Kamloops City council is unlikely to hold a referendum on the proposed Ajax mine, even if it went the inexpensive route and did it in conjunction with the November 2014 municipal election.
The Daily News surveyed seven council members (the other two were unavailable) about whether they felt the mine question should be put to the electorate, possibly at the same time as the election.
The question comes out of the Kamloops Voters Society's online survey that asked several questions about Ajax. One of those was whether respondents felt the City should hold a referendum on the mine issue.
Sixty-three per cent of the 2,700 people who filled out the survey said yes.
Mayor Peter Milobar said Wednesday he could understand why people would want a referendum, but wondered if it were held at election time, how the question would be worded and whether the province have to approve of it, as it would be on a municipal ballot.
Any results would be non-binding, as well, so council wouldn't be obligated to go along with the results.
The other problem, he said, is funding of campaigns leading up to the vote. Milobar pointed to a referendum being held in Washington state on labelling genetically engineered foods.
The genetically-modified food industry launched a $17-million campaign and is swaying public opinion in the late stages of the bill, he said.
Ajax has already divided many Kamloops residents; holding a referendum might deepen that divide, he said. And no one even knows how far the mine project is from approvals, as it is in the throes of changing its plans and modifying the location.
Had the company followed its original timelines, it would be operating right now if it had been approved.
A stand-alone vote separate from an election would cost about $100,000. During an election, the only cost is printing ballots — about $12,000.
Some other council members feel there isn't enough information available on the project yet for people to vote on.
Coun. Nelly Dever said going to a referendum without the project information completed is like walking into a courtroom and making a decision without hearing both sides of the case.
"Until all the information is put forward, it would not be beneficial for the taxpayer to put their dollar there (in referendum costs)," she said.
"A referendum is an excellent way to gauge public opinion on the issue. It would be worth it once the information is put forward."
Coun. Arjun Singh said the City is a stakeholder in the mine discussion and if enough information were available before November 2014, a referendum could be considered.
"I'm in favour of using referenda for more things. My concern would be the information available at that point."
Even Coun. Tina Lange, who has openly opposed the mine, said a referendum might bear looking at but questioned whether balanced information on both sides would be available.
The mine proponent has an "endless pit of money" to sway others' thinking or to provide its own set of information, said Lange.
"It wouldn't be fair," said Lange.
Another mine opponent, Coun. Donovan Cavers, said many people are entrenched for or against the mine by this point. However, a referendum could help council get a feel for citizens' support or lack thereof.
Coun. Nancy Bepple doesn't think a referendum is the way to go.
"I'm not sure what purpose a referendum would be – we're at the table as part of the provincial process."
Coun. Ken Christian wondered why Kamloops would bother when it has no say, the same as the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, where most of the mine is located.
Milobar spoke while en route to Ottawa, where he meets Thursday with federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
"I'll be expressing residents' concerns to the federal environment minister. But they (KGHM-Ajax) have a right to process through Canadian law. And until we have information to comment on as a council, it's irrelevant today what our opinion is," the mayor said.
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WORD ON THE STREET
Should the City hold a referendum on the proposed Ajax mine?
"It seems like everything is getting pushed right through without the City having any input," said the Highland Valley Copper employee.
"With the mine being so close, I'd like there to be more environmental information."
He said at times when he goes to the mine outside of Logan Lake, there's a haze in the air from the mine dust. In Kamloops, that dust might drift into the valley.
"My biggest issue is information."
"I think the idea of a referendum is a good one. It's getting people to participate in it," said Snell, who several years ago worked for a mineral exploration company.
"I think it couldn't get more inflamed than it is right now. It is a contentious issue."
It comes down to the environment versus economics. Anything that might add to more information getting out about the project would be good, he said.
"As far as my information goes, I don't think the City has much say about the mine," she said.
"It (a referendum) could be a waste of money."
Babiy said she realizes the mine would be good for people looking for jobs and for the local economy, but she has also heard that proponent KGHM has a bad reputation where the environment is concerned.