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Accounts about headframe discussions don't match up
Robert C. McLeod disputes claim Yk politicians left in the dark

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Friday, August 5, 2016

Differences are emerging in accounts of the GNWT's efforts to save the Robertson Headframe as more and more versions are being told.

NNSL photo/graphic

Differences are emerging over what took place while the GNWT was engaged in negotiations to save the Robertson Headframe, including whether MLAs were given a 'heads up' about the talks. - NNSL file photo

Were regular MLAs informed by cabinet as talks were underway? It depends whether one asks Lands Minister Robert C. McLeod or regular MLAs. When did negotiations begin? That depends on whether the deputy minister of Lands or the minister is answering. Were negotiations progressing toward an agreement prior to news breaking about the talks? That's also muddled.

McLeod said the decision by cabinet to end talks with Newmont Mining Corporation's subsidiary Miramar Mining Corporation was made roughly two weeks ago, placing the decision shortly after news first broke about the talks.

McLeod said it shouldn't have come as a surprise to regular MLAs talks were ongoing.

"I did give regular members a heads up that we were looking at doing this," McLeod said Wednesday. "We have discussions all the time. If we need to take if further, we inform MLAs and then we make the public aware. We're elected to make decisions and do due diligence and that's what we do."

Yet members such as Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly said a news story in July was the first he had heard of the negotiations.

"I'm disappointed that regular MLAs, this is the way we find out about this, the media rather than directly from cabinet," O'Reilly said July 14. "I'm not sure that's the way consensus government is supposed to work."

Asked about the issue and pressed for details on what he meant by "heads up," McLeod demurred.

"I'm not going to get into he-said-he-said. I do know that I let regular members know I was going to pursue trying to preserve the headframe."

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart reiterated Thursday that to his knowledge, regular members weren't told talks were underway.

Willard Hagen, deputy minister of Lands, said in an interview Tuesday the negotiations began about a year ago.

He was contradicted the next day by McLeod, who said a meeting with Walt Humphries, president of the NWT Mining Heritage Society, and businesspeople which triggered the talks, happened in late March of this year.

In a news release about the talks, the GNWT said discussions began "earlier this year."

The government determined "after a lengthy review of options that it will not be preserving the Robertson Headframe."

What options were considered?

"The only option was preserving the headframe," said McLeod. "The GNWT was looking at taking over the headframe and then working with those that may have an interest in doing something with it."

The deputy minister has said the government didn't get a firm business plan and there wasn't any further contact with the group of people who expressed interest.

In an interview, Walt Humphries said he would occasionally e-mail someone with the Lands department seeking an updates.

Talks were progressing well toward an agreement, Humphries said. Yellowknifer has not seen any e-mails.

Did the GNWT try reaching back to the businesspeople?

No, said McLeod.

In an opinion piece published online earlier this week, Paige Saunders with Verge Communications wrote the government dragged its feet and didn't seem interested in preserving the headframe.

McLeod disputed that and said he's never heard of Saunders, who was mentioned in news stories multiple times in the city in connection with the IserveU political platform ahead of last year's municipal election.

Yellowknifer attempted to reach Saunders this week but couldn't get ahold of him.

What happened? McLeod said cabinet decided the liability risk, estimated at $2 million by the city, was too great to take on. The GNWT didn't carry out its own assessment of the risk, Hagen said.

As of Thursday, there was no update on demolition plans for the structure. In April, Yellowknifer reported a Winnipeg-based demolitions company had been hired to carry out a controlled explosion to bring down the structure after hazardous materials had been removed.

For his part, Humphries said since the GNWT ended talks he's reached out to MP Michael McLeod in hope that the federal government could get involved in trying to save the structure.

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