Surprise! Industry minister quietly folds N.W.T. mining advisory board

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The N.W.T.'s minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) says he has disbanded the Mining Industry Advisory Board, a group of industry people who gave his department strategic advice on mining policy.

Minister Wally Schumann, who inherited the ITI portfolio from Premier Bob McLeod last September, made the surprise announcement in the legislative assembly on Friday.

"One of the first things I did was actually put a pause and disbanded the board for now," he said.

"I've met with them since then but not as a board but as individuals, and moving forward and getting their advice I will continue to look at how this board operates and how it suits the mineral development strategy moving foward."

On Friday afternoon, Deborah Archibald, assistant deputy minister of ITI's Mineral and Petroleum Resources division, provided CBC News with more details.

"The Mining Industry Advisory Board was disbanded in October 2016 in order to review the structure, roles and responsibilities of the board," she said. 

"We look forward to determining what will work best for the minister and board on a continuing basis and are pleased to do so to best manage the fortunes of our territory's largest industry." 

Concern about conflict of interest 

Schumann's news — which comes as a surprise to the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines — came in response to a question from Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly.

O'Reilly brought up the recent news that the department will extend its Work Credit Program for another two years to April 2019.

Under the program — which was originally recommended by the advisory board — the credit or value of mineral exploration work conducted by companies is multiplied by 1.5. That means companies need to spend less money to keep their claims in good standing than before the program was in place.

"We still need to come over the perception of the N.W.T. being a difficult place to do business and this is one of the avenues that we can see where we can attract investment," said Schumann in defence of the program.

O'Reilly replied, "There's a potential for conflict of interest when a mineral industry advisory board provides advice to the minister generally or in the specific case of the Work Credit Program.

"What is the minister prepared to do to deal with this issue of potential for conflict of interest to provide improved transparency around recommendations he gets from this board?"

That's when Schumann dropped the news about the board.

"Well, that certainly comes as a surprise!" said O'Reilly, who flashed a big grin and thumbs-up sign after Schumann said he'd love to hear his advice on the board's future. 

Positions now vacant 

Former ITI minister Dave Ramsay announced the board and appointed members to it for one-year terms in early 2015. The board was to meet twice a year.

The original members were:

- Brendan Bell, CEO of Dominion Diamond Corporation (chair)

- Darrel Beaulieu of DEMCo Limited Partnership 

- Rod Brown of Discovery Mining Services

- Leni Keough of Olivut Resources of Hinton, Alta.

- Don Bubar of Avalon Rare Metals of Toronto

- John Kearney of Canadian Zinc of Toronto

The government's web page for the board cites renumeration of $250 a day for members and $300 a day for the chair.

But Brown told CBC News members of the board were not paid. 

The same page now lists all those positions as vacant, and Schumann did not say for how long the board might remain "on pause."

O'Reilly encouraged Schumann to follow in the footsteps of Yukon, which posts annual reports — including recommendations — of its minerals advisory board online.

Correction : A previous version of this story said the members of the board were paid for their time. In fact, they were not. (Mar 10, 2017 8:25 PM)