Future uncertain for employees after Baffinland rejection: union leader

Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal said no Wednesday to company’s proposed Phase 2 expansion

After a rejection from Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal, a proposed expansion of Baffinland’s Mary River iron mine, shown here, will not go forward. (File photo)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Worry set in for Mike Gallagher, the leader of the union that represents some of Baffinland’s employees, when he read that the company’s Mary River mine expansion had been rejected.

Federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal released his long-awaited decision on Wednesday evening.

Gallagher, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 793, is concerned about the future of the mine and its 2,600 employees, with the price of iron ore decreasing and a looming recession.

“We’re disappointed that Minister Vandal did not choose to try to use his position to find a compromise,” he said.

Baffinland applied in 2018 to expand operations at its Mary River iron mine, a project it calls its Phase 2 Development Proposal.

It would have included a 110-kilometre railroad between the mine and Milne Inlet, doubling its shipping output of iron ore to 12 million tonnes per year from six million, and construction of an additional dock at the Milne Inlet port.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board spent approximately four years assessing the proposal, with several in-person hearings held in Iqaluit and Pond Inlet. The board concluded in May that if Phase 2 were to go forward, the negative impacts on wildlife and fish habitats could not be “adequately prevented, mitigated, or adaptively managed.”

In an interview with Nunatsiaq News Wednesday evening, Vandal said he chose to follow the review board’s recommendation to reject the proposal because Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and hunters’ organizations all agree the potential damage to the environment could be immense, and there is no clear way for that risk to be lessened.

Gallagher said he respects and supports the opinions of the hunters and Inuit organizations and their goal of protecting the environment.

He also believes not enough emphasis has been put on how difficult the review process has been on mine employees, and what their needs are.

“We’re asking, to the point of saying, ‘Please, minister, support Phase 2,’ and we’re very, very genuine about that,” Gallagher said. “And it feels very much that their voices have not been listened to at all.”

The union wants to see all parties come together to try to salvage Phase 2 and save the jobs of the mine’s approximately 2,600 workers, more than 200 of which are held by Inuit.

“We always look for hope. And if there is any hope, I think it probably exists in a compromise,” Gallagher said.

Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman told Nunatsiaq News in an email Wednesday evening the company would provide a statement Thursday, but as of mid-afternoon no such statement has been released.

Levi Barnabas, acting president for QIA, said the association agrees with Vandal’s decision but is still willing to work with Baffinland if the company chooses to continue pursuing Phase 2.

He said the association wants the project to align with the local Inuit vision for the future, and for the company to be more clear on the totality of its plans for the Mary River mine.

“Inuit need more certainty about the future of the project,” Barnabas said in an interview.

“Inuit have participated in seven reviews in 10 years for changes for the Mary River project, but Inuit still don’t know what Baffinland’s long-term intentions for the project are.”

Nunavut MP Lori Idlout spent Wednesday anticipating Vandal’s decision, which she said turned out to be a positive step toward reconciliation and an indication the Liberal government is listening to Inuit.

“I think this is something that many Inuit can be proud of — that when they stood together to actively ask for the protection of the environment, of the wildlife, the right to harvesting, they were heard,” Idlout said in an interview.

The mine has brought benefits to local communities, including jobs, funding for different community programs and the construction of a training centre in Pond Inlet.

For example, Arctic Bay residents were paid approximately $13.3 million in wages from Baffinland between 2015 and 2020, according to company documents.

Many Inuit wanted the expansion to go ahead in order to continue reaping those benefits, but Idlout said “it’s unfortunate that they were drawn to this kind of conclusion.”

“A lot of the ways that Inuit could contribute to the economy, to our local societies, are not being recognized at the moment,” she said.

“And because of that, Inuit are drawn to what is available, and unfortunately the only thing that probably feels available in Pond Inlet, is the mine.”

She said hunting and sewing should be viable career options for Inuit.

Baffinland has said throughout the review for Phase 2 that if it’s not approved, the company may have to temporarily close the mine.

Idlout expressed doubt that that would happen, saying the company is profiting and should be able to maintain its operations as the current permit allows.

Premier P.J. Akeeagok declined an interview on the matter, deferring to Economic Development Minister David Akeeagok to comment.

David Akeeagok said he is concerned about the impact the decision might have on Nunavut’s economy, as Baffinland made up 23 per cent of the territory’s gross domestic product in 2019 and is its largest private-sector employer. Ultimately, he said, the review board and Vandal made their decision.

“It’s up to Baffinland to determine whether to go back and seek another proposal,” the minister said, adding the Government of Nunavut will be prepared to participate in the review.

In an interview Wednesday, Vandal said he too believes Baffinland should put more proposals forward.

“I think it’s important that we continue, partners continue to speak and look at what’s possible,” he said. “I encourage Baffinland to [work] with partners to establish a positive path forward.”

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(26) Comments:

  1. Posted by Umingmak on

    It’s disturbing watching Idlout act like she speaks for all Inuit. How about the hundreds of Inuit who will lose their jobs and sink into poverty over this decision? This decision is pure politics, and has nothing to do with environmental science or common sense. The expansion should have been approved, and its rejection is a massive loss for Nunavut.

    • Posted by Withheld on

      If you were a full time worker you certainly have a choice of continuing exploiting our lands ,but if you hunt as well you certainly have a conscience about what impacts are going to be . Bubble for you don’t go out in the lands when you comment so much on everything you seem to know of . God bless

      • Posted by Needlessly Deep Pockets on

        Well. She is an NDP. Nunavut voted NDP. What do you expect? They’re a socialist party who thinks the world can survive off government handouts and freebies. Anyways, when’s the next bingo happening?

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      When Lori pretends to speak for all Inuit it’s really a confession that she is unable to see her fellow Inuit beyond a stale set of cliches. This, in turn, speaks to the unsophisticated and marginally intelligent operating system she is running.

      • Posted by One Trick Pony on

        Lori’s comments almost always lack depth and intelligence, this is how it goes. Will she win another term? We’ve become so accustomed to mediocrity I would not be surprised.

        • Posted by Dulcinea on

          She is a stable genius compared to our last MP.

          • Posted by Not mutually exclusive on

            Yes, I’ll grant you that. But surely we can aim for more than just that.

            • Posted by Nunavummiutaq on

              Lori doesn’t represent Nunavut constituencies anymore, she/NDP represent Liberals

  2. Posted by What? on

    On what planet does Ms. Idlout live on?

    • Posted by Devil’s Avocado on

      She lives on the planet Command Economy, where the motto is “from each according to what he or she feels like doing (e.g. hunting, sewing), to each in the form of six-figure salaries in recognition of their hunting and sewing prowess”.

  3. Posted by An Inuk who ‘s on Poverty on

    As for Federal Government…..I am NOT going to vote for the Liberals anymore and am going to convert to other Parties of Canada….AND as for Lori Idlout…..NO VOTE FOR THE NDP’s for Nunavut !!!!BULL SHIT…..are those in power for Nunavut….I hope you will help those Inuit Employees in those five communities to get by on their unemployment times…..VERY VERY SAD DAY FOR ME…….YOU PEOPLE IN OTTAWA POWER…….I hope you guys lose your positions too……

    • Posted by 867 on

      We need Leona Agglukaq back she was the best leader for Nunavut and SHE GOT THINGS DONE for INUIT AND FOR NUNAVUT not some international globalist powers

      • Posted by Euros on

        You European-Americans are very Conservatives! Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party (CCRAP) are very bad for Indigenous peoples!

      • Posted by anon on

        I’m just here to point out that ‘globalist’ is a dog-whistle antisemitic term for Jewish people, and refers to a conspiracy theory that Jews are part of an international shadow organization that seeks to control or destroy ‘Western’ society.

        • Posted by Tonight, In Error Correction… on

          In some foreign countries, primarily the United States, this is true.

          It is not the case in this country.

          Please stop applying foreign thinking and standards to this venue.

      • Posted by Get it together already on

        Too bad the Conservatives appear unable to field a serious candidate, the game is theirs to be won if they could get their proverbial anaq together

  4. Posted by Jim on

    Inuit have been in the north a long time. The mine is very short term and has very little right to ruin the environment.

    • Posted by Kyle on

      There is possibly more than 100 years of work there. That’s a lot of income stability. Food Stability. Investments into the community for a long time.

      • Posted by Consistency on

        It wont be for 100 years if they keep increasing the speed at which they take the ore out of the ground.

        • Posted by What on

          I suggest you read about the various deposits.

    • Posted by Ditto on

      If that is yours and others thinking, then you should have no problem giving up the guns, powered boats, snowmobiles, quads and vehicles that all have an impact on the environment and go back to your traditional ways.

    • Posted by Pierre on

      When you open a mine its not for a short time but for long term period at mine site they have an expectative of 100 years for this site so just stop looking around the belly buttons look further for the best of all community .

  5. Posted by Nunavummiut on

    If QIA is going to re-negotiated ICA 2.0, I sure hope they will reserve seats for people from each affected community.. Let Inuit run the negotiation with advisors from QIA staff…

  6. Posted by Management on

    BIM should start at the top now that they have an excuse to axe jobs. Stop threatening Inuit workers!

  7. Posted by Concerned on

    BIM should’ve had Inuit included in their railway plan and they should’ve had their dump trucks covered when they’re going back and forth on tote road, it’s practically red dust pollution for miles and miles around there, their first plan was to make a railroad from Mary River to Steensby Inlet and without planning with the Inuit and organizations they changed their plan from Mary River to Milne Inlet, that’s when the trouble started, if they had plan well with Inuit, phase 2 would be a go ahead..
    You see Inuit are always looked down upon and they finally talked

  8. Posted by Ian on

    Hey, 300 Inuit employees x1500 month social assistance x12 months 5.4 million yearly, Nunavut gov. Has a 2 billion plus budget, drop in the bucket. Quit complaining, nothing will change,


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