In a measure to reduce the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nunavut, the federal government is waiving payments for mineral leases on Crown land.
Federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal announced the change on Aug. 13. Mining and exploration companies that hold mineral leases in the territory will have to apply to have the annual payments waived for the current fiscal year.
This relief for waived leases is valued at around $1.5 million, said Ken Armstrong, president of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines.
While the leases themselves aren’t that expensive — around $2,500 to $5,000 annually depending on the amount of land leased, according to Armstrong — he says the move will help mining and exploration companies that can’t do work this season because of COVID-19.
“With mineral claims you have to be able to conduct a certain amount of work and prove that you’ve done it every year in order to maintain the claim,” he said. That requirement is mandated by the federal Nunavut Mining Regulations.
Large companies like Agnico Eagle, Baffinland and TMAC Resources continue to operate.
But it’s harder for small exploration companies that hold leases to do work this summer, Armstrong said, because Nunavut’s border remains closed.
About 500 leases in Nunavut
There are about 500 mineral leases held in Nunavut. The lease payments are being waived through a formal ministerial order.
The change makes sure that companies are not penalized for not using their leases, and provides reassurance to their investors, he said
While Natural Resources Canada has projected that exploration in Nunavut would be down this year, Armstrong says the mining economy created by operating mines is strong despite the pandemic.
But there is a large cost associated with enforcing health and safety measures related to COVID-19, he said.
Agnico Eagle and Baffinland have been paying wages for Nunavummiut workers who were sent home to avoid contact between the communities and out-of-territory workers.
There is also on-site testing for all workers coming in on rotation to the mine.
Vandal applauded Nunavut mining companies for these measures.
Mineral lease holders are also given an extension for any payments that were, or are, due between May and October 2020, and payments already made will be waived the following year, Vandal said.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Chinese miner hires Canadian CEO as review continues on Nunavut mine deal, The Canadian Press
Finland: Miners hunting for metals to battery cars threaten Finland’s Sámi reindeer herders’ homeland, The Independent Barents Observer
Norway: The Arctic railway – Building a future or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic
Russia: Russian Indigenous groups call on Elon Musk to boycott company behind Arctic environmental disasters, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic