The leader of one of B.C.'s largest mining unions reversed his stance on Ajax Monday, saying damage from the proposed mine will last "forever" while economic benefits will be temporary.
Richard Boyce, president of Steelworkers Local 7619, spoke to a meeting of Kamloops Rotary. Two years ago, the leader of more than 1,000 union workers at Highland Valley Copper spoke to the same group, slamming anti-Ajax voices as "anti-industry."
Since then, Boyce said the company has hired PR officials and made promises of "expensive gifts," but has pledged nothing in writing — including whether jobs will go to foreign workers and whether dust and noise can be adequately controlled.
"It's safe to say I'm pro-mining. . . . I'm way out here being pro-mining," Boyce told the noon meeting
"It contributes in a huge way to our economy and our personal lives."
But Boyce said the proposed open-pit copper mine is too close to Kamloops and its proposed jobs and taxes are not enough to compensate for dust, noise and permanent alteration of the landscape.
"The city of Kamloops is accepting a lot of expensive gifts from Ajax. . . . Are we going to be forced into a relationship because we've accepted so many expensive gifts?"
Boyce said he's met with Ajax officials in an attempt to persuade the company to commit to hiring local workers, for example.
"There's nothing in writing," he warned, adding those workers could be hired from out of country.
A company official declined comment on Boyce's speech.
Boyce, who lives downtown, said he is concerned — based on his experience — about dust and diesel fumes from the proposed mine.
"Do you think we have a (dust control) plan at Highland Valley? We do. People stop hauling because it's (dust) so bad."
He also invited city residents to go to Highland Valley copper to see the landscape and listen.
"Go to Highland Valley, one or 1.5 kilometres away and tell me if you hear anything. There will be noise."
The labour leader, who has worked 32 years in the industry, noted the company has hired public relations officials in the past year to represent Ajax. Since the project's takeover by senior partner KGHM, it has hired former RCMP inspector Yves Lacasse, as well as a number of public relations staff, to become the face of the project.
"We know they're skilled in public relations and speaking in public. I know they're not skilled in knowing what goes on in the mining industry."
While Boyce was pressed at the meeting about whether he would be in favour if the site were unionized, he said it doesn't affect his stance. He said he is speaking both personally and on behalf of his Steelworkers local because many members live in Kamloops and share the same concerns.
John Schleiermacher, spokesman for Kamloops Area Preservation Association, said Boyce will lend credibility to those who have come out against the proposed mine.
"I'm not surprised. We have a lot of people with us who have been in the industry, from management to guys on the ground. They've all come to the same conclusion as Mr. Boyce."
In December last year, Boyce criticized Kamloops & District Labour Council for its stance against Ajax. The mine local eventually withdrew membership in the labour council over its anti-Ajax stance.
Boyce told reporters that opposition was uninformed and came too early in the process.
"They just came out opposed to mining. I had real difficulties with that and still do."