'Nunavut is committed to streamlining the regulatory processes.'
We'll curb the regulators, Okalik tells miners
One day after a fourth employee of the Nunavut Water Board quit her job to protest against the firing of executive director Phillipe di Pizzo, Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik told a mining industry audience in Iqaluit this week that the GN stands with them in opposing regulatory processes that impede mine development.
"For too long, you have told me that Nunavut is a difficult place to do business… I assure you, I have listened and acted on your recommendations," Okalik said in a speech that formally opened the Nunavut Mining Symposium April 17 in Iqaluit.
The gathering, held April 16-19, brought scores of mining company executives together with delegates from a long list of federal and territorial bureaucracies.
Okalik told miners that if Nunavut were in charge of natural resources through a devolution agreement, Nunavut mining permits and licences would be a lot easier to get.
"I want investors to deal directly with us. I want investors to know that Nunavut is committed to streamlining the regulatory processes," Okalik said.
One of the conference's biggest discussion points is Nunavut's regulatory system. That system is built around the family of environmental management boards set up by the Nunavut land claims agreement: the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the water board, and so on.
Mining companies have complained for years that this system is too complicated and too slow.
The issue boiled over last December when the water board told Miramar Mining Corp. to re-submit a water licence for its Doris North gold mine, a project that the impact review board approved earlier in 2006.
Miramar's allies, including the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson, reacted with outrage. That's because the small Doris North proposal has languished inside Nunavut's regulatory system since 2002.
So on March 23, members of the water board voted to dismiss di Pizzo without cause and to handle Miramar's licence application differently. In response, three key members of the water board's technical staff quit in protest.
This week, the recriminations continued. Raj Downe, the board's director of corporate services, said in a letter that she won't renew her employment contract, and she alleged that the water board is now "fraught with mistrust, disrespect and authoritarian attitude."
But that's not likely to bother either the mining industry or the Nunavut government, which now supports the idea of streamlining the regulatory system and getting rid of bureaucratic processes that miners don't like.
"For too long you have told me that regulations are used as a tool to protect bureaucratic jobs at the expense of development," Okalik said.
To help sell that message, symposium organizers flew up Fred McMahon, the director of trade and globalization studies for the Fraser Institute, a well-known think-tank based in Vancouver that favours free markets and smaller government.
In the Fraser Institute's annual survey of mining company executives, Nunavut routinely gets high marks for the quality of its mineral potential and low marks for its regulatory system.
complexity of much of the North's policy and regulatory regime has sullied the region's reputation as a destination for exploration development," the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada said in a report issued last year.
Okalik also said the Nunavut government will move forward soon on a trades school in Rankin Inlet that will train people for mining jobs.
He said the school will offer a trades access program in 2008, followed by mine worker and construction programs. Eventually, the school would offer programs to train millwrights, heavy equipment operators and heavy equipment mechanics, Okalik said.
And he cited the GN's new fuel tax rebate for off-road businesses as an example of Nunavut's willingness to accommodate mining companies.
Under that scheme, mining companies get a rebate on fuel tax in exchange for negotiating a development and partnership agreement with affected communities.
David Simailak, the minister of finance and economic development, also stressed the need for regulatory reform, saying that idea is one of the "four pillars contained in Nunavut's new mining and mineral exploration strategy, Parnautiit.
"Our challenge is to design legislation and regulations that efficiently and effectively promote and support mineral development, respect Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles, and follow responsible policies for land use," Simailak said.
He also said that Nunavut's mining strategy calls for more infrastructure, more training, more benefits for communities and combining environmental stewardship with economic development.
And Simailak challenged mining companies to work with the GN to set up a Nunavut Chamber of Mines.
"It would be a productive forum to promote mineral development in our territory," Simailak said.