MLAs in Canada’s Northwest Territories criticize new mine benefits agreement

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly at a meeting in December. O’Reilly says the territory’s socio-economic agreement with Fortune Minerals, signed last week, ‘seems to be more of a news event to show how the N.W.T. is open to the mining industry than a serious effort at benefit retention.’ (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)
An agreement the Northwest Territories government (Canadian central Arctic) signed at a mining conference in Vancouver, southwest Canada last week came under fire the first day MLAs were back in the legislature, Tuesday.

The government touted the socio-economic agreement with Fortune Minerals as “a major milestone on the road to Canada’s first cobalt mine.”

The agreement applies to the NICO project, located in Tlicho territory. The Tlicho government boycotted the signing in Vancouver, with leaders saying that despite repeated requests to see the agreement, they weren’t shown a copy of it until the day before it was signed.

In the legislature on Tuesday, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said the signing “seems to be more of a news event to show how the N.W.T. is open to the mining industry than a serious effort at benefit retention.”

O’Reilly said the agreement was an improvement over previous socio-economic agreements, noting it includes northern hiring and spending targets for the closure phase of the mine, a human-resources office based in the N.W.T. and a training and learning centre to be established in Whati, central N.W.T.

But he said it contains the same flaw as all of the other socio-economic agreements signed by the government.

“It’s basically an unenforceable, best efforts arrangement,” said the Yellowknife MLA, noting there are no penalties for missing northern hiring and spending targets. He suggested the company should have been required to make a payment into a training or education fund when it failed to meet the targets.

Industry minister responds

Industry minister Wally Schumann suggested it would be unfair to place all responsibility for meeting hiring targets on mining companies.

“To some degree we are responsible for this because we are responsible for workforce development,” he said. “We believe these things are working.”

O’Reilly said the government’s biggest failure was not having the Tlicho at the table when negotiating an agreement that applies to a mine on Tlicho land. “That’s not the way we should be doing business,” he said.

Schumann said the government discussed the substance of the agreement with the Tlicho in December and got their feedback on it.

The agreement calls for a 35 per cent northern workforce during construction of the mine, and 60 per cent during operations.

The project is far from being a mine. Fortune has been courting investors since before the project was approved by the environmental review board six years ago.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Chamber of mines says mining industry in Northwest Territories ‘will die’ without investment, CBC News

Finland: Struggling to hire, Finnish firms send mixed economic signals, Yle News

NorwayIron mines in Arctic Norway could soon re-open, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian miners dig deeper into vast Kola nickel reserve, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Iron mine in northern Sweden to restart production, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Mining company boosts spending to lobby U.S. government for contested Alaska project, Alaska Public Media

Richard Gleeson, CBC News

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