Many municipalities in the south of the province are mobilizing to ban all mining activity on portions of their territory. But the majority of requests from elected municipal officials are met with a refusal from Quebec, noted La Presse.

Since 2016, cities and regional county municipalities (RCMs) have been able to delimit territories that they want to exclude from any mining activity. With the spectacular increase in the number of mining claims in the south of the province, driven by the race for transportation electrification, more than thirty cities and MRCs have thus designated territories incompatible with mining activity (TIAM ) over the past six years.

However, the majority of requests submitted to the Government of Quebec during this period were first refused by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (MRNF). A finding that worries the municipal world at a time when the Minister of Natural Resources, Maïté Blanchette Vézina, is holding a consultation on mining supervision.

Mayor of Thurso and prefect of the MRC of Papineau, in Outaouais, Benoit Lauzon suspected that a large number of MRCs had been refused by Quebec. “We see the mobilization in all the MRCs. We knew there were a lot [refusals]. It confirms our desire to change the law,” said the mayor, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Union des municipalités du Québec (UMQ).

Danielle Pilette, associate professor of municipal management at the University of Quebec in Montreal, was surprised to learn that so many MRCs have submitted TIAM projects. “That’s a lot of RCMs. We are very much in the playgrounds of Montrealers and people from Quebec. There are resorts [in these RCMs] and second homes,” she notes.

According to Ms. Pilette, these numerous refusals from Quebec City risk harming the economic development of the regions concerned.

Benoit Lauzon also believes that the current uncertainty is having an impact. “There are tourism companies that stop investing because they are afraid of ending up with a mining claim [on their territory],” he says.

In January, during a forum organized by the UMQ, elected officials argued that they do not really have the power to designate portions of their territory incompatible with mining activities.

“We’re told we’re given power, but it’s still power with strings attached. Because in many cases, the request of the MRC is refused, ”recalled the president of the UMQ, Daniel Côté.

Elected officials are concerned, among other things, about the significant increase in the number of mining claims in southern Quebec. According to a compilation by the Coalition Québec Better Mine, the number of mining claims jumped 408% between January 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022 in the Lanaudière region. The Laurentians and Outaouais experienced increases of 71% and 211% during this same period.

A mining claim, it should be remembered, is an exclusive right to verify the presence of ore on a portion of territory. For less than $100, the acquisition of a claim is done quickly through the mining title management platform (GESTIM) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests.

However, once a claim is designated, municipalities have their hands tied and can no longer include these areas in their proposal of territory incompatible with mining activity. The UMQ and several environmental groups demand that Quebec decree a moratorium on the allocation of mining claims.

Québec solidaire MNA and spokesperson for natural resources, Alejandra Zaga Mendez, tabled a bill on Tuesday that would decree a two-year moratorium on the allocation of new mining claims.

“While we are doing consultations, we have to stop the bleeding, pleaded the united MP in an interview with La Presse. The granting of new mining claims must be suspended. »

Questioned by the opposition parties during a meeting of the Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Energy and Natural Resources on March 17, Minister Maïté Blanchette Vézina affirmed that “it would be dangerous to a moratorium because it would send a message that Quebec no longer wants to be part of the governments that wish to advance the decarbonization of the global community”.

According to the Minister, a moratorium is not necessary since there are TIAMs. “It’s a tool [the TIAMs] that is already available to MRCs to protect themselves if they are worried about the process of granting claims,” ​​she said during this meeting.

The municipal world judges, for its part, not to hold real powers since Quebec has the last word. According to information provided to La Presse by the Ministry of Natural Resources, 31 draft regulations filed by cities or MRCs “have been the subject of non-compliance notices from the MRNF in connection with TIAMs”.

Of the 16 projects deemed compliant by Quebec, there are those of the cities of Sherbrooke and Laval, as well as the MRCs of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Roussillon, but also the MRCs of Bonaventure and Charlevoix, which are less urbanized. Several of the MRCs that have received the green light from Quebec have had to revise their TIAM projects downwards to comply with government guidelines.

Minister Maïté Blanchette Vézina indicated during her interpellation in a parliamentary committee that she “was in solution mode”.

The consultation runs until May 19. Municipalities, citizens, environmental groups and the mining industry are invited to participate.

“We feel that there is a listening ear, but what is important to us are results. It takes a clear opening from the minister, ”says Benoit Lauzon.

The repeal of an article of law would make it possible to rebalance the balance of power against the mining industry, according to the municipal world, environmental groups and Quebec solidaire.

The law in question is the Land Use Planning Act (LAU), which gives precedence to mining titles over any other land use. Article 246 of the LAU indeed indicates that “no provision of this law, of a metropolitan plan, of a development plan or of an interim control resolution or of a zoning by-law, subdivision or construction cannot have the effect of preventing the designation on a map of a claim, the exploration, research, development or exploitation of mineral substances carried out in accordance with the Mining Act”.

The Union of Municipalities of Quebec, the Quebec Federation of Municipalities and environmental groups are asking that Quebec strike out section 246 so that the Mining Act no longer takes precedence in land use planning.

But according to Guy Bourgeois, director general of the Quebec Mining Exploration Association, “nothing justifies the repeal of this article”. “We think there are all the right tools [in the law] to do the job right. What is important is to have a dialogue. […] For us, access to the territory [for mining exploration] is a major issue,” he notes.

A bill tabled Tuesday by Quebec Solidarity MNA Alejandra Zaga Mendez provides for the repeal of section 246 of the LAU. “I invite the CAQ government to seize the outstretched hand of Québec solidaire and pass my bill, which can be done very quickly,” said the member for Verdun.

In the absence of a moratorium, several MRCs benefit from a temporary suspension for the allocation of new mining claims. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, 24 RCMs currently benefit from such a suspension since they have taken steps to designate portions of their territory that they want to exclude from all mining activity.

However, this must be renewed every six months and the final decision rests with Quebec, underlines Éric Pelletier, general manager at the MRC d’Argenteuil, an MRC whose project of territory incompatible with the mining activity (TIAM) has been refused by Quebec in 2021.

The MRC wanted to protect 87% of its territory from any mining activity, while the criteria defined by government guidelines would allow it to protect 74% instead. The temporary suspension in effect since 2017 applies to 78% of the territory of this MRC des Laurentides.

According to the Coalition Quebec Better Mine, Quebec must undertake “an in-depth reform of its mining regime”.

“The government can no longer claim to want to exploit minerals of the future with its outdated laws that encourage environmental impacts and flout the rights of indigenous peoples and local populations,” said its spokesperson, Rodrigue Turgeon.