When the dam breaks, the politics of a disaster are sure to flow along with the toxic sludge.
Such is the case with the Mount Polley Mine spill, which sees Premier Christy Clark and NDP leader John Horgan taking very different approaches.
Clark, so gung-ho about fast-tracked resource extraction during last year’s election, has put away the hard hat featured in campaign photo-ops.
No photo-ops this time. No written statements, either. In fact, the premier has not been seen since Monday’s breach of the tailings pond, though her office says she’s being regularly briefed on the situation.
Though Horgan hustled quickly to the spill site for meetings and news events, Clark let Mines Minister Bill Bennett take the lead while she stayed out of the public eye in Vancouver.
“We don’t want the premier to be distraction,” a spokesperson in Clark’s office explained.
“If the premier went up there, everyone would get distracted when they should be concentrating on the emergency response.”
LATEST: FIRST WATER TESTS EXPECTED TODAY
But know this: Christy Clark would be marching down the streets of Likely beating a bass drum right now if it was in her political interest.
Remember the 2011 Stanley Cup riot? The day after the turmoil, Clark toured the downtown wreckage and vowed to bring the evil-doers to justice.
She didn’t mind being a distraction back then. Why? Because Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was the one catching heat for being unprepared for an entirely predictable riot.
The bottom line: If you can score political points, milk it to the max. If there’s a political risk, keep your head down.
While Clark does the duck-and-cover, Bennett has been spinning the government line.
Bennett at first played down the severity of the spill, issuing a press release saying a mixture of water and “fine sand” gushed into pristine waterways. No mention of icky stuff like arsenic.
He also cleverly stressed that government mine inspections have not been reduced “in the last five years” — conveniently ignoring cutbacks that took place earlier, when Bennett himself complained that government regulators were “starving for resources.”
The government was taking a harder line by late Wednesday, hitting the operator of the mine with a toughly worded clean-up order and threatening fines.
Maybe this was in response to the shaky performance by the mining company president, who boldly said he would drink the water in the tailings pond. (Reminiscent of that Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns said he would eat Blinky, the three-eyed fish Bart caught downstream from his nuke plant.)
Clark, meanwhile, will pop up eventually, but her comments will be carefully calibrated to the severity of the situation.
Everyone in the government is nervously waiting for the results of water-quality tests, the first of which could come Thursday.
The tests will reveal just how politically toxic the waters will be for Clark. Until then, she won’t be wading in.
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