The British Columbia Chamber of Commerce is warning thousands of jobs, as well as rural communities, will be jeopardized if the Campbell administration doesn't boost the geological survey branch's budget. The branch is responsible producing the information mining companies use to determine where best to focus their exploration efforts. But, in its recently released policy and position manual, the chamber states the branch's belt has been tightened so much that its geologists spenD "very little time in the field" gathering such information.
Similar warnings have been included in chamber policy and positions manuals dating back to 2002. In 2004, The Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer reported even Liberal backbenchers had recommended reversing the downsizing of the branch - which reduced the "respected" office to 22 persons, down from "some 92 persons a decade ago."
But, according to the chamber, the branch "has suffered further debilitating budget cuts totalling 18% in the past two years. It continues to lose key personnel, and morale is at an all-time low. The ability of the Survey to perform its mandate is seriously threatened."
The business lobby describes the government's five-year-old decision to setup Geoscience BC - a non-profit organization with a mandate to collect, interpret and market publicly available information about the province's mineral, oil and gas resources - as a "positive initiative."
But it states the organization is "no substitute for a properly funded" survey branch. And, in any case, the funding for Geoscience BC is "also running out and the organization is facing possibly winding up its activities by 2012."
As a result, the chamber is calling on the government to immediately inject $2.5 million into the branch and $5 million into Geoscience BC, as well as making a commitment to ensure long-term funding for both organizations.
The reason: "Currently known reserves of operating metal mines in BC are likely to be exhausted within a decade and a half. As those mines shut down so will several thousand jobs, and rural communities will be severely impacted."
"Give the long lead times requires to find and develop new ore bodies, there is now an urgent need to increase levels of mineral exploration."
Of course, that's exactly what the chamber asserted in 2002, 2005 and 2007.
Nevertheless, in an interview with Public Eye, New Democrat energy, mines and petroleum resources critic John Horgan pointed out the highlight of the province's annual Mineral Exploration Roundup conference "is the unveiling of the geological survey work for the past year. And that has been eroded year over year under the Campbell government."
"If they were serious about the mining sector they would put money in at the ground floor so that the speculators would have some solid geology to work with," he continued, explaining that the survey branch's personnel are "professionals - public servants that are dedicated to the geology, not the stock play. And that gives credibility to the industry that I believe is more valuable, in the long-term, than any saving government will accrue from cuts to the department."
The government has not yet responded to a request for comment placed on Monday morning.