Nunatsiavut president Sarah Leo 'quite disturbed' over Vale agreement

The Inuit government in Labrador isn't happy with the announcement of changes to the Voisey's Bay agreement, which will see Vale continue to export unprocessed ore.
Vale will pay $200 million in compensation over four years to the Newfoundland and Labrador government in exchange for being able to process nickel concentrate outside the province. (Vale/Canadian Press)

The Inuit government in Labrador isn't happy with the announcement of changes to the Voisey's Bay agreement, which will allow Vale to continue exporting unprocessed ore from the massive nickel mine. 

Nunatsiavut president Sarah Leo said the Newfoundland and Labrador government was required to consult the Inuit because the mine is on land connected to their land agreement with the provincial and federal governments.

"We should've been consulted — I mean, it's in our backyard. It's right here," she said.

Nunatsiavut president Sarah Leo is questioning why they were not consulted before the new Voisey's Bay agreement. (CBC)

"We have a land claims agreement that specifically has a chapter dedicated to the Voisey's Bay project," Leo told CBC News.

"So, it's very important to us that we have an understanding and are involved in what's happening with the project."

On Tuesday, Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley and Vale VP Stuart Macnaughton announced that they were amending the Voisey's Bay Development Agreement to allow the company to send nickel concentrate from the mine in Labrador to Ontario and Manitoba for processing.

The delay is connected to delays in completing Vale's massive processing facility in Long Harbour, in Newfoundland's Placentia Bay. 

Learned of extension from news release

Leo said she found out about the agreement the same way everyone else did, when the release came out. 

"I was quite disturbed that this amendment was being made," she said.

"Under our agreement, anything that's going on with regards to Voisey's Bay, especially where the governments are concerned, the Nunatsiavut is expected to be consulted."

She feels the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement, which was signed by the province as well as the Government of Canada, requires that the Inuit in Labrador should have been involved in the discussions with Vale.

"They're aware of the provisions in there and we expect them to be followed," she told CBC News.

She said they should be part of the process because the Long Harbour project is directly tied to what's happening in Labrador.

"Without Voisey's Bay, Long Harbour wouldn't exist," she said.

The amendment comes in light of delays in the construction of the Long Harbour nickle processing plant, which began in 2009. The project has fallen behind schedule because of labour challenges.

Vale will pay $200 million over four years in compensation to the Newfoundland and Labrador government, and will contribute another $30 million to a community fund.

Ball nervous about how $200M will be spent

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said the Voisey's Bay Development Agreement, which was negotiated when his party was in power, is proving to be a good deal.

Liberal leader Dwight Ball says the government shouldn't use the money from Vale on election-style spending.

Despite that, he is worried about how the money will be spent, and is cautioning the government not to use the $200 million from Vale to sway voters leading up to the next provincial election.

"Obviously everyone understands the environment we're into right now, which is an election year," he said.

"We certainly don't want to see corporate money and royalty money that was anticipated here — that was announced just spent simply by a government that wants to make election promises."

Long Harbour a 'work in progress': Michael

The leader of the provincial new democrats said the latest news from Vale raises questions about the Long Harbour nickel plant.

NDP leader Lorraine Michael says people expected to see the nickel processing plant in Long Harbour open by now.

Lorraine Michael said the good news is that despite the delays in getting the processing plant up and running, the plant is still employing 2,200 employees.

She's referring to the 1,500 workers involved in the construction of the plant and 700 employees involved in operations.

Despite those numbers, she is still surprised at the delays.

"People expected, when Long Harbour opened, to see something that was ready to go," she said.

"What we're finding out is that Long Harbour is really a work in progress. It's still a laboratory, it's still a testing area."

With files from Peter Cowan


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