Native rights a contentious issue as mining bill passes – by Kevin Dougherty (Montreal Gazette – December 9, 2013)

Bill 70 adpopted with support of the Liberals and CAQ

QUEBEC — The Coalition Avenir Québec and Quebec Liberals backed the Parti Québécois government Monday night, with only Quebec solidaire opposed, to adopt Bill 70, the first major change in the province’s Mining Act in almost a century.

Martine Ouellet, Quebec’s natural resources minister, said the bill struck a balance between the claims of the mining industry, environmentalists, communities affected by mining and native people.

But Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, warned the bill could face a court challenge because it ignores the ancestral rights of Quebec aboriginals. The assembly was summoned Monday for an “extraordinary session” to fast-track adoption of Bill 70.

The issue of aboriginal rights was the major disagreement between Ouellet and the opposition Liberals and Québec solidaire, who opposed her rush to legislate. Ouellet said she has listened and a new chapter in Bill 70 calls for consultations with native communities on mining projects.

But in the only rollcall vote during clause-by-clause consideration of Bill 70, an amendment by Geoffrey Kelley, Liberal MNA for West Island Jacques-Cartier and former aboriginal affairs minister, was defeated by the minority Parti Québécois government, with backing from the Coalition Avenir Québec.

Kelley said Ouellet has not listened to Quebec’s native peoples, proposing that the minister “jointly with representatives of aboriginal communities” develop, make public and keep up to date a consultation policy on mining.

“I don’t believe the proposed amendment is necessary,” Ouellet said.

“But yes, we will consult the aboriginal communities.”

In a letter obtained by The Gazette, sent to Premier Pauline Marois on Monday, Chief Picard, of the Assembly of First Nations, recalled that Marois made a commitment a year ago at an aboriginal summit in Mashteuiatsh to work “nation to nation” with Quebec’s native peoples.

That commitment included protection of territories, co-management, consultation and accommodation, as well as royalties from resource development projects for aboriginal communities, Picard recalled.

The consultation process Ouellet proposes would allow mining companies “to continue irreversibly damaging traditional first nations’ territory,” Picard said, calling Bill 70 an invitation to a court battle and noting a Sept. 19 Supreme Court of Canada decision confirming that the Yukon government has a duty to consult with the Ross River Dena Council in recording mining claims.

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