On January 24, 2017, the Québec Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (“MENR”) unveiled new Policy Directions (available in French only) that it will implement in order to foster social acceptability for major projects in the province (the “Policy Directions”).
While these Policy Directions do not have legal value, they will likely have an impact on the actions of the MENR in connection with oil and gas, mining, power projects in Québec, as well as industrial projects involving provincial public lands.
The Policy Directions, which result from a review of current practices conducted by the MENR in 2014 and public consultations undertaken in February 2016, seek to achieve the following objectives:
- Increasing public awareness of the role and responsibilities of the MENR in connection with public land use development planning as well as mining and energy projects;
- Making more transparent and participatory the planning process for Public Land Use Plans;
- Ensuring that clear public participation mechanisms are in place at every stage of major projects;
- Promoting the sharing with local communities of benefits resulting from energy and mining projects, notably by promoting the development of training programs and the hiring of local workers and suppliers; and
- Strengthening the capacity of the MENR to analyze the impacts and economic benefits of projects while taking into account social acceptability considerations, notably through the creation of the Major Projects and Economic Impacts Analysis Office (Bureau de coordination des projets majeurs et d’analyse des impacts économiques). Among other things, this Office will be in charge of coordinating the Government’s actions in connection with major projects, as well as analysing the economic impacts of such projects.
The Policy Directions also indicate that the current legal framework could be modified to reinforce the site closure obligations applicable to energy projects. These amendments could potentially translate in a new requirement for promoters of energy projects to furnish a financial guarantee in order to cover site restoration obligations (as is currently the case for mining projects). The Policy Directions mention that such a guarantee could also be used to cover “unanticipated impacts” of energy projects. While the specifics of this proposal have yet to be confirmed by the Government, it is clear that these measures could potentially have a significant impact on the development and financing of energy projects in Québec.