Mayor should be more transparent on Ajax agreement

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
November 22, 2016 - 8:41am Updated: November 22, 2016 - 4:35pm

► Editor's Note: Mayor Peter Milobar took exception to this column, and commented during the Nov. 22 council meeting.

KAMLOOPS — Am I the only one in Kamloops annoyed that city council’s Ajax negotiating committee withheld important information from their fellow councillors and city residents?  

Remember how it was the responsibility of this Industrial Tax Base Task Force to negotiate - before there was an actual decision on the mining permit - a compensation agreement between the City of Kamloops and Ajax?  Members representing the city were and still are, Peter Milobar, Pat Wallace and Dieter Dudy and it now appears they may be close to an actual Community Benefit Agreement with the mine.  

It would seem that as far back as late August and into early September, the committee had reached a tentative understanding and their draft document was being made available to both Ajax and the provincial government. However, the committee failed to notify city council that a draft existed and was already being reviewed by the mine and government.  

In fact, it is my understanding no one would have known if Minister Bill Bennett hadn’t let the cat out of the bag during the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) Conference in late September.

The committee’s initial defence for withholding this information was the standard excuse that it contained confidential information that could have an impact on future deliberations.  

That was an almost believable and not unrealistic excuse, except for one tiny little matter: the minister was already out there explaining the financial details and structure of what he was calling the “Partnership Agreement”.  Obviously, Mr. Bennett felt there was no need for the secrecy being imposed by our mayor.

His choice of words was also enlightening, as ‘partnership’ suggests unity in both desire and purpose as opposed to the more utilitarian mitigation and compensation nature of the agreement.  The latter looks at how things such as city infrastructure could be broken or simply worn out with the additional use and stress brought on by the mine.  It would go on to detail how they’ll be fixed (or not), who is responsible and how much money it is going to cost.  

That is not a partnership but instead a business document dealing with issues of future liability and how and at what price those items will be resolved.  Necessary, yes, but I find the term ‘partnership’ or ‘alliance’ to be a poor description of what is actually required.

While we nor council were informed, I’m guessing but pretty confident in doing so, that the Ajax negotiating team was in constant touch with their team at KGHM.  Their communications likely included all details on the process and progress of each successive meeting and would have included such things as plans and strategies for the next round of talks, along with advice on likely outcomes of those various strategies.  It would have been a dialogue engaging their entire management team and they would never consider withholding information from each other or their board.  To do so would likely cost them their jobs.

Yet here is Mayor Milobar doing exactly the opposite.  No sharing of information or updates to his council. No seeking prior input and advice from the entire team.  No ongoing dialogue between those for or against the mine, so no chance to moderate or even change opinions during the process.

I had always assumed city council was current and up to date on the negotiations, but it turns out the process was autocratic as opposed to democratic.  In fact, it wasn’t until September 20, just days before the UBCM Conference, when the mayor suddenly relented and scheduled a meeting with all councillors for an update on the Community Benefits Agreement.  No copies of the agreement or a written summary of salient points were provided.  This despite the full 50+ page draft report already being in the hands of the mine and the province.

So why the secrecy?  Why was the committee, led by the mayor, so unwilling to even confirm the draft existed let alone acknowledge it was being shared with all except those on his own city council?

This is our city.  It does not belong to Ajax or the BC Liberal Party and we deserve better than this from our mayor.

I find it difficult to accept that a political party and a multi-national corporation took precedence and had a greater need to know than did the 90,000 people living here.

It is Kamloops and not Victoria or Lubin, Poland that will forever live with the consequences of whatever the final decision is. And the fact that our mayor has chosen to keep the BC Liberals and KGHM more up to date than us is extremely disappointing.