Federal, territorial and Inuit officials have applied pressure on the embattled Nunavut Planning Commission to rewrite the 2016 draft Nunavut-wide land-use plan, via a letter dated June 21, effectively halting the hearing process with two regions left to go.
The Qikqitani hearing was held in March of last year.
"It remains our shared position that significant revisions to the 2016 draft plan are required and it would be counter-productive to hold further hearings on this draft," stated federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, the territorial Minister of Environment Jeannie Ehaloak and NTI president Aluki Kotierk.
"Instead, consultations should inform a redrafted plan, which should then be subject to public hearings in all three regions."
The federal government holds the supplemental-funding pursestrings, and the commission doesn't have the funds to complete the public-hearing process.
Premier Joe Savikataaq says the process being halted is "not so much because of the letter."
"I can't speak for the feds but I know the NPC put in a funding request and the three signatories aren't satisfied with the 2016 draft," he said.
Savikataaq says the commission is "completely independent" from government. He says the proof is in the fact that government can't tell the commission what to do.
"We're requesting that they reconsider amending the 2016 draft before they go to (hearing). They have not been ordered to. They have been requested to."
He says a land-use plan signed off by the three signatories is necessary to provide certainty and stability for industry interested in Nunavut.
Meanwhile, the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, the industry advocate, is pleased with the tri-party letter.
"Nunavut and Nunavummiut will not be well served with a tweaked 2016 draft plan. It needs a new and fresh approach," stated chamber executives collectively via e-mail.
"We believe the signatory parties were clear that NPC needs to start fresh, and that is more transparently and fairly, and with better balance between economic development and environmental protection."
Savikataaq points to two issues: protected areas and the process.
"They couldn't explain why the prohibitions were so much larger than the 2014 draft. It seemed like it was too rigid of a land-use plan if it was approved in the current state that it was," he said.
According to a comparison table between the 2014 and 2016 versions of the draft plan, the protected areas increased by .3 per cent (from 15.6 to 15.9 per cent), while special management areas decreased dramatically by 14 per cent. Aside from established parks over which the commission has no jurisdiction, mixed use is designated for 80.8 per cent of lands and marine areas over which the commission has jurisdiction in the 2016 version, up 13.7 per cent from the 2014 version.
Savikataaq said he'd also been told commissioners weren't listening to participants at the Qikiqtani hearing.
Kitikmeot shut out
NPC chair Andrew Nakashuk issued a public notice July 16 that the record is now re-opened to receive new submissions, with a deadline of Oct. 19, but events suggests it wasn't the commission's preferred choice.
Executive director Sharon Ehaloak said the commission has followed its rules and procedures, but agreed to enter into a tri-party process with the governments and the Inuit organization to resolve issues after the hearing held in Iqaluit.
"That's what we've been doing over the last year. Then the commissioners reviewed the tri-party reports and made some concessions to the parties, but stood fast that the two outstanding public hearings must happen. They passed a motion. In essence, two-thirds of the territory hasn't been heard from," said Ehaloak.
This is the second time the federal government has withheld funds and requested a rewrite – it also happened with the 2014 draft. Ehaloak says the commission is being asked to start the process all over again.
In the Kitikmeot, Cambridge Bay Mayor Pamela Gross and senior administrative officer Marla Limousin are baffled and concerned.
"The three parties made the decision of writing this letter to not proceed with the planned public hearings. It's down to them not consulting with us, specifically, our MLA who is also the minister of Environment. We plan to ask her why they didn't consult with us before this letter was written. We do not have a regional plan," said Gross, adding there are two existing plans – the Keewatin Regional Land Use Plan and the North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.
The Kitikmeot is seeing a lot of activity, and the municipality, as the regional centre, is at the heart of it. It is constantly being consulted regarding a long list of activities in the region, and it has no guidelines to follow.
"Without a plan, everyone is just making it up as we go along," said Limousin.
"We wanted to continue with the process and hold a public hearing in the community," Gross said. "Now it doesn't seem we'll get that opportunity to do that, to hear our residents' voices and know what the concerns are, in that setting."
No tension, says premier
At a session during the Nunavut Mining Symposium in April, two viewpoints appeared to emerge. Industry and government representatives found the 2016 draft too detailed, while commission staff and then-premier Paul Quassa noted the plan needed to reflect the voice of the people.
"I know Nunavut was created to become self-sufficient, therefore sustainable development is something that we all go for. But not every land that was selected was for mineral development. I think that has to be very clear," Quassa said at the time.
Savikataaq says there isn't tension between the two sides, that the GN simply wants responsible development.
"There's not going to be development at the price of wildlife and people's livelihood off the land. But it has to be a balanced approach. It has to be the kind of development that the people of Nunavut want, that's sustainable and most good for the environment," Savikataaq said.
"With the NPC process, if it goes as is, there might be cases where it won't even get to the IPGs (Institutes of Public Government) for them to review the project," said Savikataaq, referring to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, the Nunavut Water Board, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, and the commission.
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Mines, which represents industry, is worried the commission does not fully understand the three-party letter.
"We are concerned however from reading the NPC's response that they are not taking direction to create a new plan, rather want to just tweak the old plan. We do not want to participate in a process that simply tweaks the old draft," stated the chamber.
The land use plan is intended to be a legal framework to manage the use of 3.2 million sq. km. of land, fresh water, marine areas and wildlife in Nunavut, and is a requirement of the Nunavut Agreement not yet met. The agreement describes the process the commission, which has conducted extensive consultations since 2007, needs to follow.
Kotierk wasn't available for comment due to her obligations at the Inuit Circumpolar Conference being held in Alaska. The newly appointed federal minister for Northern Affairs Dominic LeBlanc and the Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett did not reply to questions by deadline.