KAMLOOPS — The proposed KGHM Ajax copper and gold mine has been a source of great contention in Kamloops for many years.
On one side of the argument are those who believe the environmental and health impacts could be detrimental, and on the other side are those who believe the community would see significant economic benefits from the mine.
Those arguments have spilled over onto the campaign trail as candidates on both sides of the river voice their opinions on the mine, and the process by which the project is being reviewed.
The proposed mining project was a hot-button issue long before the writ dropped on this provincial general election. It has been heavily scrutinized by environmental and First Nations groups, and it's been the topic of much debate at city council meetings.
Kamloops-North Thompson Liberal candidate Peter Milobar says his stance has not changed. He believes the environmental assessment process should be allowed to play out.
"If they meet and can prove that they can (have) a very minimal impact that's one thing," said Milobar, "if they don't we have to take that under advisement as well."
Local NDP candidates believe the review process cannot be trusted.
"It's flawed," said Kamloops-North Thompson NDP candidate Barb Nederpel, "it's broken, and it's missing the health impact assessment, which is absolutely vital when you have a project this close to the community of this magnitude."
Nederpel says she has long advocated for a full federal panel review, and adds the NDP would ensure a rigorous, transparent, and fair process.
"We also need to ensure that we have First Nations on board with it, and you know, they have title and rights," Nederpel said. "It's a legal requirement for us to have their consent."
While the Liberals and NDP spar over the review process, the Green party has taken a firm stance against the project altogether.
"We have the two other parties, their candidates are sitting on the fence on one of the biggest issues that's ever faced this riding, and people are tired of it," said Kamloops-South Thompson Green Party candidate Donovan Cavers. "They want to see someone who's willing to stand up for them."
Peter Kerek, the Kamloops-North Thompson Communist Party candidate, says the project is less about mining, and more about money.
"If you really need to develop copper, there is a bigger copper belt outside of Kamloops," Kerek said. "This is about KGHM having a very specific interest in a very specific area. It's not about the benefit of the people of Kamloops, this is about the benefit of KGHM."
One thing all the candidates can agree on is the proposed mine has become a source of division for the community.
"At the end of this we have to bring the community back together," said Kamloops-South Thompson Liberal candidate Todd Stone. "There is a divide in Kamloops and it's going to be incumbent upon all of us at the provincial level, the municipal level to really work hard to bring our community back together."
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