Nunavut premier alleges Okalik made “false” and “uncalled for” statements
Taptuna says MLA made false accusation, demands retraction
Tensions over the Nunavut government’s policy on the protection of caribou habitat within the Nunavut Land Use Plan continued March 10 at the Legislative Assembly in Iqaluit, as Premier Peter Taptuna accused Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik of giving “false” and “uncalled for” statements to regional media.
Citing stories published by Nunatsiaq News and CBC North, the premier took issue with Okalik’s accusation that a “backroom deal” led the government towards a new pro-mining stance on the question of how to designate core caribou habitat areas within the land use plan.
“Let me make this perfectly clear: there was no backroom deal. The cabinet, after discussions and usual processes, made a decision. The member’s accusation about the cabinet’s decision are uncalled for and false. I would respectfully ask the member to retract and correct his statement at the earliest opportunity,” Taptuna said March 10 in the legislature.
Taptuna made the comments after raising a point of order under the legislative assembly’s Rule 20, which allows MLAs to clarify or correct information when they believe they have been misrepresented or misquoted.
John Quirke, the clerk of the assembly, said in an email that the issue Taptuna raised requires no action on the part of the speaker. Rule 20 simply provides MLAs with an opportunity to correct things that are said outside the house.
During a break in proceedings, Okalik told media he would not retract his statement.
“There was no discussion in the assembly… no decision had been reached with cabinet prior to the change,” said Okalik.
“There was no announcement made by the minister, so how are we supposed to know?”
The government revealed its new stance on protecting caribou calving and post-calving grounds during a March 7 hearing held by the Nunavut Planning Commission in Iqaluit.
The NPC is responsible for coming up with a land use plan for the territory, with designated protected areas and areas open to mining.
Certain caribou core calving areas are proposed as “Protected Area” in the draft land use plan, which means mining would be prohibited except in rare circumstances.
The GN now supports a downgraded status for those tracts of land, which means mining would be allowed, subject to seasonal restrictions.
Before March 7, the Government of Nunavut opposed mining development in sensitive caribou habitats.
But at the commission’s meeting, an assistant deputy minister from the environment department gave an oral presentation that those attending the meeting said was a complete surprise and reversal from the government’s original stance.
Nunatsiaq News requested a copy of that submission but was told by communications staff within the GN’s environment department that it was an oral presentation and that no written submission was made to the NPC.
“I have no idea why [the GN] wants to go that route,” the president of the Kivalliq Wildlife Board, Larry Adjuk, told Nunatsiaq News March 7.
“This is the wrong way. We’ll use all we have to try to protect [the caribou], and if that means we have to fight our own government, we will continue to fight,” Adjuk said.
In a letter from Adjuk to the GN, dated March 7, the president said his organization, as well as other Kivalliq hunter and trapper organizations, were not consulted and that they oppose the change.
Taptuna defended the GN’s new position in the legislature on March 9, and said regulatory boards like the Nunavut Impact Review Board already ensure the protection of caribou grounds.
That’s because mining companies hoping to operate in Nunavut must submit and pass an environmental assessment to the review board before gaining a project certificate.
“Development projects can ultimately be rejected by the regulatory bodies and that is why it is important to allow for developers to engage in that process,” Taptuna said.
The premier said the GN will not support projects that have negative impacts on wildlife that cannot be mitigated.
But when Taptuna used the proposed hydro-link between Manitoba and the Kivalliq region as an example of a project that may not pass muster if the government opposed any disturbance to sensitive caribou habitats, Okalik accused the government of fear-mongering.
“I’m just appalled that our own government would try to scare us from trying to protect caribou habitat,” Okalik told media outside the assembly chambers March 9.
Kivalliq MLAs Tom Sammurtok and Simeon Mikkungwak have also both raised constituents’ concerns recently in the house about the shift in GN policy.
In a March 10 release, the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board asked the GN to support the wishes of hunters in the territory who want to keep caribou calving grounds off-limits to development.
The group called the GN’s decision an about-face that would impact all harvesters and communities in and outside of Nunavut who depend on the herds to feed their families.
“The BQCMB was much more comfortable with the GN’s 2014 position, which was maintained until the unexpected change last week,” said the board’s executive director, Ross Thompson.
“The original positions gave us encouragement that the scientific, traditional and community knowledge was being considered.
“Now, their position favours seasonal restrictions, which don’t protect habitat, and reliance on the existing regulatory system,” Thompson said.
Despite the GN’s position, the management board says much-needed caribou protection can still be achieved through Nunavut’s land use planning process.
A 2014 population survey shows that the Qamanirjuaq herd has declined by 23 per cent since 2008 to 264,000 animals, from 344,000.