N.L. government, IOC locked in dispute over royalties

A dispute over royalties between the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) and the provincial government is headed to arbitration.

Panel of arbitrators selected to examine issue; both sides mum on conflict

The Newfoundland and Labrador government and the Iron Ore Company of Canada are currently in a dispute over royalties, according to documents filed at the province's Supreme Court. (CBC)

A dispute over royalties between the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) and the provincial government is headed to arbitration.

Lawyers for both sides appeared at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s on Monday.

They agreed on retired judge Robert Wells as the third and final member of a panel set up to arbitrate the dispute.

The province had already selected chartered accountant Rick Daw, while IOC chose Vic Young, the former CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and FPI.

There is no information in court filings outlining the exact nature of the dispute, and neither side was talking Monday.

The province declined interview requests, issuing only a prepared statement: "The Department of Finance is obligated to protect the confidential tax information of all taxpayers. As such, we are not able to provide any detail regarding the private tax matters of any specific taxpayer."

IOC’s Marsha Power-Slade said the company would have no comment while the matter is before the courts.

In October, according to court documents, the provincial cabinet ordered that the matter go to arbitration.

"The central issue of the dispute between the parties is whether monies from certain of the respondent’s business activities have been properly subjected to royalty taxation by the applicant," documents filed on behalf of Newfoundland and Labrador’s attorney general noted.

A majority of the arbitrators will decide on the royalty payable.

By law, either side can send their decision to the province’s Supreme Court for review.

Rio Tinto seeks to unload IOC stake

On its corporate website, IOC touts itself as Canada’s largest iron ore producer, employing nearly 1,900 people in Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec.

London-based Rio Tinto owns 58.7 per cent of IOC.

Over the weekend, the Globe and Mail reported that Rio Tinto is seeking to unload its stake in IOC.

According to the Globe, Rio Tinto is struggling to deal with the large debt load the company took on when it gobbled up aluminum giant Alcan five years ago.

Mitsubishi Corporation (26.2 per cent) and the Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Income Corporation (15.1 per cent) are the other shareholders in IOC.

Last month, IOC issued a public warning about rising costs on the company’s expansion project in western Labrador.

Mining royalties vital

Mining royalties are a key cog in Newfoundland and Labrador’s commodities-driven economy.

According to the 2012 Economic Review published by the Department of Finance, iron ore shipments were forecast to reach nearly $2.5 billion last year.

Iron ore accounts for more than half of the value of all mineral shipments from the province.

The government forecast collecting $270 million in overall mining taxes and royalties in the 2012-13 fiscal year, according to budget estimates.

In a December update, the government said it expected mining revenues to drop, citing lower commodity prices and lower-than-expected production — particularly in the iron ore industry.

There is no longer any public right to know which firms pay how much in royalties.

Bill 29 — a sweeping overhaul of provincial access to information laws passed amid controversy by the Tory government last year — barred the release of information on royalty payments, other than in aggregate form that doesn't identify specific companies.