The mining company Strateco considers it pointless and damaging to hold a BAPE on the controversial uranium industry. If the government does not stop the work of this commission, the company intends to claim compensation of at least $ 125 million from the State as reimbursement of investments it says it made in its project in Quebec.
The message from Strateco, which controls the most advanced uranium exploration project in Quebec, could not be more clear: the Liberal government needs to "immediately stop" the work of the Bureau d'audiences sur l’environnement (BAPE). The BAPE hearings have just started and will last for one year.
If Quebec refuses to comply, "we will take appropriate legal action," said Guy Hébert, president and CEO of Strateco, to Le Devoir on Wednesday. The mining company intends to force the State to reimburse the money injected by investors since 2006 in the Matoush project, located 275 km north of Chibougamau in Cree territory. "If the government does not want uranium mining, in addition to foregoing profits from $600 to $800 million, it will return our $125 million," Mr. Hébert stated.
For him, it is clear that the company will not survive until the end of the environmental evaluation launched by the previous government to study the uranium industry in Quebec, known as a “generic” BAPE. "We have already invested $125 million from many foreign sources, and it is certain that shareholders are extremely disappointed. They are asking us to account for it," said Guy Hébert.
On Tuesday, the mining company retained three consultant-lobbyists registered with the Quebec registry. Their mandate is "to obtain information about government intentions" regarding the BAPE that is underway. "The goal of this activity is to verify the possibility to amend certain aspects of the mandate granted to the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, namely its length," says the file at the Registry.
But for Guy Hébert, the "pointlessness" of the whole process of independent evaluation of political power is not in question. He recalled in particular that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in 2012 gave its approval to Strateco for the company to continue its underground exploration project in the area of the Otish Mountains.
According to him, several stakeholders, however, engaged in a campaign of "fear" about uranium in recent years. He cited as an example the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Gordon Edwards, who reiterated Tuesday night – during the BAPE’s pre-consultation on uranium - that uranium mining might contaminate the environment for future generations.
A recent report by the National Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) does however highlight "numerous risks, uncertainties and impacts" related to uranium mining. Much of this uncertainty stems from the fact that there is very little data to properly assess the potential effects of radioactive elements.
In this context of multiple uncertainties, stakeholders from the health sector, elected officials, environmental groups and indigenous communities have for years been demanding a BAPE on the development of the uranium industry. Because, aside from Strateco’s project, there are more than fifteen "uranium areas" that may be of interest to the mining industry in Quebec.
For the spokesman of the Coalition Québec meilleure mine, Ugo Lapointe, it is essential to initiate such an assessment. "In Quebec, there has been opposition to uranium mining in recent years. It is therefore quite legitimate to hold a Quebec-wide commission to decide if we should go ahead or not with uranium mines. If we decide to go ahead, we will reassure the market. And if you decide not to go ahead , we will send a clear message to the industry. "
According to Mr. Lapointe, Strateco engages in a "desperate measure" for the sole purpose of "recovering the money of its investors." "It's a smokescreen to try to satisfy shareholders before the annual meeting" to be held next Tuesday. The share price of the mining company was $0.06 on Wednesday at the close of the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The BAPE’s Communications Advisor, Louise Bourdage for her part, stressed that the Quebec government has never intervened to request that a BAPE commission’s work be stopped.
The office of the Minister of the Environment, David Heurtel, said Wednesday that the government will not comment "before the final report is filed” by the BAPE.
Strateco further requests the BAPE to remove the president of the Comission on the issues of the uranium industry, Louis- Gilles Francoeur, a former journalist at Le Devoir. A demand letter was sent to the BAPE. If nothing is done in response to this request, “proceedings will be filed at the Superior Court for the disqualification of Mr. Francoeur," said Guy Hébert.
"It is known that Mr. Francoeur has never preached in favor of the mining industry in general, nor in favor of nuclear power. We think he cannot be impartial," he added. Mr. Hebert also said that the demand letter is based on "articles" written by the former environmental journalist when he was working for Le Devoir . He did not provide a copy of the articles in question. According to a lawyer consulted by the Coalition Quebec meilleure mine, this strategy has no legal basis.