Competition drives innovation, it hammers down prices for consumers and it generates economic growth. We hear this mantra over and over again from business groups and government.
But until something like the Mount Polley tailings pond disaster, we can easily forget the other side of competition – it can drive industries to speed ahead without concern for the consequences.
We already know the collapse of the retaining wall has caused a local state of emergency, has deprived nearby townsfolk of their clean drinking water and has dumped uncounted tons of contaminated sand into one of British Columbia’s pristine lakes.
What caused the breach in the retaining wall? It remains unknown as of this writing. All we can say for sure is that it wasn’t an obvious cause – no heavy rains, no major quakes, no accidental collisions by bulldozers.
Which probably means that we’ll have to look at the way those retaining walls around every tailings pond in B.C. are constructed. And there are numerous ponds and catch basins where arsenic, lead, mercury, copper and other metals and harmful chemicals used in the mining process are settling out.
That will be an expensive proposition, but it has to be done and it can’t be delayed by excuses, or budgetary concerns, or fears that it will cause some kind of "unreasonable" hurdle for the mining industry.
It’s not unreasonable for British Columbians to expect that they’ll be able to turn on their taps and get clean, fresh, potable water. It’s not unreasonable to expect that we’ll have rivers and lakes that can support an ecosystem of fish, birds, mammals and forests.
There are places in politics for compromise, but not for pollution that endangers our present and our future.