After several failed attempts at reforming the Mining Act, on December 10, 2013 the National Assembly finally adopted Bill 70, An Act to amend the Mining Act (“Bill 70”).
Bill 70 draws upon a number of the measures that were proposed in Bill 43 of May 29, 2013 (“Bill 43”) as well as in Bill 14 of May 12, 2011 tabled by the previous government, which was actually a modified version of defunct Bill 79. For more details about the measures proposed in Bill 43, please see our May 13 article “Focus on Mining” (available here).
However, unlike the previous bills, which put forth a complete reconsolidation of the Mining Act, Bill 70 introduces a series of amendments to the existing act. It is also worth noting that Bill 70 is the result of certain compromises made by the government further to various comments received including from the mining industry, municipalities, environmental groups and aboriginal groups.
Essentially, the provisions that are amended by Bill 70 focus on three main aspects: mining titles, environment and communities and MRCs.
(a) Mining leases
Scoping and market study. As a precondition for the grant of a mining lease, Bill 70 requires, instead of a feasibility study on the processing of the ore in Quebec as proposed in Bill 43, a scoping and market study, which will be less stringent.
Economic spinoffs within Quebec. Bill 70 carries on one of the proposals contained in Bill 43 concerning the option for the Minister of Natural Resources (the “Minister”) to require, when granting a mining lease, that the economic spinoffs within Quebec from the mining of the mineral resources authorized under the lease be maximized. However, this requirement can now only be imposed on reasonable grounds.
Public consultation. Any metal mine project having a production capacity of less than 2,000 metric tons per day will be subject, before a mining lease is granted, to the holding of a public consultation. The conditions and form of the public consultation will be determined by regulation, so it is difficult for the time being to determine what the public consultation requirements will be. As for projects having a production capacity of 2,000 metric tons or more per day, they will also require a public consultation, but it will be held in the framework of the environmental assessment process described below.
The grant of a surface mineral substance operating lease for peat or a lease needed for an industrial activity or to engage in commercial export is also subject to a prior public consultation.
Reporting. Following in the footsteps of Bill 43, Bill 70 stipulates that holders of mineral rights have an obligation to provide information to the Minister on the quantity and value of the ore that is extracted, the duties paid under the Mining Tax Act and the overall contributions they have paid. In principle, this information is public, except for data appearing in the reports on exploration work involving amounts beyond the allowances claimable under the Mining Tax Act, which will remain confidential for a period of five years. This is an adjustment introduced in Bill 70. Similarly, the data contained in the agreements concluded with a community will not have to be made public and may only be used for statistical purposes.
(b) Mining Claims
Notice to the municipality and the landowner. Claim holders must notify the municipality and the landowner concerned within 60 days after registering a claim of the fact that they have obtained the claim, and must inform the municipality at least 30 days before performing any work.
Annual work report. Claim holders have an obligation to submit an annual report on the work that is performed. The requirement to submit an annual work plan to the Minister contained in Bill 43 was excluded from Bill 70.
Work credit. The radius within which the work credits accumulated for a claim could be used to renew other claims was reduced from 4.5 to 3.5 km in Bill 43. Bill 70 did not carry on such a measure, and the applicable radius therefore remains at 4.5 km. The 12-year limit on the lifespan of the work credits, as proposed in Bill 43, does remain however, along with an increase in the amount to be paid to double the cost of the work that should have been performed for purposes of renewing the claim.
Dropped measure: public auction. Bill 70 drops the measure proposed in Bill 43 which gave the Minister the option to auction off certain claims.
Environmental assessment. Bill 70 also provides for the amendment of the Regulation respecting environmental impact assessment and review, such that mineral processing plant construction and operation projects and mine opening and operation projects with a production capacity of 2,000 metric tons or more per day, as well as all projects involving the processing of rare earth (regardless of the processing or production capacity) will, going forward, be subject to the environmental assessment process stipulated in the Environment Quality Act. Note that Bill 43 provided instead that all of the aforesaid projects would be subject to such an assessment, regardless of their production capacity.
Mine site rehabilitation and restoration plan. Like Bill 43, Bill 70 stipulates that the grant of a mining lease is subject to approval of the mine site rehabilitation and restoration plan in accordance with the Mining Act and issuance of the certificate of authorization required for that purpose under the Environment Quality Act. However, where the time frame for obtaining the certificate of authorization is unreasonable, the Minister may still grant the lease.
Communities and MRCs
(a) Native communities
Bill 70 adds a new section to the Mining Act concerning the obligation to consult Native communities. This section draws on some of the provisions already contained in the previous bills. For more details on the new Bill 70 measures concerning Native communities, we invite you to read the bulletin published on that subject by our Aboriginal Law group (available here).
(b) Local communities
Monitoring committee. Bill 70 stipulates that all holders of mining leases must establish and maintain a project monitoring committee to foster local community involvement in the project as whole. The committee must comprise at least one representative of the municipal sector, one representative of the economic sector, one member of the public and, where applicable, one representative of a Native community consulted by the Government with respect to the project.
(c) Regional County Municipalities (MRCs)
Bill 70 also amends the Act respecting land use planning and development to allow the MRCs to delimit any mining-incompatible territory in their land use and development plan. However, it is in the Mining Act that particulars regarding what constitutes such territories will be found, as well as regarding the exclusion of the mineral substances found thereon from mining activities. Bill 70 did not keep the concept of a “territory compatible on certain conditions,” which was originally proposed in Bill 43. The power of the Minister of Natural Resources to review the delimitation of any mining-incompatible territory and to request changes to the land use plan to permit the conduct of mining activities (often referred to as a veto right) was also dropped in Bill 70.
Bill 70 also introduces a series of other amendments to the Mining Act, many of which were proposed in Bill 43.
Obligation to provide financial guarantees covering the full costs set out in the rehabilitation and restoration plan;
Obligation to disclose any uranium discovery;
Limitation of the power of expropriation to the holders of mining rights that want to proceed to the mining stage;
Power of the Minister to refuse, on public interest grounds, an application for a lease to exploit sand and gravel; and
Updating of the penal sanctions system.