The Act to amend the Mining Act: Assent at last!
Gladys Chamberland, Ministère des Ressources naturelles.
The Preamble to the new Mining Act
AS mineral resources are present throughout Québec and constitute social wealth for present and future generations;
AS mining has helped forge Québec’s identity and should continue to be a source of pride;
AS it is necessary to promote the optimal use of mineral resources in order to create as much wealth as possible for the people of Québec;
AS it is necessary to engage in mineral development in a manner respectful of the environment;
AS it is necessary to promote development that is associated with Québec communities and integrated into their environment;
AS it is necessary to pursue sustainable diversification of the regions’ economies.
After four bills and three public consultations over a four-year period, the Québec Government’s last parliamentary work period ended on December 10, 2013, with the adoption and coming into force of the Act to amend the Mining Act (Bill 70).
The purpose of the new Act is to promote mining activity with a view to achieving transparency and sustainable development. Among other things, its provisions ensure that the people of Québec will receive a fair share of the wealth created by mining operations, taking into account other potential land uses; that mining operations will benefit future generations; that natural resource exploration, extraction and processing expertise is developed in Québec; that more information is obtained from mining companies, and made public; and that the rights and interests of Aboriginal communities are taken into account.
The main changes introduced by the new Act are presented below, according to whether they affect the economic, environmental or social aspects of sustainable mine development.
The measures affecting the economic aspect of sustainable development will help maximize the economic spinoffs from mining activity in Québec, and stimulate mine exploration and operations.
Maximizing the economic impacts
- Scoping and market study for processing
In future, every application for a new mining lease or renewal must be accompanied by a scoping and market study for processing in Québec.
- Power to require maximization of economic spinoffs in Québec
When granting a lease, or before operations begin in the case of a mining concession, the Government may, on reasonable grounds, require that the economic spinoffs of mining be maximized within Québec.
Stimulating mine exploration and operations
- More stringent conditions for claim renewal
Claim renewal conditions have been reviewed in order to enhance exploration activities. It is no longer possible to use excess amounts spent on exploration work for a mining lease or mining concession in order to renew a claim. Excess amounts have a life span of 12 years (six two-year renewals) and the cost to be paid in lieu of work to be done is doubled.
- Maximum period of five years to begin mine exploration work
The Act also introduces more stringent requirements for existing mine concessions, by requiring grantees to begin mining operations within five years after being granted a lease, failing which the concession may be revoked.
The new Act contains several measures that will help protect the environment. Among other things, a mining lease cannot be granted until public consultations have been held, and until a rehabilitation and restoration plan has been approved for the site.
Public consultations required for all mining projects
- Environmental impact assessment and review by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE)
All mineral processing plant projects and all mine development and operation projects with a processing or production capacity of 2,000 metric tons or more per day are now subject to an environmental assessment and review by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE).
All rare earth processing projects, regardless of their production or processing capacity, are also subject to the same requirement.
- Public consultations initiated by proponents
Before a mining lease can be granted for a metal mine project where the mine has a production capacity of less than 2,000 metric tons per day, a public consultation, initiated by the proponent, must be held in the region in which the mine will be located.
The same applies to a peat lease or a lease to carry on an industrial activity or to engage in commercial export.
Mining leases now subject to approval of rehabilitation and restoration plans
A mining lease cannot now be granted until a rehabilitation and restoration plan for the site has been approved by the Minister of Natural Resources, and until the certificate of authorization required in the Environment Quality Act has been issued.
The Act updates the system of penal sanctions by significantly increasing certain fines, among other things to bring them into line with those stipulated in the Environment Quality Act.
The new Act innovates by introducing a host of measures designed to promote better communications with citizens affected by mining activities, and to ensure that mining projects are integrated smoothly into their environment.
Reconciling different land uses
- Mining-incompatible territories delimited by RCMs in their land use and development plans
The Act makes regional county municipalities responsible for delimiting mining-incompatible areas in their land use and development plans. The Government will adopt orientations to structure this process. The Ministère des Ressources naturelles may issue an unfavourable notice in respect of withdrawn areas while the plans are being prepared.
- Conditions designed to avoid conflicts with other land uses
The Minister may subject a mining lease or a peat lease to conditions designed to avoid conflicts with other uses of the territory. The Minister may also refuse to grant a sand and gravel lease if this is in the public interest or to avoid conflicts with other uses of the territory. The Minister may also, in the public interest, terminate a lease to mine sand, gravel or stone.
- Consideration of the rights and interests of Aboriginal communities
Specific provisions have been included in the new Act to take into account the rights and interests of Aboriginal communities. For example, the Government must consult Aboriginal communities separately, and must publish an Aboriginal community consultation policy specifically for the mining sector.
Promoting dialogue with the communities
- New requirements for claim holders
Claim holders (mining exploration licence for a given site) must notify the municipality and the landowner concerned that they have obtained the claim. This must be done within 60 days after registering the claim.
They must obtain written permission from the landowner 30 days before accessing the site, and must inform the landowner and the municipality at least 30 days before performing work.
- New requirements for mine operators
As well as holding public consultations before the lease is granted (see above), mining project proponents must now establish and maintain a monitoring committee within 30 days after obtaining the lease, to foster the involvement of the local community. The committee must remain in existence until the work stipulated in the rehabilitation and restoration plan has been completed.
- Measures concerning expropriation
The power of expropriation may only be exercised during the mining stage of a project. A mining project proponent who intends to acquire a residential immovable or an immovable used for agricultural purposes must provide financial assistance to the owner of the immovable by paying the costs of the professional services required to negotiate the agreement, up to a maximum amount representing 10% of the value of the immovable as entered on the property assessment roll.
An immovable cannot be moved or demolished until the mining lease has been granted.
Introducing measures to ensure greater transparency
- Information that must be made public
Claim holders must submit an annual report on work done. To obtain renewal of their claims, they must provide reports on all work done, whether or not it has been claimed under the Mining Tax Act. They must also declare the discovery of mineral substances containing 0.1 % or more of triuranium octaoxyde (U3O8) within 90 days after the discovery.
As for mine operators, they must submit a report to the Minister, each year, on the quantity and value of the ore extracted, the duties paid under the Mining Tax Act, and the overall contributions paid by them. They must also make available their approved restoration plans and the total amount of the financial guarantee required.
All this information will be made public.
To see the full text of the Act to amend the Mining Act, assented to on December 10, 2013, click here.