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Feds ignoring Nunavut Planning Commission funding concerns

Despite an audit, as well as external reports and reviews, showing the federal government is underfunding the Nunavut Planning Commission (NPC), Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada says the commission should be able to do its job with the money it has.

The Nunavut Mining Symposium featured the beleaguered Nunavut-wide land-use plan at its Hot Topic session in early April. From left, NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines president Gary Vivian, Natural Resources and Environment, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada director general Mark Hopkins, Government of Nunavut Department of Environment assistant deputy minister Steve Pinksen and Nunavut Planning Commission director of policy and planning Brian Aglukark.
photo courtesy of Michel Albert

The commission recently passed a second federally-ordered financial review, this one conducted by Ernst & Young, as it continues to try to move the Nunavut-wide land-use plan forward.

The commission also passed a federally-ordered review by KPMG in 2016 and a review of the draft Nunavut land-use plan process by Dillon Consulting in 2012.

The final audit report has not yet been released publicly, but Nunavut News has seen a draft in which the auditors note the commission is underfunded.

The NPC has repeatedly argued it is chronically underfunded, to no avail.

"The commission looks forward to this latest financial review to be made public," said executive director Sharon Ehaloak.

Jean-Marc Lafreniere, director of the assessment and investigation services branch, audit and evaluation sector for Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Canada, presented the audit to commissioners in person in Iqaluit on February 28, along with Ernst & Young's senior manager of fraud investigation and dispute services Tony Farago.

"Based on our work, it appears the NPC has sufficient policies and procedures in place for an organization of its size to effectively manage the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) funding it receives and has used INAC funds in accordance with the funding agreement," Lafreniere stated in an e-mail to the commission April 19.

The Nunavut Planning Commission is the first stop in the territorial regulatory process for projects, before moving on to the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) and the Nunavut Water Board.

Nunavut Institutions of Public Government (IPGs) share similar roles in assessing projects and holding public hearings, some related to amendments and variances.

"All of these processes require public input, consultations and official language(s) compliance as outlined in NUPPAA (Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act) and the Nunavut Agreement," said a mystified Ehaloak.

Further, the federal government expects the commission to fund these external processes with its core funding, unlike the other IPGs, who access millions in supplemental funding.

"The costs of our (NIRB's) public hearings are addressed through supplemental funding," NIRB's executive director Ryan Barry confirmed.

The Nunavut Planning Commission has spent more than a decade developing – as required by the Nunavut Agreement – a Nunavut-wide land-use plan to replace the Keewatin Regional Land Use Plan and North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.

Three drafts were presented in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

NPC missed its 2015 deadline to present the final version to the feds. A second deadline passed in 2017. Now the commission is saying the plan will be completed in 2022.

The refusal of the federal government to fund a public hearing has been the roadblock, the commission has said.


Endless funding woes

In 2013, the commission ran into a similar problem when it was under pressure to hold a public hearing to amend the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan for Baffinland's Mary River project.

The regional director general for INAC (then AANDC) at the time assured the commission it would be reimbursed the cost. Ehaloak says the commission met all expectations, but a higher official reneged on reimbursing the $900,000.

"When the chairperson at the time met with a Government of Canada official, my understanding is he was advised from the official that while his colleagues made commitments, he did not, and the commission would not be reimbursed the public hearing cost," she said.

To cover the cost, the commission used money set aside for the Nunavut-wide land-use plan public hearing.

In late 2014, the commission sought $1.7 million in federal funding for the Nunavut plan's public hearing. The feds rejected the request.

"We envision that public hearings and reviews will be managed from NPC's core funding, including proponent-driven amendments and that NPC will provide Canada with an amended work-plan and budget if there are funding re-allocations," regional program manager Jennifer O'Neill stated to Ehaloak in a November 2014 e-mail.

When the commission faced another North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan process related to Baffinland in 2015, it dug its heels in. It needed funding.

Speaking in the legislative assembly, Premier Peter Taptuna derided the commission for its claims of underfunding, and called on the federal government to audit the commission.

Following Taptuna's address to the assembly, an e-mail between INAC staffers – obtained through an Access to Information request – shows concern about "something brewing."

"I suppose that's par for the course … but seriously, is there any way we can get a signal check to see if there is some kind of action going on outside our branch? In my opinion, if the department decides to do an audit on NPC, we need to know about it … and so does NPC. Though we will continue to be open to have funding discussions with NPC if that occurs, I suspect it will put a damper on that," wrote Glen Nakamura in June 2015.

The government correspondence contains several heavily redacted e-mails, especially surrounding funding discussions. The timing of some of the correspondence coincides with the time – around August 2014 – when the commission launched a court action against the federal government for allegedly blocking the completion of the Nunavut-wide land use plan. That matter evidently disappeared when Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. reached a settlement on its own lawsuit in 2015, which included some increases to all Nunavut IPGs.

NIRB and the water board received 55 per cent increases, while NPC received a 25 per cent increase.


It's time, says Quassa

The 2018 Nunavut Mining Symposium featured the beleaguered land-use plan at its Hot Topics session. Nunavut News asked the panel if the parallel process of repeated and ongoing financial reviews and issues might be hampering the NPC's ability to do its work.

No one seemed keen to reply.

"It's a normal part of business to undertake audits of yourself and agencies in order to ensure that the money is being well-spent, and that was the purpose of the audits," INAC's director general of Natural Resources and Environment Mark Hopkins finally said.

However, NIRB's Ryan Barry later said his office has never been audited.

"The NIRB has an independent audit completed each year and shares the results publicly through our annual reports – we’ve never had additional audits be ordered to my knowledge," Barry said.

During that symposium session, another rift became evident. Industry and government want a broad plan, not so detailed as the 2016 draft.

"Essentially, I think the plan we see is extremely detailed and limits decision-making down the line," said president of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines Gary Vivian. The territorial and federal government representatives supported this position.

The purpose of the public hearing, which still needs to be held, is to offer parties – Inuit, government and industry – a venue to present comments and rationale after each has reviewed the plan, at which point the commission will create a final draft and submit it to the federal minister, as per the Nunavut Agreement.

Covering two-million square kilometres, the plan is intended to provide for the conservation, development and utilization of the land – a balance between economic and traditional needs.

Premier Paul Quassa, a former chairperson of the commission, attended the Hot Topics session.

"It's been over 10 years (of consultations) and I do recognize we need this land-use plan now more than ever. We all have to remember it's the communities that speak, and that's what consultation is all about. We cannot dismiss their concern and issues," Quassa said.

"But at the same time I know Nunavut was created to become self-sufficient, therefore sustainable development is something that we all go for. But not every land that was selected was for mineral development. I think that has to be very clear.

"But it's time. We have to move on. Nunavut needs a Nunavut-wide land-use plan."