The Northwest Territories government is asking the public to weigh in on the direction it's taking with regulations for its mining legislation, but one MLA says this public step comes after dozens of hours of private meetings between the government and the industry it's setting out to regulate.
The department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) has spent more than 61 hours in meetings with mining companies and advocates as it works on regulations for the Mineral Resources Act, a spokesperson confirmed.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly says topics discussed at those closed-door meetings haven't been raised in the same level of detail in public, and that the government appears to be giving industry the inside track as it develops the rules for the application and enforcement of its mining law.
"Why should the mining industry have privileged access to those that are developing the mining regulations and have access to information that only they and the regulator, I guess, gets to see," said O'Rielly.
"That's just not right."
The Mineral Resources Act is the law that will govern mining and exploration in the N.W.T. It passed in 2019, but won't come into force until the regulations are finalized.
Those regulations will cover the particulars of areas including claim staking, production licences and benefit agreements.
Right now, people can give their feedback based on the government's "policy intention papers," which aim to sum up the reasoning and objectives of the proposed regulations. The public has until Jan. 31 to provide input.
In O'Reilly's view however, the government's process for developing the regulations could be fairer, and more transparent.
For example, he said, despite his asking, the government hasn't made public the presentations from meetings between ITI and the mining industry.
"I've seen the presentations and I was very concerned with the level of detail that was being made available to the mining industry without anyone else being able to see this," he said.
"I would have hoped that the department would have taken a much more open and transparent process, or approach to the process in developing these regulations, knowing that they are both a promoter and a regulator at the same time."
Meeting materials are 'no longer relevant,' says ITI
CBC News asked ITI for presentations and related documents from three meetings: one with the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, one with producing mines, and one with social justice group Alternatives North. In response, ITI provided a one-sentence overview of each meeting, but no presentations or documents.
In an email, ITI spokesperson Drew Williams wrote that the presentations from those meetings were meant as "discussion aides" and "are no longer relevant."
"The policy intentions that these meetings served to inform have progressed over the year" and are now reflected in the policy intention papers, he said.
ITI Minister Caroline Wawzonek said sometimes proprietary information, like a mine's production targets and how their royalties are calculated, came out at these meetings. She said the government isn't legally permitted to release this information.
Wawzonek said she wouldn't characterize the many hours of facetime given to industry as "privileged access."
"The mineral resource industry are the people that are the most impacted by what's going to be happening in these regulations," she said, adding that those people are also experts in the regulatory landscape of other jurisdictions.
"I think that's actually an appropriate level of diligence that we're doing, and an appropriate level of collaboration."
Bulk of meetings has been with Indigenous gov't officials, says minister
Wawzonek said that the majority of meetings related to the mining legislation regulations have been with the Intergovernmental Council Secretariat, which comprises a senior N.W.T. government official and one senior official appointed by each of the Indigenous parties to N.W.T.'s devolution agreement.
Williams, the ITI spokesperson, said that since around January of 2021, ITI has been a part of 304 hours of meetings with Indigenous government representatives of the Intergovernmental Council Secretariat and other Indigenous governments.
O'Reilly said the work happening with Indigenous governments is "very important and I support that."
But, he continued, the N.W.T. government still has obligations as a public government to make sure that drafting the Mineral Resource Act regulations is done in a "fair, transparent and inclusive process."
Williams wrote that ITI would meet with other interest groups who ask for a meeting, and so far, only Alternatives North has asked.
ITI met with Alternatives North for a total of 3.5 hours.