Nunavut premier tries to explain his leaked letter supporting Baffinland

“We must continue to advocate for responsible economic development in our territory”


“We as a government are absolutely within our right to make recommendations about improving [the territory’s regulatory] process,” Nunavut premier Peter Taptuna told the legislative assembly June 2. (FILE PHOTO)

A letter he sent May 8 to Bernard Valcourt, the northern affairs minister, in support of letting Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. bypass the Nunavut Planning Commission, stands well within the authority of his office, Nunavut premier Peter Taptuna said June 2.

In a minister’s statement, Taptuna defended the content of the letter, which said the NPC’s April non-conformity ruling on Baffinland’s Phase 2 expansion of Mary River ore production and transportation — threatens jobs, wages and other future benefits for Nunavummiut.

“The process is clear, the regulatory responsibility rests with the institutions of public government and not the Nunavut government,” Taptuna said June 2. “However, we as a government are absolutely within our right to make recommendations about improving that process.”

“We must continue to advocate for responsible economic development in our territory to provide our people with a future.”

In early April, NPC commissioners decided unanimously that Baffinland, which operates the Mary River iron mine southwest of Pond Inlet, was proposing a change of operations at the mine that did not conform to the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.

Without a positive conformity determination, the proposal cannot go before the Nunavut Impact Review Board for a screening.

In his May 8 letter to Valcourt, Taptuna said the NPC has used its position as an “underfunded” institution to delay the completion of project assessments.

He echoed those statements in the assembly Tuesday.

“Funding issues aside, no institution should be using [underfunding] as a crutch for not being able to complete proper assessments within a reasonable timeline,” Taptuna told the assembly June 2.

If funding is an issue, Taptuna suggested the NPC undergo an audit.

But every year, Nunavut planning commissioners put together a work plan listing projects they need to assess, explain how much the work will cost, and get approval from Ottawa, NPC chair Hunter Tootoo said June 1.

A land use amendment, such as the one Baffinland had requested, would take time and resources away from its approved work plan and cannot be accommodated in this fiscal year without delaying other projects unless they get more money, Tootoo told Nunatsiaq News.

So Baffinland went to Valcourt for a legal exemption to allow their nearly year-round shipping and ice-breaking plan to go directly to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

In his letter, leaked to media June 1, the premier made clear his support for Baffinland’s idea of bypassing the land use plan and letting the NIRB examine Baffinland’s proposal, with an environmental assessment and public hearings.

“This issue is not about allowing or not allowing a conformity license, which is the Nunavut Planning Commission’s responsibility,” he said.

“It is about the Nunavut Planning Commission removing the plan amendment as a feasible option for Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation when Baffinland simply asked for a clarification on the amendment process.”

Taptuna added that he’d like to see the NPC adequately funded, to see its draft Nunavut-wide land use plan completed and made into law.

“Every community deserves the opportunity to have active development in their jurisdiction and a process that does not put hundreds of jobs, millions of dollars in wages and benefits and the potential for other future projects at risk,” Taptuna said.

During question period June 2, Taptuna faced off against Tununiq MLA Joe Enook, whose riding includes the Baffinland mine, about why the premier didn’t include the community of Pond Inlet in his correspondence with Ottawa.

“Pond Inlet residents are the closest community and the most impacted community by the Mary River mine,” Enook said.

“And ever since, we were saying that we want to be involved as we proceed in the development.” Enook also asked the premier to table the May 8 letter.

“I have no problems tabling the letter, which is already in wide circulation throughout Nunavut,” Taptuna said.

With files from David Murphy.

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