Mining companies are sorting through a piece of legislation that will have a direct impact on the way they do business in the province of Quebec. Before the end of last year, the Quebec Assembly adopted the Mining Act, Bill 70 or simply, Bill 70. This was actually the fourth attempt at overhauling the Mining Act, 1987. All of this builds upon the groundwork put forth by Bill 55 entitled “An Act To Amend The Mining Tax Act.” Even though this sounds a bit confusing, when you get into the details of Bill 70 you’ll soon realize what sweeping changes it may bring to the entire mining industry.
Among the highlights of Bill 70 are the following:
- Allows municipalities to directly oversee mining activities in their districts;
- Expands the obligations of certain mining rights holders in an attempt to keep them more accountable and transparent in their business practices;
- Broadens the scope of environmental and economic concerns;
- Requires increased consultation with Aboriginal groups;
- Provides more oversight authority to the Minister.
With regard to the involvement of municipalities, Bill 70 allows districts to determine which plots of land should be classified as incompatible or compatible to mining operations. All of these newly granted oversight powers could be superseded by Quebec’s Minister of Natural Resources, if it determined that a municipality’s decisions goes against the provincial government policy.
With the new rules governing claim holders, they are now obligated to notify any municipality that they have taken over mining rights within 60 days of transfer. Before any work can be started on the claim, the holder must also notify the local governments within 30 days. This puts the burden on the claim holder to be more responsible with their business. In other words, you can’t just “stake a claim and start digging.”
The environmental impact of Bill 70 is an issue that was hotly debated. According to the principles of this legislation, mining companies will now have to put up a financial guarantee that will cover any costs for restoring a mine site. That restoration must also begin within three years of the operation shutting down. There will be no more abandoned mines in Quebec. Failure to comply with these new regulations can mean hefty fines in the neighborhood of $6,000,000.
Bill 70 has addressed a major concern of Aboriginal groups, the exploitation of land that is deemed burial grounds. After consulting with the Minister, those lands can be excluded from any mining operation. This doesn’t mean that all Aboriginal groups are happy with the passage of Bill 70. There was mounting frustration when debate on the bill was cut short by the majority party, Parti Québécois. While the Aboriginals applaud the efforts to get them more involved, there was hope that the bill would do more to curtain exploration on those sacred lands.
Finally, another key component of Bill 70 is granting the Minister the right to put mining claims up for auction. This replaces the previous “first-come-first-served” procedures used by mining companies.
Bill 70 now moves on to the Quebec National Assembly where it is sure to attract more debate.