New Mining Act
On May 29 2013, the Québec Minister of Natural Resources tabled the proposed new Mining Act, Bill 43. This is the latest in several recent attempts by governments of Québec to reform Québec mining legislation. Bill 43 would replace the entire Mining Act. It retains most of the current rules in the Mining Act pertaining to rights and ownership, but provides for several significant changes, including with respect to the rights of municipalities, environmental oversight, public interest considerations, economic benefit measures and First Nations consultations. We have highlighted below certain key changes that would be made by Bill 43 to current Québec mining legislation.
Bill 43 proposes to grant new rights and authority to municipalities in relation to mining activities within their territories. For instance, a claim holder would be required to notify a municipality that it had acquired a right with respect to municipal lands and, would be required to inform the municipality prior to carrying out any work in respect of the claim.
Bill 43 also proposes amendments to the Act Respecting Land Use Planning and Development to allow regional county municipalities to designate portions of their lands as “incompatible” with mining activities, or to provide that such activities will be subject to conditions determined by Minister of Natural Resources.
We note that these proposed changes could eventually apply to approximately 300,000 square kilometers in Northern Québec under the jurisdiction of the Cree Nation Government and Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government. The Québec government is currently required to notify these governments of the grant of any new mining claims on land located below the 55th parallel on the territory of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement.
Bill 43 proposes that mining operators would be required to provide financial security to the government to cover the entire cost of rehabilitating and restoring mining sites. The security would be required to be provided prior to commencing work on the site.
In addition to approval of a mining operator’s proposed site rehabilitation and restoration plan, the grant of a mining lease would also be subject to the issuance of a certificate of authorization under the Québec Environmental Quality Act.
In addition, all mineral processing plants and mining projects would be subject to an environmental assessment, regardless of the mineral substance or the production capacity of the project.
Public Interest Considerations
Bill 43 proposes that the grant of any mining lease for surface mineral substances for peat, industrial activity or commercial export would be subject to prior public consultation. Bill 43 also proposes that the Minister could refuse or revoke a mining lease for such substances on public interest considerations.
Bill 43 contains proposed changes with respect to uranium exploration. Mining claim holders would have to inform municipalities and landowners with respect to the exploration or discovery of uranium and to inform municipalities of any proposed uranium exploration. They would also have to submit annual planning reports and submit hydrogeological studies before drilling for uranium.
Bill 43 contains several proposals intended to increase local and regional economic benefits of mining activities in Québec. For instance, mining leaseholders would be required to create and maintain committees to maximise local employment and other economic benefits. Members of the committee would be appointed by the leaseholder and the committee would be maintained until the completion of the site rehabilitation and restoration plan.
In addition, when applying for a mining lease, a mining operator would also have to submit a feasibility study on processing minerals in Québec. The Minister could require the mining operator to process the mineral in Québec in exchange for the issuance of a mining lease.
Bill 43 would prohibit the expropriation of aboriginal burial grounds and provides that the Minister, after consultation with aboriginals, could exclude exceptional geological sites from mining activities.
Other Notable Changes
Bill 43 also contains additional changes to the current Mining Act, including the following.
A mining title holder would have to provide compensation during expropriation negotiations to the owner of a family residence.
Renewal conditions for current mining leases would be tightened by requiring a feasibility report on processing minerals in Québec and compliance with the new Québec mining tax regime.
Claim holders would have to report all exploration work carried out with respect to mining claims and work credits would expire after 12 years.
The Minister would have the authority to hold auctions for claims instead of all claims being granted on a first to register basis.
Bill 43 has been met with mixed reactions from politicians, the mining industry, interest groups and the media. Several provisions of the bill will need additional clarification as to scope and application and it is likely that a number of reviews and consultations with stakeholders will be required before Bill 43 would be passed into law.