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Nunavut premier Peter Taptuna backs Baffinland in regulatory dispute

The Nunavut Planning Commission chair says Premier Peter Taptuna did not contact him to voice any concerns before sending a letter supporting a request by Baffinland Iron Mines to send a decision about whether to allow year-round shipping in Milne Inlet to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Taptuna concerned dispute over jurisdiction on shipping question puts jobs, spinoffs at risk

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna says his government backs Baffinland's request to move a decision about shipping at the Mary River iron ore project from the Nunavut Planning Commission to the Nunavut Impact Review Board. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The chair of the Nunavut Planning Commission says he was surprised and disappointed when he found out Nunavut's premier had sent a letter to the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development voicing concerns about NPC's handling of a proposal from Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation.

In the May 8 letter obtained by CBC News, Premier Peter Taptuna says his government supports a request by the owners of the Mary River iron ore project to send a decision about whether to allow year-round shipping in Milne Inlet on north Baffin Island to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

Taptuna is critical of the Nunavut Planning Commission's handling of Baffinland's latest project proposal to use icebreakers to haul ore 10 months per year. The NPC ruled in April that Baffinland's proposal did not conform to Nunavut's land-use plan as the shipping would be too disruptive to wildlife.

One of the options available to Baffinland is to ask for an amendment to the land use plan. 

In a letter to Baffinland dated May 5, the NPC said it didn't have enough funding to deal with an amendment request in this fiscal year.

"The Commission would be pleased to work with BIMC if BIMC chooses to proceed with an amendment application," the letter read.

"However, please be aware that unless supplementary funding is advanced by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada pursuant to our current dialogue with them on that topic, the Commission may be required to prepare a budget and work plan for BIMC's amendment application and submit them to the federal government for the 2016/2017 fiscal year."

Taptuna tells Valcourt he's concerned that NPC's "continued hesitancy to provide clear direction endangers 260 jobs, millions of dollars in wages and benefits and many other future benefits this project will bring to Nunavut."

"The tone and subject matter of recent correspondence between Government, NPC, and the project proponent [Baffinland] is concerning to the Government of Nunavut," Taptuna wrote.

"We are troubled that NPC is using the issue of core funding to avoid answering questions posed by the project proponent, thus limiting the ability of the proponent to take next steps to advance their project."

Funding dispute

Last August, the NPC took the federal government to court after the federal government did not come up with money for its final hearing on the territory's land use plan. It has now dropped that legal action.

In March, Ottawa boosted the NPC's funding by 25 per cent as part of the settlement of a legal dispute with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. over the federal government's implementation of the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement.

The mining company has chosen the option of asking the federal minister to bypass the Planning Commission and send its project proposal to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

In his letter, the premier says the Nunavut government supports referring Baffinland's proposal to NIRB for a comprehensive environmental assessment.

Taptuna wraps up his letter by telling Valcourt that if funding is really an issue for the planning commission to carry out its work and mandate, then Valcourt should order a complete audit to review the finances of the institution of public government.

The letter also puts the Nunavut government at odds with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which wants authority over the shipping proposal to stay with the planning commission.

NPC chair Hunter Tootoo, says the commission wasn't told Taptuna had concerns.

"Some of the information in the premier's letter is inaccurate," he says.

"That we're not answering questions because of funding — that's not true. That we're being hesitant to provide direction because of funding — that's not true. Those are inaccurate statements."

Tootoo says he will be requesting a meeting with Taptuna to discuss the premier's letter.

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