Native rights a contentious issue as mining bill passes


By Kevin Dougherty, Gazette Quebec Bureau Chief

Date of publication: 
9 December 2013

Bill 70 adopted 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.

Mat Jacobson, Boreale conservation officer for the U.S.-based Pew Charitable Trusts, noted some environmental and social acceptability improvements in Bill 70. But he expressed concern Quebec’s aboriginals have been forgotten once more.

“By not calling for prior consent and accommodation for exploration and mining on aboriginal territory, the bill fails to respect first nations or help mining companies, and is inconsistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which Quebec has endorsed,” Jacobson wrote in an email.

“While we support the bill’s granting to municipalities the right to withdraw certain lands in their jurisdictions, not affording that same right to aboriginal communities is unjustified and unfair. As a legal matter, as a moral matter and as a practical matter, there’s no responsible development possible when there is no consent and partnership with the affected first nations,” Jacobson said.

Québec solidaire, which joined the Liberals in voting for the Kelley amendment, said its two MNAs would vote against Bill 70 because mining companies still have a free hand and native people remain dispossessed, without compensation for the extraction of minerals in areas where they have ancestral rights.

“This is time for evolution,” said Amir Khadir of Québec solidaire.

Luc Ferland, PQ MNA for Ungava, which includes most of Quebec’s north, recalled Bill 70 is the fourth attempt in four years to amend the Mining Act.
“It’s time for government and all parties to adopt a new Mining Act,” Ferland said, deploring Liberal opposition to Bill 43, defeated in October.

Bill 70 is an amended version of Bill 43. The new bill, presented last Thursday, results from a compromise with Ouellet initiated by the CAQ’s François Bonnardel.


Quebec’s new Mining Act has First Nations warning of legal challenge

Rheal Seguin, The Globe and Mail

9 December 2013

QUEBEC — First Nations are threatening to challenge Quebec’s new Mining Act in court after the government cut short debate to force passage of the bill.

Innu Chief Gilbert Dominique, a spokesperson for the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, warned Monday that any new mining project on aboriginal land would be blocked if it failed to meet the approval of native communities.

“This bill does not correspond to our ancestral rights,” Mr. Dominique said. “We want a veto right on all projects that have a devastating impact on our land.”

Under current law, mining companies aren’t required to consult with communities before a project is undertaken on native land.

The new mining bill proposes to consult native communities “if the circumstances warrant” and to draft a consultation policy regarding a mining project prior to beginning operations on native land. However, the Quebec First Nations say consultations should begin the moment a mining claim on their land is registered and before exploration operations.

“Quebec would be one of the only jurisdictions in Canada in this position,” Chief Dominique said.

“If need be we will go before the courts to have our rights recognized and based on past court rulings we are confident of winning our case.”

The Liberals and Québec Solidaire tabled an amendment that would have given native communities more power over the consultation process. However, the proposal was defeated by the Parti Québécois minority government with the support of the Coalition Avenir Québec.

The PQ and the CAQ struck a deal to table a revised mining bill last Thursday on the eve of the last day of the fall session. The two parties agreed on the weekend to reconvene the National Assembly for a special one-day session on Monday where both parties voted to impose closure, a procedural manoeuvre that limits debate to quickly adopt a bill.