Federal minister takes Baffinland request to increase production under review

Mining company should ‘respect’ review process, says federal department

Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal told Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. he does not have the power to grant the company a higher shipping limit in 2022 but took under review a request for an emergency order, said a department spokesperson Friday. (File photo)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Updated on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at 4:45 p.m.

Federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal is reviewing a request Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. made Thursday for an emergency order to increase the mining company’s shipping limit at its Mary River mine after having told the company earlier in May the minister doesn’t have the authority to direct the Nunavut Impact Review Board to increase its limit, a department spokesperson says.

“We encourage project proponents [Baffinland] to follow the process and work collaboratively with partners,” spokesperson Ryan Cotter said in an email to Nunatsiaq News Friday.

“All partners want certainty in that process and this should be no different.”

Baffinland chief executive officer Brian Penney sent Vandal a letter Thursday asking the minister to issue an emergency order to increase the company’s 2022 shipping limit from 4.2 million tonnes of iron ore to six million, said company spokesperson Peter Akman.

It came about a little more than a week after the company asked Vandal to direct the Nunavut Impact Review Board to do the same thing.

Since 2018, the company had been shipping six million tonnes per year out of Milne Inlet under a temporary permit granted by the Nunavut Impact Review Board, but that permit expired in December.

Akman said Penney wrote that if Vandal doesn’t grant Baffinland’s request, approximately 1,700 workers’ jobs could be affected at the Mary River mine, including 1,300 employees and 400 contractors.

Baffinland has not provided that letter to Nunatsiaq News.

Cotter wrote to Nunatsiaq News saying Vandal’s office received a letter last week, and that Vandal told Baffinland to go through the Nunavut Impact Review Board to get the shipping limit raised.

That May 16 letter was followed by the May 26 request for Vandal to issue an emergency order.

“We encourage the proponent [Baffinland] to continue doing the work they promised; work with partners in a responsible way, respect the independent NIRB process,” Cotter said, adding the company has since applied to the review board for an extension.

In a response to Vandal’s reaction, Akman said Friday it didn’t apply for an extension of the temporary permit because that permit was intended to expire after the completion of the regulatory process for its Phase 2 expansion proposal.

But delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors meant the temporary authorization expired before the process did.

“So the Minister’s decision on the Phase 2 proposal … will not be provided in a timeframe that allows Baffinland to secure continued full employment for the 2022 year,” Akman wrote in an email to Nunatsiaq News Friday.

Baffinland asked Vandal for the emergency order on May 26 because it would not require another review process, he added. The emergency order would apply only to the 2022 season, Akman said.

Also Friday afternoon, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association released an “immediate response” regarding Baffinland’s request, saying it warned Baffinland last July that its permit to ship six million tonnes would expire at the end of the year.

“QIA is disappointed that employees working at Mary River Project will be issued lay-off notices because Baffinland was not better prepared to develop and present formal applications to NIRB to extend production,” the release by spokesperson Karen Flaherty said.

The release said QIA “will do everything in its power” to make sure the Mary River operation is “acceptable to Inuit.”

The union representing Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s employees is worried about potential mass layoffs if the shipping limit isn’t increased.

“We will be definitely in support of [increasing production], because that definitely supports jobs and supports the confidence in the mine from the shareholders,” said Mike Gallagher, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793.

Gallagher said communities will feel the impact in terms of jobs and perks from the mine, such as training, if any layoffs happen.

He said there are few employment opportunities in some north Baffin Island communities and some residents are concerned they might have to leave home if they can’t find work.

“[That’s] a shame. Nobody wants to leave the community you’re born in, where you have family and everything,” he said.

The Hamlet of Sanirajak sent a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board on Wednesday, a day before Baffinland said it reached out to Vandal, to say it supports the company’s emergency request.

“Sanirajak is highly reliant on the mine’s continuing ability to operate,” wrote Mayor Jaypetee Audlakiak.

“If the mine must go into care and maintenance because of not receiving a timely, positive response to their application, it will have a devastating impact on this community.”

Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. vice-president Duane Wilson said in a release Thursday evening the co-op has a “profound concern for the negative economic impact” layoffs would cause.

Baffinland’s proposal to build a 110-km railway from Milne Inlet to the Mary River mine and increase its shipping limit to 12 million tonnes per year is currently in Vandal’s hands, who has to either reject or approve the project by this summer.

The review board has already recommended the project not be approved.

The company, on numerous occasions, has stated it might have to shutter the mine if the expansion doesn’t go through.

Some of the mine’s opposition has called this a threat, but Gallagher disagrees.

“Something is a threat only until it happens,” Gallagher said. “I think it would be wrong not to take [Baffinland] seriously.”

Clarification: This article has been updated from a previous version to clarify that Baffinland had made two requests to Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal’s office and to reflect the minister’s reaction to each one.


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(28) Comments:

  1. Posted by ChrisT on

    This mine is screaming out for new ownership and management.

  2. Posted by hello on

    “QIA is disappointed that employees working at Mary River Project will be issued lay-off notices because Baffinland was not better prepared to develop and present formal applications to NIRB to extend production,” the release by spokesperson Karen Flaherty said.

    I went to the QIA website and their release isn’t on the front page for whatever reason. Below is the QIA statement described above, provided by their twitter account:


  3. Posted by Legal Framework on

    But, but, but…Canada was created to provide a legal framework for the extraction of resources.

  4. Posted by Jarod Witting on

    “approximately 1,700 workers’ jobs could be affected at the Mary River mine, including 1,300 employees and 400 contractors”
    I wonder if Oakville office staff will feel the effects of layoffs?

    • Posted by Ammie H. Kipsigak on

      NO….Oakville employees will NOT be affected…..families…..but Inuit will…..my belief…..we need jobs up here….cannot depend on “Income Support” for ever…..

  5. Posted by Thomasie on

    Isn’t QIA wonderful. They have been such great partners to Baffinland. Not only have they received over 80 million dollars which they are keeping for themselves and doing nothing with (legacy fund), but they are so supportive of telling Baffinland what to do, and policing them. Too bad they continue to be non-supportive of the project. Non-Supportive of phase 2. Non supportive of mining 6 million tons. Just plain non-supportive. QIA should be ashamed. They should be doing whatever they can do to protect, and create more jobs. Not eliminate over 300 Inuit jobs. But heck, no one at QIA will loose their jobs. So who cares right?

  6. Posted by Pat Lucassie on

    What? What does the federal minister mean he has no authority to make this decision? He has the ultimate and final decision. I guess he does not care about 2000 employees that will no longer have a job. If you don’t want to make a decision, and hide to show you are aligned with QIA, atleast direct NIRB to hold an immediate hearing. I am embarrased and sad by everyone hiding, and no one supporting this project that is 23% of the Nunavut economy. This is crazy?

    • Posted by Read the legislation on

      Yes, the federal minister has the final say regarding the Phase 2 proposal, but his authority over the extension to the production increase proposal ended on December 31, 2021.

      And he cannot “direct NIRB to hold an immediate hearing”. This is Baffinland’s fault, as QIA pointed out.

  7. Posted by Pure threat from the mining company on

    I hope I am not the only one who realizes that BIM is always using threatening tactics to get thier way.

    1. Mass lay offs if they don’t get thier way.
    2. If phase 2 is approved they are totally willing to get rid of those workers anyways because they won’t need man power or labour to do any of the work anyway. They will forfeit all thier workers and trucks for the train which then is operated by 1 person rather than all those employed right now.
    3. If they don’t get thier way they always say they will have to shut down. And that is how they have gotten thier way all these years.

    So either way, no matter what happens they will lose thier employees. But no one seems to be realizing that if they go the phase 2 route it doesn’t sound like a threat to get rid of all the employees it’s in fine print. If they publicly don’t get thier way they will publicly “lay off” all the employees so there is no wining regardless of what happens.

    Phase 2 or not no more inuit working at the mine. That who they want to get rid of anyways.
    Saddest mining company on earth!

    • Posted by Incredible Post on

      Hi. Just wanted to comment that this was an incredible post and I enjoyed it immensely. Cheers.

      • Posted by Oliphant on

        It was an absurd comment, detached from reality

  8. Posted by Perriwater on

    Vandal’s posture here seems precedent setting, I’m surprised it isn’t getting more attention.

    Either way I imagine this is for the best. For Nunavut to truly direct its own destiny it needs to be responsible for and accept the consequences of its own decisions; be those what they may.

    That said, the silence from our elected leadership on this is puzzling, especially from our premier. Imagine a comparable development in Ontario or Quebec, can you imagine Doug Ford or François Legault sitting by silently? Why are our leaders so afraid to voice their opinions, or to push for whatever vision they imagine, publicly?

    • Posted by Adamie on

      Perriwater…..I am not surprised the GN is silent. Our Premier is former President of QIA that was.always very opposed to everything Baffinland tried to do. I believe he remains against Baffinland and is giving orders to his MLAs to remain silent. You are right if this was Ontario or Quebec the provincial governments would be working hard to save 2000 jobs. They have done that so many times for the auto industry, mining and do many others. But here we are in Nunavut, with elected officials that received 300 votes, a government that only has federal money, and a government that exist because of southern Canada, while at the same time aligning with QIA to try to remove southern Canada business from Nunavut. I wonder if the Government will replace $80,000 of income for every Inuk employee that looses their job and is forced onto welfare? Do you think PJ lost his QIA ambitions when he quit and became premier?

      • Posted by Perriwater on

        Thanks for the interesting comment, you’re right, the electorate is tiny and that gives responsiveness a meaning most politicians don’t understand.

        My main interest is in the principle that the premier hasn’t made his opinion more public, whatever it is. I’m not arguing for one over the other. If PJ is opposed to the project, what is keeping him from making that known? Back to the tiny electorate, you might say. That could be.

        To me it seems our leaders need to express a vision and take ownership of their choices, whatever they are. In the long run this is how Nunavut will find its confidence and its way, whatever that becomes.

  9. Posted by Inuk on

    The review process by NIRB needs to be improved, by listening to a select few individuals and not the majority of Inuit that are in support they went ahead with a no based on their process that is flawed.

    Too many of us get bullied to not speak out in support of Baffinland, we agree Baffinland needs to improve somethings and that can be worked out but a flat no because of a few family groups are opposed to it is not right.
    If you do a secret ballot you would see more Inuit in favour of going ahead. We rather work instead of being on social assistance.

    • Posted by iThink on

      This is an interesting comment. It reminds me a little of the debate over the term ‘Edmonton Eskimos,’ where the loudest and most listened too voices where probably a minority, though sizable enough they had an advantage derived from the power that came with their social class.

      • Posted by iThink on

        By the way, Nunatsiaq, you were complicit in that. There were no stories to be read at the time telling us the pride many Inuit felt about having a CFL team named after them, and there a significant number.

        There is a lot of talk about hearing more from ‘northern voices’ in this publication, surely that must mean more than only when they are palatable to your tastes?

        But I digress…

  10. Posted by Jimmy on

    I work at the mine site,
    If phase 2 doesn’t get approved it simply won’t survive.
    A lot of people are talking on here like they have any experience with running a mine.
    This company is breaking even the last 2 years.
    4 flights a week is 400k. Let that sink in.

    If nirb is so concerned about the environment, why are they letting baffinland using b trains to haul the ore. A train would be a much greener option.

    There’s less then 3000 caribou on this island from over hunting and migration. It’s not the mines fault.
    They complied with everything and sent millions to the Inuit.
    Sent them for training in Ottawa.
    Paid them for 2.5 years while Covid was going on.
    Flies fuel to Clyde river.
    They would gladly take every Inuit to work here but they’re having troubles keeping them on. It’s a different environment.

    Baffinland is doing everything they can but it’s people like QIL and NIRB who are the greedy ones.

    I hope baffinland will have enough funds to go to steensby one day and bypass all these greedy people.

    Most communities have no issues with baffinland, it’s just a select few.

    • Posted by Baffinland Helps Inuit on

      The Joe Fresh clothing donations done in Igloolik last fall would not have happened if it wasn’t for Baffinland stepping up and getting everything shipped up here. They don’t just mine ore and give millions to Inuit Orgs who sit on it like an egg. They truly do help the people of Nunavut and care FAR MORE than you think. They paid their inuit employess to stay home during the covid lockdown TO KEEP THIS TERRITORY SAFE for flip sakes!

      They’re like a wife that does all the dishes, cleans the house, folds the laundry, takes care of the kids AND goes to work all day. Eventually she’s going to walk out of your life and you have nobody but yourselves to blame for it.

  11. Posted by 300 Inuit = How Many Homes? on

    If 300 Inuit lose their jobs and cant find gainful employment in their communities and need to go on financial assistance, does that take away from how many homes can be built per year?

  12. Posted by Boba on

    I’m a home-bound traveler with a life-long interest in the North.

    I have no stake in this discussion but I live across the road from a gravel mine, Looking at Maps, there is a lot of red earth around Mary River. Is the issue of red snow that’s reported only because of Baffinland or is it a mix of mining and nature.

    Love and respect from just south of the border

  13. Posted by Psh on

    Take a 4 by 8 sheet of plywood, that represents the size of Baffin Island ( imagination required)
    Now take a thumb tack and pin a hole in it , now take a magnifying glass and look at the pin hole and you still can’t see where baffinland mine is , this mine is so small it’s almost sad , look at big mines output ! We fighting for dear life for 6 million tons …. Australian mines put out 1000 MT …. No one hungry down under

    • Posted by Australian Aboriginals on

      You may want to actually research Australia and their Aboriginal communities. I fear they share more similarities with the north than we would comfortably admit.

      Alcoholism, suicides, abuse, racism, food insecurity, lack job prospects in the areas they live, etc.

  14. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    I support the fact that Vandal is leaving it to the region to make the decisions about the mine . People need to see that they do have a say about their own land and the activities carried out on it. But it begs the question why Baffinlanders ever allowed this operation to go ahead to begin with. Mining is messy but this is an extraction the processing is taking place elsewhere and the mine itself has a limited life. These days mines have to ante up for clean ups before operations start. It will not be there forever. Mining companies in other regions seem to be able to function well with communities but not in the Baffin. They are risking the livelihood of thousands of workers and business people. I guess they just love the SA and other free handouts that allow them to sit on their collective asses doing nothing all day.. So concerned about the environment. Maybe that why there’s hardly any caribou left on Baffin. The environmentalists shot them all.

  15. Pingback: Workers at Baffinland ask Canada to approve expansion – Simply Invest Asia
  16. Posted by Ida.pikuyak ootoovak on

    I was once working there for more than 5 yrs..I lived in late Nanisivik mines for 11 years.. it would have been less mess if they made a mill where they should put ore ..like what Nanisivik had..

  17. Posted by Colin on

    Baffinland may not be the easiest people to deal with but it takes two sides to make a relationship. Why didn’t they call for a truly independent evaluation that has the credibility that the Nunavut Impact Review Board doesn’t have and could never get?

    NIRB is just another make-work operation for board members drawing a fat salary without the qualifications to evaluate construction of an outhouse or to manage a two-car funeral. None of them are university-educated mining engineers or geologists, wildlife experts or marine biologists. I asked NIRB for the names and qualifications of the so-called decision makers—obviously not the sinecure board members!—and never got a response.

    QIA and the Nunavut Trust need to be disbanded with all that ton of money allocated into individual family trusts like the one that Justin Trudeau has. All QIA and the Nunavut Trust do is to provide featherbed positions with no responsibility or usefulness to beneficiaries except for themselves and fat-cat investment advisors in the south. We\re looking at about $80,000 for every man, woman and child or enough to buy a really good house for every beneficiary family with little or no mortgage. Best of all would be to buy housing in the south where there’s real education and skills training and where there are real jobs.

    • Posted by Bemused on

      Looking at the NIRB staff page, I see the staff includes two geologists, an expert in marine planning, a botanist, two environmental scientists, an ecologist, a biochemist, and an engineer, among them several Masters level graduates.

      Among the board, again looking at the bios, the chair has a degree in environmental and resource science, there’s a former chief negotiator on the land claim, and a lawyer specializing in environmental law.

      NIRB was hiring technical advisors and other staff recently. With your vast experience and knowledge, did you apply?


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