Recommendation on Baffinland shipping increase due just days before terminations begin

·3 min read

The Nunavut Impact Review Board will not deliver a recommendation on Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s proposal to increase its shipping limit until the week before the company is set to begin job terminations at its Mary River iron mine.

The board “intends to issue” its recommendation the week of Sept. 19 to 23, chairperson Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq stated in a letter released Thursday evening.

That’s just days before the first of Baffinland’s two rounds of terminations takes effect. They are scheduled for Sept. 25 and Oct. 11. After the board releases its recommendation, federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal would still need to approve or deny Baffinland’s application.

The company is preparing to let go 1,300 employees who work at its Mary River iron mine, located on northern Baffin Island, if it isn’t given permission to ship six million tonnes of iron ore this year.

Baffinland had been working under a temporary permit to ship that much ore, but that permit expired at the end of December.

As it stands now, Baffinland is permitted to ship 4.2 million tonnes of iron ore this year, which the company says is not enough to make operations at the mine economically viable.

Baffinland chose not to apply for a permit extension in December because it has been waiting for a decision on a larger proposal to expand operations at the mine, which the company had expected to receive by then.

Instead, the company urged federal Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal in May to direct the board to approve an extension to its shipping permit through an emergency order. Vandal rejected that request on June 1.

Two days later, Baffinland gave notice to the territory’s labour office, saying it intends to terminate staff at the mine and at the company’s Nunavut office.

Since then, the company has applied for the shipping increase, and NIRB has been reviewing the request. Vandal has asked the board to treat the application as a priority.

NIRB hosted a community roundtable in Pond Inlet on Aug. 16, where residents from the affected communities, for and against the shipping increase, could ask the company questions and express their concerns.

The comment period for the application closed Aug. 19, and NIRB announced its decision timeline Thursday evening.

The tight timeline is “concerning for hundreds of families dependent on the Mary River project for their economic security,” said Baffinland spokesperson Peter Akman in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

“We understand the NIRB feels it needs more time to make the decision but there are more than 1,100 employees, including over 200 Nunavummiut and their families who are waiting to see what their future holds.”

Akman said an application for the company to ship six million tonnes per year has been approved twice in the past and is receiving lots of support from hamlets and elders.

Kaluraq’s letter acknowledges the tight timeline could be a concern.

“While the board understands that this timeline is greater than what was requested by the minister and urged by Baffinland and several parties,” wrote Kaluraq, “the board has balanced the urgency of the decision with [its] obligation to conduct a thorough assessment.”

Vandal’s spokesperson, Kyle Allen, said the Liberal government is optimistic workers will not be terminated.

“While it would be premature to speculate on the timing required to review the recommendation from the board, and determine whether the duty to consult has been met, all relevant ministers are seized with this issue and will issue a determination as soon as can reasonably be expected,” he wrote in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

— With files from Corey Larocque

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News