Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi in Saskatoon, SK on Wednesday, August 14, 2019.
Matt Smith / Saskatoon StarPhoenix
Canada’s natural resources minister isn’t backing down from the federal government’s position that Saskatchewan taxpayers should cover the bulk of the cost of cleaning up an abandoned uranium mine in the province’s far north.Amarjeet Sohi said the federal government stands by its commitment to contribute $12.3 million to the Gunnar mine reclamation, but insisted the province is responsible for the rest of the project, currently estimated to cost $280 million.“We understand that it is the responsibility of the Province of Saskatchewan to clean up the contaminated sites,” Sohi told reporters on Wednesday, echoing the position Natural Resources Canada has taken in an ongoing court battle over the project.Sohi declined to comment specifically on the Saskatchewan government’s lawsuit, but Natural Resources Canada argued in its statement of defence that the province is responsible because it regulated the site, and the cost overruns are its fault.That contrasts sharply with the province’s view that the original cost-sharing agreement remains in place, and Ottawa is equally responsible for the cleanup because it had a monopoly on uranium sales at the time the mine operated.In an interview last week, Saskatchewan’s Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre said the ballooning bill was unavoidable because the province has to comply with work orders from the federal nuclear regulator, which NRCAN is now choosing not to fund.“The irony is breathtaking,” said Eyre, whose view that the bill should be divided equally has been echoed by Saskatchewan NDP MLA Buckley Belanger and federal NDP MP Georgina Jolibois, who represent the region encompassing the mine.Perched on the north shore of Lake Athabasca, the Gunnar mine was abandoned in 1963. Work on the cleanup, which includes covering sprawling tailings deposits and burying debris from demolished buildings, is expected to be complete in 2024.It is not clear when the province’s lawsuit will be heard.
Once the world’s largest uranium mine, Gunnar was abandoned in 1963. Now the federal and provincial governments are disputing who should pick up the $280-million tab for cleaning up debris, radioactive tailings and waste rock at the site near the Northwest Territories border.
Kayle Neis /
Sohi was in Saskatoon this week to announce $3 million in new federal funding for Meadow Lake Tribal Council Investments LP, which will be used to modernize its NorSask Forest Products sawmill east of Meadow Lake.The pre-election announcement comes on top of two previous funding announcements in the region over the last 12 months — $400,000 for sawmill upgrades and $52.5 million for the proposed Meadow Lake Tribal Council Bioenergy Centre.Asked about the optics of making another funding announcement in Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, one of a handful of Saskatchewan ridings thought to be in play in the upcoming federal election, Sohi said the funding is not political.“We believe that we have opportunities to work with Indigenous communities to continue to grow our economy and create opportunities, so this is the third investment we are making as part of our overall efforts to forge that strong partnership,” Sohi said.Meadow Lake Tribal Chief Richard Ben told reporters the federal money is a good thing for the community because it will support around 1,000 jobs for members of the seven-band tribal council once the green energy facility is up and running.“It’s going to contribute a lot of positive outcomes to our communities — jobs and also dividends … that help us fund areas that are not funded,” Ben firstname.lastname@example.org/macphersonaRelated