Canada: Ending The Uncertainty With Quebec’s Bill 70

After three unsuccessful attempts by two succeeding governments and persisting threats of elections, one would have walked away from the idea of reforming the mining regime in Québec. With the defeat of Bill 43 which proposed a major overhaul of the current mining regime, the current minority government presented Bill 70, entitled "An Act to amend the Mining Act (Québec)" just a few weeks before the holiday break and got it approved on December 10, 2013 after an epic legislative sprint.

Despite the fact that Bill 70 includes more modest changes than what the current government initially proposed in Bill 43, the new rules address a number of environmental concerns, foster greater transparency in the mining industry and attempts to promote greater social acceptability of mining projects. Most of these changes had already reached consensus in previous aborted bills. Others only aim at codifying existing industry best practices.

Key changes

The key changes adopted through Bill 70 impact exploration, production and restoration for mining companies.

General

An aboriginal community consultation policy specific to the mining sector which is to be drawn up by the Minister.

Documents and information obtained by the Minister from the holders of mining rights will be made public.

Much more severe penalties, with fines of up to $6,000,000, which is consistent with Quebec's scheme of environmental penalties.

Regional county municipalities are now allowed to delimit any "mining-incompatible territory" in their land use and development plan.

Exploration

The need for a claim holder to notify the landowner and municipality upon obtaining the claim rights and at least 30 days before performing work.

Expropriation is no longer available during exploration phase.

Specific obligations with respect to uranium projects and findings.

Production

Application for mining leases will have to be accompanied by a project feasibility study as well as a scoping and market study as regards processing in Quebec. The Minister will have the power, before mining operations begin, on reasonable grounds, to require maximization of the economic spinoffs within Quebec of mining the mineral resources authorized.

On an annual basis, the lessee will have to send the Minister a report showing the quantity of ore extracted during the year, its value, the duties paid under the Mining Tax Act during that period and the overall contributions paid.

For all mining leases, a monitoring committee whose role is described in rather vague terms as "fostering the involvement of the local community in the project as a whole" needs to be established.

Amendments to the Regulation respecting environmental impact assessment and review in order to require an environmental impact assessment for all ore processing plant construction projects, all mine opening and operation projects where the processing or production capacity of the plant or the mine is 2,000 metric tons or more per day and all projects for processing of rare earth ore, regardless of the processing or production capacity of the project.

Restoration

The obligation to provide a financial guarantee covering the anticipated cost of all rehabilitation and restoration works.

Hope out of chaos

Although a few items still need some clarifications, the adoption of Bill 70 brings to an end several years of uncertainty about mining legislation in Quebec which should facilitate the design and planning of mining projects. It also removes some previously proposed discretionary rights that would allow the Minister to refuse or revoke mining leases for public interest criterion which would have transformed some mining projects in easy election targets.

At the least, the newly adopted Mining Regime will allow mining specialists in Quebec to focus on finding and operating mines that will create and secure thousands of direct and indirect jobs and bring wealth to the population of Québec.

Over the last few years, the main actors in the mining industry have become experts in reviewing bills amending the mining regime. As a matter of survival, they have spent time and efforts with their financers and the street trying to explain the idea behind this legislative chaos. With the market conditions prevailing over that period, some companies and projects have died, running out of resources or patience. Let's hope that for those who survived, Bill 70 might be the start of a successful mining era in Québec.

First published on canadianminingjournal.com February 2, 2014.

Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

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