On May 12, 2011, an Act respecting the development of mineral resources in keeping with the principles of sustainable development (Bill 14), was tabled in the Québec National Assembly and referred to a committee for consultation. While no date has been confirmed for the passage in principle at this time, Bill 14 proposes amendments to the Québec Mining Act (the Mining Act) which will have a significant impact on the mining industry in Québec if enacted in their current form. Bill 14 was described as a key measure of the $80 billion development project of Northern Québec over the next 25 years announced on May 9, 2011 by the Government of Québec.
If Bill 14 is enacted in its current form, significant amendments to the existing Mining Act would include:
Stimulation of Mining Exploration
- Plan of Work. Notices of claims will have to be accompanied by a plan of the work to be performed within a year. In addition, claim holders will be required to annually update this plan and report on completed work.
- Renewal of Claims. Holders will be required to pay twice the statutory cost of required work at the time of renewal of a claim. Also, accumulated amounts for excess work performed during the term of a claim will become applicable only during the nine subsequent terms of the claim (i.e., up to 20 years). The radius circle in which a holder is entitled, at the time of renewal, to apply amounts for excess work of one claim to other owned adjacent claims will be reduced from 4.5 to 4 km. Similarly, holders of mining leases or mining concessions will no longer be authorized to apply to the renewal of a claim any excess work amounts spent on a lease or concession.
Rehabilitation and Restoration of Environment
- Rehabilitation and Restoration Work. Certain mining right holders or operators will be required to submit to the Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife (the Minister) a rehabilitation and restoration plan for approval. It will also become a condition to the granting of a mining lease. Subject to any extension authorized by the Minister, rehabilitation and restoration work will have to begin within three years after the operations have ceased.
- Financial Guarantee. Mining right holders or operators will have to provide a financial guarantee for all the anticipated costs of completing rehabilitation and restoration work as estimated in the plan approved by the Minister. Certain right holders will be required to provide the guarantee before the commencement of the work while others will be subject to three annual instalments.
- Certificate of Release. The Minister will release the financial guarantee upon the issuance of a certificate of release if he has obtained a favourable opinion from the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks and if he determines the following conditions were met: (1) the rehabilitation and restoration work was completed in accordance with the approved plan; (2) no money is due to the Minister in connection with the work; and (3) the condition of the land no longer presents a risk to the environment, health or safety.
Public Awareness and Consultation
- Public Consultation. A public consultation in the concerned area will have to be held before making an application for a mining lease and such consultation will have to be adequate to the Minister. The rehabilitation and restoration plan will be made available to the public at least 30 days before the beginning of this consultation. The Minister will take into consideration the results of this consultation and may subject a mining lease to any conditions in order to avoid conflicts with the other uses of the territory. The tenant will also be required to establish a monitoring committee to ensure compliance with any commitments made as a result of a public consultation.
- Registration and Notification of Claims. Claims and promises to purchase claims will have to be registered at the Registry of real and moveable mining rights. A claim holder will be required to notify within 60 days of registration the owner or tenant of lands granted by the province for purposes other than mining or the holder of an exclusive license to explore surface mineral substances.
- Notification of Municipality. A holder will also have to notify the municipality in which its claim is located at least 90 days before the exploration work begins.
- Native Communities. The interpretation of the Mining Act will have to be in a manner consistent with the obligation to consult Native communities and the Minister will have the obligation to consult those communities depending on the circumstances.
Avoidance of Conflicts with Other Uses of the Territory
- Reservation and Withdrawal Powers. Additional powers to reserve lands to the province, or withdraw from staking, map designation, mining exploration or operations, will be granted to the Minister including in view of avoiding conflicts with other uses of the territory.
- Municipalities. Areas within an urbanization perimeter or dedicated to vacationing under a land use planning and development plan will be withdrawn from staking, map designation, mining exploration and mining operations. No exploration work will be permitted in those areas unless written consent of the concerned municipalities is obtained and no compensation will be paid by the province for failure to complete any such work. Concerned municipalities and metropolitan communities will be entitled to request from the Minister the termination of a reservation or withdrawal.
- Access. Prior to carrying on exploration work or mining operations, access authorization from the owner or tenant of the lands granted by the province for purposes other than mining or the holder of an exclusive license to explore surface minerals will be required. Alternatively, mining right holders may acquire by mutual agreement any necessary right of access or property. In the absence of an authorization or agreement, the holder will be entitled, subject to certain conditions, to acquire the property by expropriation.
- Public Interest. In the interests of the public, the Minister will have the power to refuse an application for a lease or terminate a lease by granting the tenant another parcel of land or, failing which, determine compensation for the loss suffered by the applicant.
- Surface Mineral Rights. The ownership of surface mineral substances will now belong to the owner of the soil if they are found in lands granted by the province for purposes other than mining. Similarly, tenants of lands leased by the province for purposes other than mining will be entitled to use for their domestic needs any surface mineral substances on the leased premises.
Protective and Safety Measures
- Uranium Oxide. A declaration by the claim holder of the discovery of mineral substances containing 0.05% or more of uranium oxide will be required to be submitted within 60 days to the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks. Safety measures prescribed by regulation or other measures imposed by the Minister will need to be undertaken by the claim holder. The claim holder exploring for such mineral substances will need the consent of the owner of any groundwater catchment work located at less than 500 metres prior to initiate its drilling program.
- Discontinuance of Operations. Protective and safety measures prescribed by regulation or other measures imposed by the Minister will need to be implemented prior to the discontinuance of mining operations by the mining right holder or the operator. The Minister may cause the work to be performed at the holder’s or operator’s expense. Exceptions to this rule are if there is a strike or lock-out, if the discontinuance is for a period of less than six months, or if the discontinuance is for longer than six months but the mine is supervised and inspected weekly by a watchman.
- Update of Penalty Regime. It is proposed to increase the amount of current fines and to create additional infractions relating to the new features to be introduced by Bill 14.
- Bill 14 also contemplates various technical amendments to the Québec Mining Act.