For the fourth time in as many years, the Quebec government has tabled legislation to change the province’s outdated Mining Act.
The proposed legislation, Bill 70, revokes the extraordinary powers awarded to the Minister in the last bill that allowed her to halt mining projects. It also curtails the expropriation powers held by mining companies under current law. As well, any project with a production capacity of more than 2,000 metric tons per day would be required to undergo an environmental impact study, up from the 7,000 metric tons threshold under the current law.
The bill also gives municipalities the right to determine whether part of their territory is incompatible with mining activities, and takes away the Minister’s right to overrule such land-use decisions by municipalities, as proposed under the former legislation. There is also an obligation for companies to consult First Nations on future mining projects.
Under the proposed legislation, mining companies will also be held responsible for providing information on the value and quantity of ore extracted from a mine. They will be required to inform landowners and municipalities of any new claims obtained as well as the work to be conducted on the land.
The province may also require that a company maximize the economic spinoffs of new mines in a region as well as create a monitoring committee to allow local communities to participate in the project’s development.
With the revisions, the Parti Québécois minority government is attempting to secure support from the key opposition parties for a revamped version of a bill that was defeated last month. Minister of Natural Resources Martine Ouellet hoped to get the Bill adopted before Christmas even though the legislation was tabled on Thursday, one day before the end of the fall session.
“We are proposing a balanced Bill one that makes the necessary adjustments to meet the demands made by the opposition parties,” said Ms. Ouellet in a news conference on Thursday. “I don’t see any reason why it can’t pass.”
The Liberals expressed an openness to immediately study the bill and the Coalition Avenir Quebec said it was willing to support it. However in order for the bill to proceed at such a late stage in the fall session, National Assembly rules require the government to have unanimous approval from all parties. The decision to move quickly on the bill may hinge on the two members of the Québec solidaire party.
Québec solidaire co-leader Françoise David said that her party would allow the bill to be reviewed in second reading but that time would be needed to complete a clause-by-clause study.
That would require having committee hearings next week and then having to call MNAs back to sit in what is called an “extraordinary session” for final adoption of the bill.
It is rare for Québec solidaire to hold so much power. The party’s other MNA, Amir Khadir, views it as a chance to focus public attention on the way mining companies have lobbied against the general interest of Quebecers.
“The powerful business lobby is crushing the political class in Quebec,” Mr. Khadir said, calling on the PQ government to stop “conceding again and again to an abusive industry which has deprived Quebec of its wealth.”
The next step will be decided on Friday after government and opposition house leaders negotiate a strategy on how best to proceed to ensure passage of the bill.