Quebec uranium report muddies science with sociology – by Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail – August 28, 2015)

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MONTREAL — Brad Wall won’t be happy about this.

The Saskatchewan Premier has recently been complaining about have-not provinces sticking spokes in the wheels of wealth-creating energy projects, all while they clamour for more generous equalization payments paid for out of taxes from wealthier provinces such as his. Now, Quebec has given him one more reason to gripe.

Quebec’s environmental assessment agency has recommended a ban on uranium mining in a 626-page report that one critic lambasted as a “veritable collage of science and mysticism” regarding the mineral, used mainly as fuel for nuclear reactors.

Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard’s government is still “studying” the report. But after saying no to the shale gas industry and its potential jobs and royalties, Quebec appears headed for another de facto moratorium on resource development, despite collecting $9.5-billion in equalization payments this year.

Indeed, the equalization formula discourages such development, since every dollar Quebec collected in resource royalties would reduce its equalization haul by 50 cents.

It’s enough to drive Mr. Wall, whose province is the world’s second-biggest uranium producer, to distraction.

But what unsettles the mining industry most about the report by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) is that it injects the concept of social licence into what is supposed to be a science-based environmental impact assessment. Evaluating the social acceptability of any project is not a scientific exercise; it’s a political one.

But the BAPE process was conflicted from the outset. In 2012, Parti Québécois environment minister Daniel Breton, an environmental activist before his two-month stint in cabinet, ousted the agency’s chairman and named former environment journalist Louis-Gilles Francoeur as BAPE vice-chairman.

In 2014, the province’s mining lobby and Strateco Resources Inc., whose proposed Matoush uranium mine in Northern Quebec had received federal approval, sought Mr. Francoeur’s removal from the three-person BAPE panel studying uranium mining.

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