By Brian Dunn
One of the newest groups in the expanding BLG family is Team North®, created about five years ago to provide legal advice to both the public and private sectors in a rapidly developing part of the country. The group’s team leader is Adam Chamberlain in BLG’s Toronto office who took over from Peter Pamel in the Montreal office who spearheaded the formation of Team North®.
“It was the brainchild of a few people, but Peter started the whole concept of Team North®,” explained Mr. Chamberlain. “He was interested in ships transiting in the North, and he approached anyone who was interested in working on this subject, along with their day job. And we put together a good size list of seventy lawyers in several disciplines. My practice was in environmental and aboriginal issues and so I took over from Peter last December after his five years of service as team leader.”
While still relatively small compared to other groups, Team North® puts out a quarterly newsletter of the same name. The latest issue includes a look at recent decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada, the Arctic Council’s adoption of a Marine Pollution Agreement and the unveiling of Quebec’s vision of “A North for All.” “We have a healthy roster of clients in both the private and government sectors. The Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto offices tend to focus on the eastern Arctic, while Vancouver and Calgary focus on the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, but there’s a lot of crossover,” explained Mr. Chamberlain who visits the North about six times a year. “It’s critical to our success to visit the area as often as possible and we’re very careful to foster relationships. We’re mindful of local issues and sensibilities and we work with local peope. We don’t want to come off looking like big Bay Street lawyers.”
While Team North® has grown its business ten-fold since year one, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, according to Mr. Chamberlain. “Some law firms have opened offices in the North, but closed them soon thereafter, as they weren’t profitable. You have to put the time in to build a practice. The work comes and goes in waves. For example, the mining sector is slow right now. Working in the North is a long-term play. You’ll spend a lot of money and not necessarily see the results right away.”
One of the major challenges working in the North is the physical distance and the cost related to it, including the cost of flights, which are also limited. Communications can also be a chore. “We budget by tacking on another day or two before or after a conference to do other things. One of the biggest conferences we attend is the Nunavut Mining Symposium in April which lasts four or five days.”
Team North®’s work is a mixed bag of traditional needs like litigation and specific legal advice for project development like mining procurement, tax law and work related to government services, explained Mr. Chamberlain. “The North is also going to feel the brunt of climate change. There’s not much legal work related to climate change right now, but we expect that to grow.”
There’s also a lot of shipping work which is affected by both the weather and commodity prices. Mr. Chamberlain cites the example of the Mary River Iron Mine project being developed by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation located in the Qikiqtani Region of Nunavut on Baffin Island. It is currently one of the largest mining developments planned in Canada and one of the most significant developments ever planned above the Arctic Circle. As part of the environmental assessment process, the company described its plan to ship the iron ore to Europe on 12 ice-breaking, ocean-going vessels that would be built in Korea.
“But when commodity prices tanked, they had to adjust their plans. Instead, they’ll only ship in the summer on regular freighters. The original plan is being put on the back burner for now, but I expect those 12 freighters will eventually be built when commodity prices bounce back,” Mr. Chamberlain predicted.
Asked to compare the difference in the roles Canada and Russia are currently playing in the North, Mr. Chamberlain observed that Russia is spending huge amounts of money in the region. “Northern Russia and northern Canada are distinct. There are not a lot of islands in northern Russia compared to Canada so the ice breaks up faster, whereas in Canada it clogs up. Canada will always have ice even with climate change which means shipping is less economical out of the North. Therefore, Canada needs to develop advanced ice-breaking technology.”