N.W.T.-Nunavut mine access road would cross Bathurst caribou calving grounds, says MLA

Should the Northwest Territories government continue to promote and support a pan-territorial road project that could threaten the already-imperiled Bathurst caribou herd? That’s what one MLA wants to know.

Proposed Slave Geological Province Access Corridor would stretch all the way to Grays Bay in Nunavut

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly questioned the N.W.T. government Monday about its support for an access corridor that, if fully carried out, could threaten the Bathurst caribou herd, according to O'Reilly. (CBC )

Should the Northwest Territories government continue to promote and support a pan-territorial road project that could threaten the already-imperilled Bathurst caribou herd?

That's what one MLA wants to know.

Kevin O'Reilly, MLA for Yellowknife's Frame Lake riding, questioned Wally Schumann, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, about the N.W.T. government's proposed Slave Geological Province Access Corridor on Monday.

The project would see an all-weather road constructed to N.W.T.'s diamond mines, which are currently serviced by a winter road, potentially helping to increase the lifespan of those mines.

Wally Schumann, the N.W.T.'s minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment. (CBC News )

"This long-term vision includes connecting to an all-weather road and deep-water Arctic port in western Nunavut" at Grays Bay, said Schumann during an update on the project.

"Partnership with the Governments of Canada and Nunavut, as well as with Aboriginal governments and industry, will better enable us to achieve this vision."

Joint working group set up

The two governments have set up a joint working group "to collaborate in advancing the project from both territories," he added.

Schumann's update worried O'Reilly, the former executive director of Ekati diamond mine's environmental watchdog group.

"The Grays Bay port and road project would actually go through the Bathurst caribou calving grounds, what's left of them," he said. 

"Our government has had this position where we've traditionally opposed any development in calving grounds.

O'Reilly shared this map with his constituents at the start of the current session of the legislative assembly. (Kevin O' Reilly )

"So is it the position of our government now that we would oppose this corridor if it goes through the calving grounds of the Bathurst caribou herd?"

Schumann's answer was at odds with his prior characterization of the corridor as a collaborative project with Nunavut. 

"That's a Nunavut process, that's their decision to make. We're worried about our territory, and I'm worried about the Slave Geological Province and how we move it forward."

Other critical habitat 

O'Reilly said he's also concerned about the corridor going through other critical habitat for the herd, such as water crossings.

Schumann, in his update, said his department is working with caribou experts at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources "to identify any gaps in knowledge and opportunities to support the mandates of both departments."

The government has worked with groups to mitigate the risk to caribou on other projects. The road to access the new Jay pit at the Ekati diamond mine will feature caribou crossings, and the Whati all-season road, if it moves ahead, would temporarily close when caribou are spotted.

P3 business case underway 

Schumann said his department, along with the departments of Transportation and Finance, is working on a P3 business case for the corridor.

That will help the government estimate the cost of the project.

The federal government announced last month it will pay 25 per cent of the cost of another big N.W.T. transportation project, the Whati road. Schumann recently estimated that road could cost $175 million.


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa

Guy Quenneville is a reporter at CBC Ottawa. He can be reached at