Southwest Quebec Mining Exploration Boom Worries Communities

Southwest Quebec Mining Exploration Boom Worries Communities

In 18 months, the number of mining claims — those exploration titles that a company buys to explore part of the territory — has more than doubled. Southwestern Quebec now has 15,413, 56% of which have been acquired since January 2021, according to the For Quebec to look better coalition. A 4.9 times faster increase than elsewhere in the province.

I might have expected an increase, but not of this magnitude […] These are recreational tourism environments with sensitive natural environments and that worries us a lot, says his co-spokesman Ugo Lapointe.

Increase in the number of mining claims in the 18th century Month

Moritz: 49%

Laurentians: 71%

Outaouais: 211%

Lanaudiere: 408%

Map with the mining potentials.Enlarge picture (New window)

Claims are on the rise.

Photo: Jean Daoust/Government of Quebec

This is something that affects every citizen and [ils] are not aware of this. They have no information that there may be several kilometers of damage behind their houses, adds Louis Saint-Hilaire, who campaigns for the Regroupement de Protection des Lacs de la Petite Nation, the organization that created the new maps view government data.

“We’re getting into the minerals of the future, but with laws that go back 150 years! »

— A quote by Louis Saint-Hilaire from the Regroupement de protection des lacs de la Petite Nation

Southwest Quebec Mining Exploration Boom Worries Communities

François Legault’s government dreams of making Quebec a leading player in the electrification of transport. The province is full of strategic minerals, especially for battery design. But that race comes at a price, and concern is growing in southwest Quebec, where mining exploration titles have more than doubled in 18 months. Report by Jean-Sebastien Cloutier.

A graphite mine not far from Mont Tremblant Park

The maps produced by the organization show that a huge sector on the eastern boundary of the Parc national du Mont-Tremblant is now entirely covered by claims.

In this area, in Saint-Michel-des-Saints, is the most advanced mining project: the future graphite mine of the company Nouveau Monde Graphite.

The project has received the go-ahead from Quebec and the mine pit has begun excavation.

The ground has been excavated for a good length.

The Nouveau Monde Graphite mine on the edge of Mont-Tremblant National Park

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-Sebastien Cloutier

Graphite is an essential ingredient in the manufacture of vehicle batteries, and the company hopes to find a major customer that will start operations in 2025.

It is Quebec pride to say: we have resources, then we develop them responsibly, argues Julie Paquet, Vice President of Communications at Nouveau Monde Graphite.

I understand that there is a “not in my backyard” approach in a way. In our case, we were able to control all impacts within a kilometer of the mining area, she says.

The Company’s project began with a mining claim. A priori it is not extremely invasive. At first it is a geologist with his shovel who comes to the construction site and sees how it looks. One thing leads to another, if the tests are conclusive, we’ll dig a ditch, we’ll go a little further, we’ll drill a little…

She is in a pit and wears a blue hard hat on her head.

Julie Paquet, Vice President of Communications at Nouveau Monde Graphite

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-Sebastien Cloutier

Affected municipalities

Nouveau Monde Graphite, whose project is being carried out on public land, has not expropriated anyone. Except that the company had to come to an agreement with neighboring owners to buy 25 plots of land and 9 houses from them.

There is nothing to indicate that there will be no expropriations in other cases. In Québec, landowners do not own the subsoil, and filing suits can lead to expropriations if the authorities give a green light to a project. More and more municipalities are concerned about this.

The mining law is above all other laws! The subsurface is not part of our zoning planning powers. This means that we have no control, we have no information, regrets Isabelle Perreault, mayor of Saint-Alphonse-de-Rodriguez and prefect of the MRC de la Matawini.

“We’re not against mining in principle, but the problem is that it should be done outside of recreational areas and protect the lakes. »

— A quote from Marc L’Heureux, Mayor of the commune of Brébeuf and Prefect of the MRC des Laurentides

Rocks containing graphite.

Rocks containing graphite.

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-Sebastien Cloutier

Several MRCs, such as the Laurentians, have been negotiating with Quebec for more than a year to exclude certain sectors of their territory from possible mining activities, particularly the edges of the lakes. But they still don’t understand each other.

They have different orientations, says Marc L’Heureux. We have submitted disclaimers but it is too big for what we asked for.

Quebec and the industry want to calm down

In the office of Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonatan Julien, they counter that the existence of an exploration project does not mean that a mine has been opened. It is very rare for projects to go through all phases as Quebec has a strict legal framework built on the principles of sustainable development, writes the minister’s spokeswoman, Emmanuelle Ducharme.

Indeed, according to Valérie Fillion, executive director of the Quebec Mineral Exploration Association, the impact of the existence of numerous claims in southwestern Quebec must be put into perspective.

“There is no space in this region to expand that much because there are so many restrictions everywhere that it’s really a problem. »

— A quote from Valerie Fillion, Executive Director of the Quebec Mineral Exploration Association

A sign against mountain exploration in Namur, at the crossroads

The resistance to mining also has its sympathizers in Namur, in the Outaouais

Photo: Radio Canada / Jean-Sebastien Cloutier

A moratorium requested

Still, with a few weeks to go before Quebec’s elections, many elected community officials, activists and residents are hoping that the issue will be discussed on the campaign trail.

Twenty communities in the Outaouais have even put up large signs on their territory to make it clear that they do not wish to harbor mines. Mayors are also meeting Wednesday to call for a moratorium on the claims.

It would be important to impose a moratorium now, to take the time to assess the situation, to change the beacons to ensure tourist areas are protected, says Ugo Lapointe of the For Quebec to look better coalition.

If we wait, we won’t see what’s under our feet in Quebec, we’ll end up importing the raw material, replies Valérie Fillion.

In the midst of the global economic race to electrify transport, Quebec must therefore solve a dilemma.