When Ellen Rice-Hogan discovered that someone had purchased a mining title on her Outaouais farm, she was in shock.
There is no mining in the Low Township region of Quebec, about 40 kilometers northwest of Ottawa, where it raises sheep and cattle. “It was all shocking, surprising,” she admitted recently in an interview. “We are a small community, the potential is enormous and this is going to have a huge negative impact, I think, on our territory. »
A boom in mining claims is underway in Quebec as prospectors anticipate strong demand for minerals used in electric batteries. This rush pushes people to demand their rights everywhere, even under houses. In response, residents and municipalities are calling for tougher rules.
Although most mining in Quebec still takes place in the north of the province, the demand for graphite and lithium – essential components in electric vehicle batteries – is pushing miners to expand their research to regions of the south, where the industry is little known to residents and local governments.
The municipal council of the municipality where M livesme Rice-Hogan wants a large part of its territory to be designated by the Quebec government as incompatible with mining. And she plans to follow the example of some of her neighbors who are buying mining rights to their land.
According to the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources, 112,477 mining claims were approved in 2023, compared to 72,631 the previous year. In the Outaouais region, where the Township of Low is located, the number of active mining claims has more than doubled since 2019, when 20,006 claims were approved.
“In regions where, historically, there has been no mining, we have seen an explosion of claim requests,” said Manon Cyr, mayor of Chibougamau and member of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec (UMQ).
Over the past 60 days, more than 200 mining claims have been made in the Outaouais and 166 others in the Laurentides region, which includes some northern suburbs of Montreal and ski destinations like Mont-Tremblant. This region is also home to the only active graphite mine in North America.
According to Mayor Cyr, the current system is too simple: obtaining a claim online costs around $77 and gives the buyer the exclusive right to exploit minerals from a specific piece of land for three years.
In Canada, mineral rights are separate from land ownership, and title can be purchased on public or private land. While exploration work is supposed to be done before claims can be renewed, Mme Cyr said that in reality, claim owners are often able to renew without doing anything.
Easy access to claims allows people who are not seriously interested in mining to obtain mining rights, many of whom do not actually have the experience or means to start a mining operation. But their actions still raise fears among residents who think they might have to live above an active mine.
Manon Cyr indicated that the UMQ is calling for an increase in the cost of claims and the requirement that people who make a claim demonstrate a certain expertise. Ironically, she said, people buying claims on their own land make it harder to protect the land, because only land without active claims can be declared off-limits to mining.
Since 2016, 27 communities have asked the Quebec government to declare certain parts of their territory “incompatible” with mining; 18 did so successfully. Mining is also prohibited within the “urban perimeter” of cities.
“What is difficult for certain municipalities to accept is that they must justify why they want this territory to be incompatible with mining,” Julie Reid Forget, who advises Quebec communities on matters, recently explained in an interview. mining development.
There is an imbalance in the law, which assumes that mining is the best way to use land, according to Mr.me Reid Forget, who earlier this year organized an information session for residents of Gatineau, Quebec’s fourth largest city.
Alain Poirier, of the Quebec Mineral Exploration Association, believes that much of the concern about mining claims in southern Quebec comes from a lack of knowledge. “The sector is not misunderstood, it is unknown, in fact,” according to him. Landowners, he says, must give written consent before mining work can begin on their property, even if they don’t own the mining rights. If a landowner does not want exploration on his territory, “there is no problem, it is the law and the law is respected”.
Only about 0.5% of claims are explored with machines, Poirier added, and only about one mine per year is opened in the province, a process that can take decades and requires consultation with the community. at several stages.
According to Alain Poirier, it would not be a good idea for the government to give more power to municipalities to regulate mining, a decision which, according to him, could create hundreds of different regulatory frameworks.
“We find that the current system of uniform regulation across Quebec works very well,” according to him. He adds that more than a third of Quebec territory is already prohibited from access due to the presence of national parks, wildlife reserves and other forms of protection.
The vast majority of mining claims and mineral exploration are still located in traditional mining regions, he recalled. In southern Quebec, competition for land does not come from the mining sector. “It’s farmland, it’s real estate development, it’s roads, it’s a bunch of different things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with mineral exploration. »