OTTAWA - The New Prosperity copper-gold mine project in British Columbia is bad for the environment and Ottawa's relationship with aboriginal groups, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.
Harper told delegates at a major international mining convention in Toronto that the government "just did not have the grounds to approve this project."
The government decision last week to reject the Taseko Mine application means the loss of hundreds of potential jobs in B.C.'s interior as well as tens of millions in provincial and federal government revenue.
It also meant Harper and two senior ministers attending the mining convention Monday had to convince delegates that the government supports the mining industry, even though it rejected the major Taseko project.
Harper said he recognizes that the Williams Lake, B.C., area, the location of the proposed mine, "is a region where growth has been slow."
However, he continued that the review panel's report on the project was "extremely negative" and the local Tsilhqot'in First Nation had unresolved land claims in the proposed mining area.
The independent review panel's report in 2013 concluded that mine seepage would destroy water sources, and hurt grizzly and moose populations.
Harper said Taseko could technically re-apply to have the mine approved, but admitted that the chances of the project getting the OK were slim.
The federal government's rejection of the mine hasn't stopped Taseko, which has filed a lawsuit against the government over the panel's environmental assessment. The Vancouver-based company said the government relied on faulty information about seepage from tailing ponds and that new technology would mitigate any significant environmental damage.
Conservative MP Dick Harris, who represents the riding of Cariboo-Prince George, which includes Williams Lake, said its people feel "very abandoned right now" by the government's decision.
However, he told QMI Agency Monday he was hopeful that a federal court will side with Taseko and allow the project to proceed.