


The other natural consequence of this irregular workforce employment is that locals who thought they might be able to rent out a suite long-term, or even sell their property to a mine-worker, will not be able to count on such sales, nor on the regularity of having their suite rented, or at least not for very long. And, given that the majority of workers hired to operate AJAX will be from out-of-town, the likeliness of significant long-term growth and investment in Kamloops should not be counted. The reality is that most folks who move to a new community merely for work, will leave that community very quickly once that work ends or once a better job appears; this is the well-known cycle for resource extraction industries. We already know that AJAX is not a sustainable project and has a very short expected lifespan of 23 years of operation; whatever growth which might occur from the import of 400 or so workers to our community will be lost every time the mine shuts down and the workers all go back home.


The “ripple effect”, in regards to the concept that each mining job leads to the support of seven other jobs around town, has also largely been discredited by economists, as chronicled in a recent CBC episode of Ideas: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/it-s-the-economists-stupid-1.3219471 . The two economists, Dr. Julie Nelson and Dr. Richard Denniss, who lead the discussion on this episode, lambaste much of the propaganda that the mining industry relies on to promote their projects. They state that economists and consultants hired by the mining industry routinely fabricate numbers, make gross assumptions while presenting them as facts, and inundate ordinary community members with murky data in order to make the discussion around the mine cloudy, and unclear, because the facts are rarely in the mine’s favour. The purpose for this approach is to place doubt in their opponent’s positions; if they succeed in creating confusion and ambivalence, then they’re already doing a lot better in the propaganda war than if everyone were simply presented the crystal-clear facts.


There is great opposition to this project from within Kamloops’ municipal boundaries, and, should that opposition create enough influence on its own, we may see this project rejected by the provincial government regardless of reassurances about environmental safeguards. Without said community opposition, however, it’s easy to see who wields the greatest political clout in this scenario.


The Kamloops Club of the Communist Party of Canada stands in solidarity with all the citizens of Kamloops who oppose this dangerous project and reject the argument that we are so desperate that we must sacrifice the health and ecological longevity of our community for the sake of a short-term project with dubious economic benefits.