Federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal will not raise Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s iron ore shipping limit after the company said it would lay off hundreds of workers if he rejected its emergency order request.
Vandal did not grant the company’s request to ship six million tonnes of iron ore in 2022 in a letter he sent Wednesday to Baffinland chief executive officer Brian Penney, which Nunatsiaq News obtained.
“I recognize the sensitivity of Baffinland’s current request,” Vandal wrote in the two-page letter. “Given your history of operating at six million tonnes per annum, I wish it was one I could re-certify easily.”
Baffinland has been operating in 2022 on a permit that allows it to ship 4.2 million tonnes from its Mary River mine. The company has said it needs a higher limit or it will have to lay off more than 1,300 workers.
Vandal also sent the letter to Premier P.J. Akeeagok, three territorial cabinet ministers, Qikiqtani Inuit Association president Olayuk Akesuk, and Nunavut Impact Review Board executive director Karen Costello.
Vandal wrote he is “encouraged” that Baffinland sent a request to the review board on May 20 to raise the shipping limit and that the company should work closely with QIA for a solution.
Vandal said he would not approve Baffinland’s request to raise the shipping limit because the review process “is important to Inuit and territorial partners in Nunavut — as well as businesses and future investors — to provide certainty.”
“And critically, I understand the current request does not have the support of local Inuit at this time,” he said.
He said his staff would arrange a meeting between Baffinland and QIA “to work out existing concerns so that this project remains viable into the foreseeable future.”
In an email to Nunatsiaq News, Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman said the company expects to have that meeting on Thursday “and to rapidly address all issues for the benefit of all stakeholders.”
Baffinland’s CEO requested an emergency order in a letter to Vandal on May 26, calling for the minister to “certify that an emergency exists and that it is in the interest of ensuring the health and safety of the general public” that Baffinland be allowed to continue to ship six million tonnes of iron ore in 2022, instead of 4.2 million tonnes.
“The emergency is avoiding the issuance of mass layoff notices … to up to 1,328 Canadians (which includes at least 209 Inuit), which would be triggered by the imminent stoppage of the production and trucking operation at [the Mary River mine],” Penney wrote.
He said there will be a “significant negative impact on the mental health” of employees and a risk of “worsening the food security crisis” in north Baffin Island if there are layoffs.
The company will not start laying off employees until 16 weeks after the company files a notice with the Nunavut Labour Standards Compliance Office, Akman said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Akman said Baffinland would not file that notice until after Vandal decided whether to grant an emergency order.
David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News