On May 12, 2011, Quebec's Minister for Natural Resources and Wildlife, Mr. Serge Simard, introduced Bill 14 which seeks to amend Quebec's Mining Act.
Amendments to the Mining Act were initially proposed in December 2009 under Bill 79. A parliamentary committee held public consultations on Bill 79 in the fall of 2010. However, Bill 79 had yet to be adopted at the time the National Assembly was prorogued earlier this year.
The Minister has now introduced Bill 14 which apparently takes into consideration comments made during the public consultation on Bill 79 and is titled An Act respecting the development of mineral resources in keeping with the principles of sustainable development. Indeed, Bill 14 provides that this will become the title of the Mining Act.
The amendments follow a report published in April 2009 by Quebec's Auditor-General that criticized Quebec's management of its mine rehabilitation regime and the publication in June 2009 of Quebec's Mineral Strategy.
The Bill proposes significant changes to the environmental protection regime for mines. It will require public consultations for new mines that are not subject to the environmental impact assessment process under Quebec environmental legislation. If adopted, the Bill will impose more onerous requirements with respect to the amount and the schedule of payment of the financial guarantee for mine rehabilitation. Also, obtaining a government release for mine rehabilitation obligations may become a more onerous process that will require the involvement of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks.
A Committee of the Quebec National Assembly will conduct consultations and public hearings on Bill 14 on August 23, 24 and 25, 2011.
Bill 14 proposes several significant amendments to the Mining Act, including the following:
Ownership of Surface Minerals Substances
- Surface mineral substances found in land granted by the State for purposes other than mining will belong to the owner of the soil.
- The Bill proposes to provide explicitly that the Act must be construed in a manner consistent with the obligation to consult Native communities and that the Minister will have to consult Native communities specifically, depending on the circumstances.
Credit for Exploration Work on Claim
- It will continue to be possible to make a payment in lieu of carrying on mining exploration on claims. However, the payment will have to be an amount that is double the cost of the applicable work requirement.
- The area of the land in respect of which any credit for exploration work on a claim may be used to renew other claims will be reduced to a radius of 4 km.
- It will no longer be possible to apply expenses for work performed on a mining lease or concession to renew a claim.
- Useful life of work credits is limited to 20 years.
Powers Given to Minister to Avoid Conflict with Other Land Uses
- The Minister will have the power to exclude certain zones from mining activities and refuse to grant certain types of mining rights in order to avoid conflicts with other uses of the territory.
Areas Within an Urbanization Perimeter and Areas Dedicated to Vacationing
- As of the date of introduction of Bill 14 (May 12, 2011), these areas will be withdrawn from staking, map designation, mining exploration and mining operations.
- To perform work in these areas a holder of claims will have to obtain the consent of the concerned local municipality.
- The State will not provide compensation for any consequence of an inability to perform work because of failure to obtain such consent.
- At the request of a Regional County Municipality or the Metropolitan Community concerned, the Minister will have the power to terminate the withdrawal of all or part of the area or instead, reserve the area to the State, allowing the mineral exploration and mining that it determines. In making a determination, the Minister will have to take into account (i) reasons presented by the Regional County Municipality or the Metropolitan Community and any other concern raised; (ii) the economic impact of the activity on the community; and (iii) the incidence of the activity on the development needs.
- A holder of claims will have to hold a public consultation prior to applying for a mining lease or, in the case of certain leases to mine surface mineral substances, including peat leases, after application for the lease. Such consultation will have to be conducted in the region concerned. The process will be set out in a regulation and will be managed by the Minister, who will determine adequacy of the consultation and will have the power to impose additional measures.
- Currently, a public consultation is triggered under environmental legislation which requires the preparation of an environmental impact assessment and public hearings before the Bureau d'audiences publiques en environnement ("BAPE") for metal and asbestos mines with a production capacity above 7,000 tonnes per day and for all uranium mines. In its Mineral Strategy, the government announced that it will reduce the threshold for triggering the environmental impact assessment and BAPE hearing requirements to 3,000 tonnes per day for metal and asbestos mines. The intent of the provisions proposed by Bill 14 therefore seems to be that there be a public consultation process even for new mines under the 3,000 tonnes per day threshold.
- For mining lease applications, the rehabilitation and restoration plan will have to be available to the public at least 30 days before the consultation begins.
- Documents and information relating to the public consultation will have to be provided to the Minister upon his request.
- As is presently the case, documents and information useful for the determination of the existence of indicators of the presence of a workable deposit will also need to be provided to the Minister upon his request for mining leases.
- The Minister will have the power to impose conditions in a mining lease or a lease to mine surface mineral substances, including peat leases, designed to avoid conflicts with other uses of the territory or to take into consideration comments received during the public consultation.
- A monitoring committee will have to be set up by the holder of the mining right to ensure compliance of commitments made by the holder during the public consultation.
Power to Refuse an Application for a Lease to Mine Surface Mineral Substances or Terminate Such a Lease
- If it is in the public interest, the Minister will have the power to refuse an application for such a lease or terminate an existing lease. Should an existing lease be terminated, the Minister will have to grant the lease holder a lease in respect of another parcel of land. Failing that, the Minister will have to provide compensation for the loss suffered. It is to be noted that the Bill does not provide any indication concerning the factors to be considered by the Minister in determining public interest. It therefore may be that the Minister will have broad discretion in this regard.
- The Minister will also have the power to refuse a sand and gravel lease in order to avoid conflicts with other uses of the territory.
- Mining leases will be granted by the Minister only if a rehabilitation and restoration plan is approved.
- The scope of the financial guarantee that must accompany a rehabilitation and restoration plan will be increased. Under current rules, the financial guarantee is equivalent to 70% of the anticipated cost of rehabilitating accumulation areas. The proposed guarantee will cover 100% of the anticipated costs of completing all work which may be required under the rehabilitation and restoration plan.
- Existing plans will continue to be valid, but will have to comply with the increased financial guarantee requirements within three years after the amendments come into force.
- Currently, the schedule of payment of the guarantee is established on the basis of the life of mine. The proposed changes will require that the entire guarantee be provided in certain cases of exploration work (determined by regulation) before such work begins. In the other cases, the guarantee will have to be paid in three annual installments, with the first installment (payable 90 days from approval of the plan) representing 50% of the amount of the guarantee and the second and third installments each representing 25% of the guarantee.
- Rehabilitation and restoration work will have to begin within three years after operations cease. However, the Minister will have the power to require that the work begin earlier or authorize an extension.
- The Minister will continue to have the power to deliver a Certificate releasing a person from its rehabilitation and restoration obligations for same reasons as are presently specified in the Mining Act. In the case where such a release is granted because the rehabilitation and restoration work has been carried out, a Certificate may be issued if, in the Minister's opinion, the work has been completed in accordance with the rehabilitation and restoration plan approved by the Minister and no sum of money is due to the Minister with respect to the performance of the work. In such a case, it will also be necessary for the Minister to determine that the land affected by the concerned mining activities no longer present a risk for the environment or for the health and safety of individuals.
- The Minister will continue to have the power to release a person from its mine rehabilitation and restoration obligations by issuing a Certificate of Release in cases where the Minister agrees to let a third party assume the obligations.
- In all cases, the Minister will be able to issue a Certificate of Release after having obtained a favorable opinion from the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks.
- Sampling of over 50 metric tonnes by a claim holder will continue to be possible with the authorization of the Minister, for the purposes of determining the characteristics of the ore.
Plan of Work
- The notice of staking or the notice of map designation of a claim will have to be accompanied by a plan of the work to be performed in the coming year. Such a plan will have to be submitted on each anniversary date of the registration of a claim.
- A report of the work performed under the plan in the previous year will have to be forwarded to the Ministry on each anniversary date of the registration of the claim.
- Notification to the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks will be required of a claim holder for any discovery of mineral substances containing 0.05% or more of uranium oxide.
- The holder of mining rights who discovers or mines mineral substances containing 0.05% or more uranium oxide will have to take safety measures prescribed by regulation or any other measure the Minister may impose.
- A holder of a mining right who is engaged in exploration for mineral substances that contain uranium oxide will not be allowed to drill within 500 metres from a groundwater catchment work without written authorization from the owner of the work.
- Penalties for non-compliance under the Mining Act will be increased.
- In order to advance geoscientific knowledge, the work reporting obligations of a claim holder are increased: he will have to report to the Minister on all exploration work performed, including those for which it can claim certain allowances under the Mining Duties Act, whether or not such allowance is claimed.