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A Quebec government has just announced the fourth attempt in recent years to amend the province’s mining legislation. The most recent attempt was Bill 43. The package of mining act amendments introduced by the minority government of Parti Québécois premier Pauline Marois went down to defeat in mid-October after it failed to win the support of the two main opposition parties.
“The failure of Bill 43 is a bittersweet victory for miners, and the industry is hoping that we will be able to move on soon with new legislation,” says Frank Mariage, a mining lawyer in Fasken Martineau Dumoulin LLP’s Montreal office.
The proposed amendments would have tightened environmental rules for miners, forced them to do more processing in the province, granted municipalities a veto on mining project approvals, and given the province’s natural resources minister the right to terminate mining leases at any time.
Mining companies saw the legislation as skewed against them. “What we need is a law that balances the needs and interests of the industry with the requests of the population regarding the environment and social acceptability,” says Jean-Philippe Buteau, a mining lawyer in Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP’s Quebec City office.
The industry was especially critical of the wide discretionary powers granted to the minister in Bill 43. “How will a junior miner raise money in the international market when the minister has the power to terminate the project at every stage of development?” Mr. Mariage asks rhetorically.
Still, miners are realistic enough to appreciate that some discretion must be left with the minister.
“There are essential powers that the minister needs, but Bill 43 had no framework within which these powers would be exercised,” says Mr. Mariage’s partner, Jean Gagné, a mining lawyer in Fasken’s Quebec City office. “If new legislation doesn’t provide a framework for that discretion, it just won’t work.”
The industry is also concerned about the lack of criteria to guide municipalities’ determination as to whether their territory was compatible or incompatible with a mining project.
“We would like to see an objective regime in place, so the decision whether a mining project should proceed doesn’t turn into a political thing,” Mr. Buteau says.
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