With the Government of Nunavut’s passage of legislation on Sept. 15 that enables the taxation of Inuit-owned lands, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) is threatening to take the territorial government to court over the issue.

NTI contends that the legislation, formerly known as Bill 55, puts the burden of millions of dollars in taxes on Inuit instead of mining companies with no added revenue or benefit to Nunavut.

“Under Bill 55, Inuit are responsible for property taxes on mining developments on subsurface Inuit-owned lands (IOLs). Article 22 of the Nunavut Agreement provides that Inuit may be responsible for property taxes for the value of IOLs in some limited situations. Inuit were never meant to shoulder the entire tax burden of mining companies,” NTI stated in a Sept. 17 news release. “The bill makes Inuit organizations liable for unpaid property taxes if a mining company becomes insolvent or fails to pay. That will enable the GN to collect property taxes from Inuit organizations, including by seizing Inuit funds or selling off assets.”

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association took a similar position the day before Bill 55 was passed, calling on the GN to reject it.

“Bill 55 could result in millions of dollars of debt for Inuit organizations if mining companies fail to meet their property tax obligations. The bill will also harm the mining industry across the territory by imposing undue risk on regional Inuit organizations if they agree to mining on Inuit-owned lands,” the QIA stated, also threatening legal action if the bill became law. “Bill 55 is a lose-lose proposal for Inuit and Nunavut — Nunavut can do better.”

In the legislative assembly on Sept. 15, Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone said he was disappointed in the QIA’s press release, its claims that the bill represents an incorrect interpretation of the Nunavut Agreement and accusations of government overreach. He cited a passage from Article 22 of the land claim: “…Inuit-owned lands outside of municipalities on which improvements have been made shall be subject to real property taxation under the laws of general application.”

He acknowledged the legal dispute with NTI and its lawyers over interpretation of that article.

“Just because Nunavut Tunngavik claims that the bill is somehow illegal does not necessarily make it so. I am satisfied that this bill is on solid ground and I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to move on,” Arreak Lightstone said. “I for one have grown frustrated with the tone of accusation that we hear from certain organizations when their demands are not met immediately and completely met… There remains one true point of contention: the fact that if a mine fails to pay its property taxes, the liability would fall on the designated Inuit organization… As a voting beneficiary, I am confident that our regional Inuit organizations are very capable of ensuring that their lease agreements with the mining companies are drafted in such a way to ensure that the risks and rewards of private land ownership are balanced.”

Community and Government Services Minister Jeannie Ehaloak emphasized that the legislation would only affect lands outside of municipalities.

“Currently before this bill was presented, the mining companies pay their taxes directly to the Government of Nunavut. What this bill proposes to do is we send our invoice for the property taxes that have been assessed on Inuit-owned lands to the Inuit organizations and for the Inuit organizations to receive the money so that they can pay the Government of Nunavut, they in turn would send their invoice to the mining company,” Ehaloak explained.

NTI acknowledged that the GN consulted with Inuit organizations on the initial draft of Bill 55 during the fall of 2018, but states that the government subsequently made substantial changes and additions to the bill that “ignored Inuit concerns.”

“Further, with Bill 55, the Government of Nunavut has unilaterally amended provisions of the Nunavut Agreement without Inuit consent. The GN has given Inuit organizations no choice but to challenge the legislation in court,” NTI stated.

Arreak Lightstone pointed out that the QIA declined to participate in a recent televised hearing on Bill 55, and he drew a distinction between consultation and the yielding of decision-making power.

“I want to emphasize and point out that the right of an organization to be consulted does not mean that it has a veto over the laws of general application that are passed by our elected public government,” he said.

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main remarked that he was relieved to hear that Agnico Eagle, the largest mining company operating in Nunavut, was not concerned that the taxation changes would significantly impact their operations.

Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet and a former president of NTI, expressed her support for the bill.

“Now mining companies have more clarity to explore and the government also has to have clarity on what process will be made towards taxation, as it should be,” she said.

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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