Federal minister says he has no authority to increase Baffinland production

·4 min read

Federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal does not have the authority to increase Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s shipping limit, says a department spokesperson, despite what the company claims.

“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 increase the company’s 2022 shipping limit from 4.2 million tonnes of iron ore to six million, said company spokesperson Peter Akman.

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 comply, 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 his office received the letter last week, and that Vandal told Baffinland to go through the Nunavut Impact Review Board to get the shipping limit raised.

“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, Baffinland spokesman Peter 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 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.”

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News

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