Bill C-47 brings regulatory hope to Nunavut

The Mining Association of Canada welcomes Bill C-47, which contains the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act

by Karen Kornelsen

The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) is estimating that new mine development across the country's North could bring in more than $8 billion in investment over the next decade. For Nunavut, this could mean some 4,500 new jobs and a significant increase in development. With the tabling of Bill C-47 on November 7, 2012, hope is on the horizon.

MAC has been waiting for this legislation, Bill C-47, for almost 20 years. The bill contains amendments to the Yukon Surface Rights Act and the Northwest Territories Act as well as an entirely new piece of legislation, the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act. The changes, according to MAC's president and CEO, Pierre Gratton, are quite substantive and include setting up an appeal process in the event of a disagreement with aboriginal communities and explorers. The bill will result in a framework to determine how environmental assessment and permitting processes in Nunavut will proceed as new land-use plans for the territory come forward.

"There's been a sense of regulatory uncertainty in Nunavut in absence of this legislation and we've been managing without it," said Gratton. "We've been working with an overlay of regulatory risk, and once this legislation passes, that will all be over."

A positive example 

According to MAC, Nunavut’s only operating mine, Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine, demonstrates the positive economic and social benefits a project such as this can have on the region in terms of much-needed employment, skills training and local business development. Since the mine opened in 2010, Nunavut’s GDP has increased by 12 per cent, primarily due to the impact of the Meadowbank Mine. The mine currently employs more than 750 permanent employees, 36 per cent of whom are Inuit.

Planning and review

Gratton said there are two complementary parts to the piece of legislation.

"It will integrate the whole concept of land planning with the environmental review process of proposed projects," he said. "It sets in motion a planning process for the territory which will delineate which areas are designated for certain purposes, i.e. mine development, tourism, conservation, etc. It sets in motion a broad-based land-planning process."

Within that, Gratton continued, is where the environmental review process of the act is found. There are two levels of reviews: comprehensive studies and then public panel reviews—with timelines attached to each. In the south, Gratton said, they have a maximum of one year to complete the comprehensive studies and then two years of panel reviews. In Nunavut, both parts will be completed within two years.

"The mineral potential in Nunavut is very high, but we don't actually know how high because there is a huge expanse of the territory that hasn't really been mapped from a geosciences perspective," Gratton said. "I think 70 per cent of the territory hasn't been mapped, but yet it's still attracting significant levels of exploration and dollars."

The timing is right

Gratton said Nunavut has some real finds, with the Meadowbank Mine in operation and the recent approval of Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.'s iron ore project. Major companies like Vale and Xstrata are also exploring in Nunavut, as is MMG. 

"This legislation is a step forward, proven over previous drafts of the bill that we've seen," said Gratton. "Earlier versions tabled with a minority government never passed—and in hindsight that's a good thing, as this bill is much better than its predecessor. We now have a majority government and expect it to pass. We are very encouraged by it. We think it will make for a more certain and predictable regulatory environment in Nunavut."

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