Advocates for the Quebec mining industry are voicing objections to the Charest government’s proposed amendments to the Mining Act. According to the Association de l’exploration minière du Québec (AEMQ), many provisions of Bill 14 would be harmful to mineral exploration if the bill were adopted.
Valérie Filion, executive director of AEMQ, has issued many public statements since the Quebec government completed special consultations on Bill 14 in late August 2011. In an interview with CIM Magazine, she was even more scathing: “We know that the Ministère conducted no impact study on Bill 14.”
However Serge Simard, minister of mines for the province, believes industry concerns merely represent growing pains, and will pass. “There is some resistance to change, which is completely normal,” he remarked.
Some sections of the bill, notably Article 91, are already in effect, and will only be overturned if the bill does not pass. Article 91 adds a new section, 304.2, to the Mining Act. Under this new legislation, Regional County Municipalities (RCMs) are able to withdraw staking in zones that lie within an “urbanized perimeter” or in any “area dedicated to vacationing.” This came into effect last May, and according to Simard, “local municipalities and regions will have a year to indicate their position on mining development to the Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune.” Discussions are continuing with the Ministère des affaires municipales to define how this should be implemented.
Mining title holders located within affected areas would need to get the municipality’s consent before performing any work. No compensation is to be given if work cannot be performed because of lack of consent, which irritates the AEMQ. “If there’s no agreement with the municipality, the title holder will only be entitled to compensation for work performed since 1988,” said Filion. “It is as if you were to buy a house and renovate it, only to have it expropriated and to be reimbursed for the renovations, but not the property value. We think that the value of an exploration project isn’t limited to the work performed on it.”
Filion estimates that at least 8,000 valid mining titles are threatened by Article 91. She believes it is likely contractors will take legal action against the government if they are forced to abandon their claims because of inability to mine them.
The stipulations regarding vacation areas appear in Article 96.1 of the bill. According to the AEMQ, the definition of an “area dedicated to vacationing” is too broad and makes life impossible for investors and managers of junior exploration companies. “Investors that use the mining title management system (GESTIM) will not be able to find out if their claims are valid. The provisions on vacation areas are already in effect, but GESTIM can’t provide us with correct information on them,” Filion pointed out.
The head office of the AEMQ is at Rouyn-Noranda, and the municipality has established a committee to examine the impact of the new bill. Filion noted that major parts of the town could be affected. “The industrial park, the airport, and even Aurizon’s Joanna project are located in these vacation zones, which are theoretically excluded,” she said.
Between the first draft of the new mining plan submitted in Bill 79, which died in December 2010, and the introduction of Bill 14, there was turmoil created by shale gas exploration in the St. Lawrence Valley. According to Filion, exploration companies are victims of bad press in the gas industry, and are also plagued by the problem of orphaned mining sites revealed by the report from the auditor general of Québec in April 2009.
“Our members had nothing to do with the problems raised in this report. For most people, there’s no difference between exploring and operating,” she said.
Minister Simard acknowledges that section 304.2 stems directly from concerns raised in the shale gas debate. “For projects that are in the pipeline, but not yet established, we request a public hearing, with an environmental impact assessment. You must understand that from here on in, if there isn’t social acceptability, there will be no project,” asserted the minister.
He added that better supervision of relations between developers and communities will prevent “people from lying in front of drills.” According to Simard, Bill 14 will allow municipalities to truly be “involved” in projects they endorse. “Everyone will work towards moving the project forward. Perhaps it’ll take a little longer, but I’m not quite sure.”
“They’re always talking about the need for social acceptability in communities,” replied Filion. “But for controversial projects that have made headlines, the new bill will not solve anything.” In 2011, there were intense debates on mining development opportunities in the municipalities of Estrie and the Laurentians.
Already, companies and citizens have started to react to the evolving political landscape in Quebec. Bowmore Exploration has taken note of the opposition in Saint-Camille, a township located in Les Sources RCM. The Montreal-based group plans to conduct its research elsewhere for 2012. In the Rivière-du-Nord RCM, the Pacific Arc Resources project is raising opposition as well. A petition submitted to the National Assembly by the Member for Bertrand was signed by 4382 citizens against mining projects in Basses-Laurentides vacation zones.