I first saw Bill Bennett when he walked through the door of Fernie City chambers nearly sixteen years ago. I had been recently elected as councillor and meeting an MLA was so impressive that I barely uttered a word.
On Friday, March 24, Bennett delivered his last address as MLA and Mining Minister to a large group of people in the Emerald room of the Causeway Bay Hotel. Sparwood Chamber manager Norma McDougall organized the event and served as emcee.
Mayor Cal McDougall welcomed everyone and thanked Teck Coal for the expansion at Elkview-Baldy Ridge saying “we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for coal” and also thanked Minister Bennett for all the support he has provided over the years.
Teck’s Senior Vice President Coal, Robin Sheremeta spoke next saying that no one had been a more tireless supporter of mining than Bill Bennett. He touched on the extensive measurers Teck has taken to support the environment. He said they were very pleased to proceed with the Baldy Ridge project, that he has raised his family here and this project would contribute to having other families raise theirs for generations to come.
Marjorie Templin, Sparwood chamber president thanked Bennett of behalf of the community for all of the support he has provided in so many ways in past years, saying “Bill has given 16 years, to this community to provide schools, bridges, roads and also as a great champion for the coal industry.”
She thanked Teck and announced that Norma was retiring as chamber manager. “She has been involved for fifteen years with the chamber and three times stepped in as manager. She has done a terrific job, we are losing a great ambassador, she is a great promoter of Sparwood all the time.”
Bennett addressed the crowd next, saying that as he looked around the room he knew about 80/90% of the people present, then joked that “ most are even happy to see me. I had lots to learn and prove when I was first elected, I had to show I cared about the Elk Valley, I’m grateful, I made lots of friends, I took the ideas, suggestions and criticisms and did something with them. Now we are here to celebrate the expansion of Elkview Baldy Ridge, this is a big deal, 30 years ago this would have been big news, many well-paying jobs, Teck’s contribution to the economy, locally, provincially and to Canada’s economy is huge. This announcement means you will continue to have the best community to raise kids.”
Bennet then told the “back story of the approval of Baldy Ridge”.
He said that selenium and other bad things from the legacy operations came as a big surprise to government, scientists and the company. It was wondered how they could permit a new operation, would they expand or close mines? The issue was very technical and broad in scope that would need to have inclusion of Teck, Provincial, Federal, local governments, First Nations and environmental groups from the US and Canada to get public support and confidence. His Ministry took the lead, formed a committee and created a path forward that ended up with 700 technical recommendations and value wide approval on the entire valley to address context of the entire watershed.
Bennet added that this really was a celebration, not only for the workers but for mine suppliers and small businesses that depend on the coal industry.
In closing he said mining is very healthy in BC, the future is bright, there are five new mines, two more including Brucejack and Silver Tip, are in the works offering 1100 jobs. He said it has been an honour to be the MLA representing our communities, adding that it takes a “community to make a community, and that the three communities make a strong Elk Valley, thanking Teck and Robin Sheremeta for the great lifestyle. The crowd gave Bennett a standing ovation as he finished.
Thanks goes to Minister Bennett for the past 16 years of service and also to his wife Beth Bennett as it always takes much support from a spouse/partner for anyone to serve in politics at any level. Congratulations on your retirement Minister Bennett and Good Luck to you in the future.
Congratulations to Norma McDougall on her retirement and congratulations to Teck Coal for the expansion of Baldy Ridge as this means jobs in the Elk Valley will continue for many more years to come.
Sixteen years ago when I met Bill Bennett I could never have imagined how much support he could have provided me and our community. Party politics aside whether you supported him or not as an MLA and Minister he has contributed greatly to this community, to our Valley and to this province and he will be missed.