The minister of Northern Affairs needs more time to make a major decision on the future of iron mining on Baffin Island.
In a letter Monday to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, Dan Vandal says he'll need an extra 90 days to decide whether a major expansion of Baffinland Iron Mines should go ahead.
On May 13, after four years of intensive review, the board recommended the proposed expansion not be allowed to proceed.
Normal procedures give the federal minister 90 days to accept, vary or reject the board's recommendation. That would have meant a decision by mid-August.
The minister also has the power to notify the proponent — Baffinland — if more time is needed.
"Given the government of Canada's commitment to renewing the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, the responsible ministers and I want to ensure that potentially affected Inuit have adequate time to consider the board's phase 2 report and recommendation relative to potential impacts on their rights," Vandal wrote in his letter to the board.
Time to focus on production increase
The extension will also "provide Inuit and others time to focus their efforts on the current production increase proposal renewal," Vandal wrote.
Last month, Baffinland submitted a proposal to the Nunavut Impact Review Board seeking approval to continue extracting six million tonnes of ore per year from its Mary River mine. A previous, temporary approval to increase production from 4.2 million tonnes to six million expired on Dec. 31.
In a statement to CBC News, Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman said the company welcomes the news of the delay, as it will give more time for all groups involved to "make an informed decision."
Akman also noted a second letter that Vandal has issued to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, which asks for an expedited hearing on the company's proposed temporary production increase.
In his letter, Vandal asked that the board deliver its recommendation to him on that request by Aug. 26.
"We have been mining at 6.0 million tonnes since 2018," Akman wrote. "As we have stated previously, without this approval, Baffinland will be forced to drastically reduce our workforce in the fall."
The company has said it's preparing to lay off up to 1,328 employees starting at the end of August if the production increase is not approved.
The company has also said that phase 2 of its operations, if approved, would create about 600 new jobs for North Baffin Inuit in its first three years of operations, and an additional 1,800 jobs overall.
Inuit argued successfully to the Nunavut Impact Review Board that the environmental costs of increasing shipping in the Arctic outweighed the benefits.