There's a real risk that Nunavummiut will miss out on jobs as Agnico Eagle expands it workforce, warns John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove.
For the past several months, Main has been calling for enhancements to main training because, he says, the Kivalliq Mine Training Society (KMTS) hasn't been functioning at an acceptable level.
"My understanding is that there's been some difficulties within that organization and some of the partners have pulled back from their participation," Main said. "It's concerning for me, whether it's a slowdown or shutdown, particularly with the timing of how things are going in the Kivalliq with the development of the Meliadine mine. We need to be running full steam ahead on mine training if we're going to get the benefits we want for Kivalliq residents from development in the region, otherwise we miss the boat."
Dominique Girard, Agnico Eagle's vice-president of Nunavut operations, said earlier this month that he wasn't aware of KMTS's official status, but he'd heard the organization would be "coming back again."
Nunavut News requested an interview with a Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA) official familiar with KMTS, as the KIA holds the seat as chair of the non-profit's board of directors. No interview was granted.
As the KIA's annual general meeting was approaching during the first week of October, Tracy Wallace, KIA's director of communications, sent an email stating that the KIA, through the creation of the Inuit Services Department in 2019-2020, has "decided to internalize the objective of training for Kivalliqmiut that (leads) to employment in mining/trades."
"Development (is) underway to secure a contribution agreement through a multi-year funding program to deliver programs to Kivalliqmiut with the same objective," Wallace stated.
She didn't respond to a request to elaborate.
As Agnico Eagle edges closer to launching its next two Kivalliq gold mines, Girard said additional trades apprentices and 80 more truck drivers are in demand.
"This is such a huge opportunity to have more Inuit driving those trucks," he said. "If we don't have help (with training), the end result is we're going to hire people from the south because those trucks need to be on the road."
The mining company has been expanding its own mine training offerings over the years and has an annual $4.1 million training budget for the Kivalliq, according to Girard.
"At some point... we are maxed out," he said, acknowledging that Agnico Eagle has to pay yearly penalties to the Kivalliq Inuit Association if the goal of a 50 per cent Inuit mine workforce, identified in the Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement, is not achieved.
Agnico Eagle's long-term vision is to have Inuit managing its Nunavut mines, Girard added.
"It is all related to skills development and training," he said.
KMTS was formed in 2009 through the combined efforts of the GN Department of Economic Development and Transportation, Agnico Eagle, the KIA, Kivalliq Partners in Development and Nunavut Arctic College.
Training has been delivered to 2,634 people in the history of KMTS, but some of those would have been the same people enrolling in different programs over the years, Angie Perkins, executive director of KMTS, stated earlier this year.
Little progress on Nunavut-wide initiative
When Main raised the issue of KMTS's perceived struggles in the legislative assembly on May 29, then-minister of Economic Development Joe Savikataaq, himself a Kivalliq MLA, confirmed that that was his impression as well.
"The member is right that the Kivalliq Mine Training (Society) is not as active as it was in the past... we cannot afford to wait if we want to benefit from the jobs that are coming," said Savikataaq.
He said the GN was looking at setting up a Nunavut-wide mine training centre since the Kitikmeot and Baffin regions also have active mines.
Almost four months later, Economic Development Minister David Akeeagok had little progress to share on that front. The concept is "still under discussion" among the government departments that would play a role, Akeeagok stated on Sept. 21. Details relating to where the training centre would be located, the types of training involved and the costs associated were not yet available, according to Akeeagok.
Main said he'd support a territorial initiative because mine training is currently "piecemeal" and "disjointed" across Nunavut's three regions.
"Mining is a huge part of Nunavut's future," said Main. "I want my constituents in my two communities of Arviat and Whale Cove to be well-educated and well-informed and able to take advantage of the huge opportunities that exist."
The Kitikmeot Inuit Association, which signed IIBAs with TMAC Resources for the Hope Bay gold project and with Sabina Gold & Silver for the Back River gold project, has had a longstanding arrangement with the Northwest Territories Mine Training Society to get Kitikmeot residents prepared for work in the industry. While this alliance has served the Kitikmeot Inuit Association well in the past, "we have had difficulty accessing instructors and programs through the NWT MTS. I think the NWT MTS is at capacity as well," stated Paul Emingak, executive director of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, who added that he consulted with staff in his office about the issue.
Emingak said his organization would "absolutely" support a territory-wide training centre.
"The mine training program, however, would have to be all-encompassing, to provide the necessary training and skills needed to support our type of mining in the western part of Nunavut," said Emingak.
"We all have a role to play in ensuring mine training is successful. It has been proven in the past that if we can keep people closer to home, chances of success are much higher than having to send people to the south."
To be successful, a collaborative effort is required, Main agreed.
"The government can't do it alone. Nunavut Arctic College can't do it alone. The mines can't do it alone. Neither can the Inuit organizations. We need everyone coming together," he urged. "We need to get more Nunavummiut into this industry. Right now we have too many of the dollars flowing south."