Government of Nunavut legislators are speaking out against a federal bill that MP Lori Idlout is proposing to alter the territory’s mining regulations.
Arviat South MLA Joe Savikataaq prodded Premier P.J. Akeeagok and Economic Development and Mines Minister David Akeeagok to express their opposition to Idlout’s private member’s bill C-326, to amend the Territorial Lands Act, which has already been introduced in the House of Commons.
Savikataaq vehemently rejected Idlout’s premise that Nunavut’s mine development process is “flawed.”
In the legislative assembly on Oct. 26, the premier reaffirmed his “trust the institution of pubic governments we do have, right from the impact review board to the water board, among many other institutions and public governments. I feel very confident in the systems that are in place. I am not aware of our MP’s bill, and I have not yet spoken to the member of Parliament, Ms. Idlout, specifically on her bill. She has reached out to be able to discuss what is contained in her bill, but I have yet to review the details of what has been presented.”
Savikataaq noted that Idlout and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh met with the premier the week before.
Akeeagok replied, “During that meeting, we didn’t cover specifically the importance mining has within our economy. However, I do commit to continuing to advocate that and meeting with the member of Parliament to advocate our position, and to reaffirm the importance of finding that balance, in particular, as we go through the development of the draft land-use plan, which strives to strike a balance between the two very important fields as we move forward…
“I think it is very important to ensure that we realize the opportunities and I actually just had the amazing opportunity to go to a mine side just outside of Rankin Inlet to see, directly, the impact that is very positive of the Inuit employment we see from the community, the business opportunities that comes with it, but also there is the other side that the member mentioned,” the premier added. “We must find that balance, and that is really the message that we’ve said right from the beginning since we formed government and will continue to ensure we send that message, that we support responsible development right across the territory.”
Savikataaq spoke passionately in favour of responsible mining, which is a major economic driver in the Kivalliq region, where two Agnico Eagle gold mines are in production.
“…responsible, sustainable mining is good for Nunavut,” he said. “I greatly respect our environment and I want our environment to be good, but we also have to provide opportunities for Nunavummiut to get employment.”
David Akeeagok expressed similar sentiment.
“Mines have been welcome in this territory, and we have seen the benefits of mining, and it’s through those very rigorous regulatory resumes that we do have that Nunavummiut have been able to provide input, and Nunavummiut are seeing the benefits of mining,” the minister said. “We support all sectors of any of our economy, and with mining, our gross domestic product is very high thanks to them.”
They ‘don’t understand’
When contacted for comment, Idlout told NNSL Media that her concern is that the territorial legislators “don’t understand why I tabled the bill.”
She said Savikataaq never contacted her office to better inform himself or voice his concerns.
“I would have been pleased if he wanted to reach out to me. I sincerely want him to reach out to me so I can alleviate his concerns. His misunderstanding is misleading other people,” she said.
“What my bill is doing,” Idlout clarified, “is making sure Inuit give informed consent. Right now, the current process with the entrance system is to purchase acquisition of mining rights on lands… and hold onto them for decades. This allows [companies] to build a case to mine. Duty to consult doesn’t happen until much later. My bill is proposing a minor change to gain Inuit permission prior [to purchase]. All I’m doing is opening the door to prior and informed consent earlier in the process. I’m not trying to dictate government process.”
Idlout went on to reference Canada’s commitment to respecting the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and said that the Territorial Lands Act is “a good starting point.”
She said she hopes to clarify her intent during her next meeting with Nunavut’s premier.
“I am not trying to stop mining as I was accused of. It’s hard to understand something if you don’t ask,” she said.
She added that she has sent a letter to all Nunavummiut broaching this issue and also provided her office’s contact information. She encouraged anyone with concerns to reach out.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there. My office is open. I just want to remind all Nunavummiut that I am here to work for them. I am here to help,” she said.