The defeat of Quebec’s Mining Act is a case of politics over substance
Posted on November 8, 2013
In the last three years Quebec has on three different occasions attempted to modernize its mining law. The latest attempt, Bill 43, seemed well on its way to becoming law when, on October 30, 2013, the two main opposition parties in the National Assembly voted against its adoption.
The Parti Quebecois government does not have a majority in the National Assembly. But the defeat of Bill 43 came as somewhat of a surprise. On October 10, the official opposition had issued a press release outlining four conditions for its support:
- A declaration by Government that it is in favour of the development of natural resources;
- The removal of the right of the Minister of Natural Resources to veto land use decisions made by local authorities;
- Stringent limitations on the right of the Minister pursuant to Bill 43, section 122 to require an ore processing feasibility study before granting a mining lease. (In my July 8, post I had argued that this was probably the bill’s most problematical provision for the mining industry and its financiers);
- First Nations had to be consulted as soon as permit applications were filed for mining activities on their lands. (See my March 18 post about Quebec’s failure to consult with First Nations for the Great Whale project.)
Prior to the October 30 vote, Martine Ouellet, Quebec’s Minister of Natural Resources, had on several occasions confirmed her willingness to reach a compromise with the opposition regarding the above. This was all well and good according to the opposition, but they wanted to see the text of the compromise before the vote. They were in effect saying they had no confidence in the minister. The minister stood her ground and promised to compromise after the vote.
The fact that the first two attempts at reforming the mining law (Bills 14 and 79, respectively) were effectively killed by Minister Ouellet whilst herself in opposition was never mentioned. It would be unseemly to do so. However, it would be remarkable to think that the Liberal opposition did not derive some satisfaction by treating the minister with a dose of her own medicine.
So what’s next? In the short term some of the proposed changes will be implemented by regulation. In the medium term, it is likely that the next government, whatever its stripes, will adopt a law generally similar to Bill 43, modified to respond to the four points outlined above.