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Silica mining saga a test of ethics, credibility for Manitoba's NDP government

In the quiet corners of southeastern Manitoba, the fate of Sio Silica hangs in the balance, caught between the promise of economic prosperity and the imperative of safeguarding the region’s drinking water.

As the new Premier and his cabinet undertake the duties of governing, the eyes of the province are fixed on the newly appointed Minister of Environment, who shoulders the daunting responsibility of making a pivotal decision on this contentious project.

Springfield councillors Mark Miller and Andy Kuczynski, are local community champions, vehemently opposed Sio Silica’s ambitious plans to drill beneath an aquifer that serves as a lifeline for several communities.

Their concerns are not unfounded; a survey commissioned by these councillors resoundingly echoed the sentiments of the people. An overwhelming 96.4% of respondents voiced a resolute ‘no’ to the project. Such strong opposition led to a dramatic escalation at a council meeting, where the presence of law enforcement underscored the gravity of the situation, forcing elected officials to adjourn the session prematurely. This isn’t merely a matter to be taken lightly — it’s a crisis demanding immediate attention.

The political arena has been rife with contradictory statements and actions, adding layers of complexity to the issue. As Minister of Environment and Climate, I immediately released the Clean Environment Report, emphasizing my commitment to evidence-based decision-making.

I made it clear that the decision-making process would be guided by scientific insights rather than political inclinations. It was of paramount importance to me to preserve drinking water and reassure the public of my dedication to this cause.

However, the real quandary lies in deciphering the stance of the newly elected NDP government. The party’s position on this matter and several others remain difficult to interpret. Discrepancies within the party have only added to the confusion. Two prominent MLAs have offered contrasting views, reflecting the internal cracks within the party.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew, once a signatory of the LEAP Manifesto—a radical declaration to keep natural resources untouched—has vacillated in his public statements. His campaign manager, Brian Topp, disparaged natural resources as a detriment to the Canadian economy, highlighting a conflicting internal narrative. During his campaign, Kinew performed a complete U-turn, pledging to bolster the mining industry—a stance in stark contrast to his earlier position.

Additionally, NDP MLA Mark Wasyliw’s persistent opposition to the Sio Silica mine on the floor of the Manitoba Legislature further muddies the party’s stance. During a pre-election debate on the Environment at the University of Winnipeg, NDP candidate Lisa Naylor voiced the party’s commitment to scientific guidance, disappointing some of the attendees who had hoped for a more definitive stance.

This complicated situation places Premier Wab Kinew and his NDP government in a severe test of leadership. The residents of southeastern Manitoba are clamouring for their drinking water to be shielded from the uncertainties of untested drilling methods. Conversely, others are enticed by the prospects of revenue and employment opportunities that the project could bring to Manitoba.

This critical juncture demands unwavering leadership and clarity of purpose. The NDP’s decision on Sio Silica will be a litmus test for Kinew’s ethics and credibility and the party’s commitment to environmental preservation—an issue that neither the PCs nor the winning NDPs prioritized during their campaigns.

In these pivotal moments, the citizens of Manitoba anxiously await the government’s decision, hopeful that it will reflect a steadfast dedication to the well-being of its people and the preservation of its natural resources. The Sio Silica saga is not merely a political conundrum; it is a test of the moral compass guiding Manitoba’s leaders, a measure of their commitment to the environment, and, ultimately, an embodiment of their responsibility to the people they serve.

— Kevin Klein is a former Tory cabinet minister, a former city councillor and a former CEO and Publisher for the Sun Media in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.

This column was published in the Winnipeg Sun on October 27, 2023


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