Nunavut isn't getting a territory-wide land use plan any time soon, mining symposium hears

A new draft of the territory-wide land use plan won’t be ready until mid-to-late 2022, according to the Nunavut Planning Commission’s presentation at the Nunavut Mining Symposium on Tuesday.

New draft of Nunavut land use plan won’t come until 2022, planning commission says

From left to right: Gary Vivian, president of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines; Mark Hopkins, director general, Natural Resources & Environment, with Crown-Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; Steven Pinksen, assistant deputy minister, Department of Environment, with the government of Nunavut; and Brian Aglukark, director of policy and planning with the Nunavut Planning Commission. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

A new draft of the territory-wide land use plan won't be ready until mid-to-late 2022, according to the Nunavut Planning Commission's [NPC's] presentation at the Nunavut Mining Symposium on Tuesday.

Brian Aglukark, the NPC's director of policy and planning, told the "hot topic" panel discussion on land use that the commission was waiting to hear back from the federal government on a proposed budget and plan to move forward.

The land use plan is supposed to dictate what land will be protected and where will be open for development across all of Nunavut, but after more than a decade of consultations, final hearings were put on hiatus last spring.

The mining symposium's 'hot topic' session on the land use plan attracted a full house to the Astro Theatre. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

In March 2017 at the Qikiqtaaluk regional hearings — on the third, and what was then supposed to be the final draft — the NPC heard that none of the three parties that will sign off on the plan liked the draft they were presented with.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Government of Nunavut, and the Government of Canada all said they thought the plan was trying to do too much. 

NTI stated in its written comments on the draft plan that it was also of the opinion that Inuit had not been adequately consulted in the process.

The governments were in agreement that the plan itself was too detailed and should be aiming to provide broader guidance for the already-existing regulatory system in the territory.

In May 2017, the other two regional hearings were suspended indefinitely.

At the mining symposium event, attendees heard that the NPC had hosted a workshop for the three signing authorities in November, where they'd agreed not to move forward without first adapting the inadequate draft. 

Front-loading land conflicts

In the panel discussion, Steve Pinksen, with the government of Nunavut's Department of Environment, said many of the areas that are designated as "protected" from all development might be better off designated as "special management areas," instead.

Gary Vivian, with the Chamber of Mines, agreed. Representing industry, he argued mines should be able to make their pitch to both protect caribou and create wealth from development.

He said the current draft forces too many decisions all at once, instead of dealing with parcels of land on a case-by-case basis.

Mark Hopkins, the director general of natural resources and environment at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, urged the packed Astro Theatre not to be too frustrated with the long planning process.

"It's supposed to resolve and avoid conflicts over land use, which means in creating it, the process is front-loading a lot of the conflicts into this discussion process," he said. 

The years of consultation have not been a waste, Aglukark said.

Aglukark said that surveys of traditional land use among Inuit that the NPC has been conducting since the 1970s have yielded unchanging results, though he did admit that some of the scientific data available may become outdated the longer the process drags on.

His real concern was that the community members trained to understand the NPC's jargon of protected areas versus special management areas have typically only stayed interested in the process — and in elected positions — for a few years at a time.

In order to get meaningful input, he said included in the new budget proposal is money for communities to come more prepared to future consultations.

He said that ideally, the plan would clearly lay out where industry can submit a project for the regulatory process to consider.

Uncertainty putting industry off

But it's the current lack of clarity that's worrying industry.

Investment in exploration in Nunavut has been dropping for the past few years, Grondin said. (David Gunn/CBC)

In its draft form, the plan is not supposed to have any bearing on land use decisions, but as Louise Grondin, a senior vice-president with Agnico Eagle, pointed out, if an area is slated to prohibit development in the draft plan, the land is not a very appealing place for industry to invest exploration money in right now.

Investment in exploration in Nunavut has been dropping for the past few years, Grondin said.

"It takes a long time in between putting the drill in the ground and getting a full project, maybe seven to 10 years of exploration, and exploration is very expensive in Nunavut," Grondin said.

"If we are going to invest in Nunavut, we need to have certainty that we can not only explore, but have a mine there."

Hopkins also said climate change is also throwing a wrench in long term planning, as it's affecting the very land the stakeholders are planning for.

Aglukark says the idea of three year internal reviews, and five-year public reviews have been discussed.