Outgoing environmental director plugs devolution, higher pay for board members

The Nunavut Impact Review Board is saying goodbye to its executive director. Ryan Barry is leaving the job on May 1, after 13 years with the organization in Cambridge Bay.

Ryan Barry leaves executive director job with Nunavut Impact Review Board

Ryan Barry is leaving his role as executive director of the Nunavut Impact Review Board on May 1, after 13 years with the environmental board. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board is saying goodbye to its executive director.

Ryan Barry is leaving the job on May 1, after 13 years with the organization in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. 

He's filled the role since 2011, after working as director of technical services since 2009 and a technical advisor since 2007.

During his time there, the Nunavut Impact Review Board more than doubled its staff from 12 to 27 people — that's as it grew from examining smaller exploration projects to full-fledged mines and industry. 

The environmental board has been assessing development projects in the territory since 1996, as part of the Nunavut Agreement. 

"There's been a maturing of industry in Nunavut," Barry told CBC News in an exit interview. "It's moved from junior exploration companies and miners to having attracted major players." 

One of the highlights of his time was seeing a strategic environmental assessment done over the impacts of future oil and gas development in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait. Because the assessment isn't project specific, it wasn't a regular job for the board. 

We're trying to keep in mind the goals and objectives of the Inuit leadership.- Ryan Barry, Exiting executive director of Nunavut Impact Review Board

"That really helped to show the trust that the federal government has in our process to produce useful results," he said.  

Right now, he's disappointed to be leaving before an assessment is finished for a production expansion by Baffinland Iron Mines at the Mary River Mine outside of Pond Inlet. 

"We're dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and that's really increased the uncertainty around our process and what we're able to do right now, and what communities have the capacity to do," he said. 

Barry worked on reviews for Agnico Eagle's Meadowbank and Meliadine gold mines in the Kivalliq region, as well as the Doris North gold mine run by TMAC Resources in the Kitikmeot region, and plans to deal with the dormant Jericho diamond mine, also in western Nunavut. 

Pay for board members hasn't increased in 15 years

Barry says it remains a challenge for the Nunavut Impact Review Board to recruit and keep board members. The terms are for three years, which he says isn't enough, and it can take months to have the federal government approve those positions. 

Honorariums earned for being a board member with the board haven't increased in 15 years, he said. 

"The [federal] government many times has committed to reviewing and increasing those rates and has failed to complete the process for doing so, over and over again," he said. "It's challenging to take time off work to be a board member, and to feel respected when everyone else around the table at a public hearing is earning significantly more than they are." 

Barry hopes the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs will fix this soon. 

Board members for the Nunavut Impact Review Board speak at public hearings for the Mary River Mine expansion held in Iqaluit in November 2019. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Going into the future, he says a closer relationship between the review board and the territorial government, through devolution, would strengthen its work. 

"That will change the reporting for our board, having much more of our reporting go to the territorial government," he said. 

With devolution, more decisions would be made in Nunavut by Nunavut leaders, he said, and that's what the review board tries to do every day.  

"We're trying to keep in mind the goals and objectives of the Inuit leadership who negotiated the Nunavut Agreement," he said.

"That vision is at the back of our mind in all of our duties, so that the [regulatory] process is accessible to communities, and empowers Inuit to have Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit valued and reflected in the process."

Barry isn't going to a new job just yet. He had hoped to travel, but given the current COVID-19 pandemic, he has plans to renovate a cottage on Prince Edward Island instead. 

The Nunavut Impact Review Board executive director job is being filled by Karen Costello, a geologist who worked previously for the federal Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

She starts with the organization on June 1.


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