Over the course of its last mandate, the Quebec government made some progress on environmental issues. We now have a sustainable agriculture plan and a law to stop the exploration and production of fossil fuels, and we made it a point to applaud these improvements. But we also saw the government commit to building new highways, we saw suburban sprawl, and the weakening of environmental regulations and public participation mechanisms during its last mandate.
Unfortunately, the positive decisions do not compensate for the bad ones and they are not enough, given the current context. We need the government to make better decisions and to do better. For example, we need to stop using our scarce farmland for industrial and residential purposes. Whether in Beauharnois or Bécancour, these bad economic decisions have robbed Quebec agriculture of significant potential.
We need to focus on active, collective and shared transport instead of continuing to favour solo driving. We cannot destroy natural environments and systematically rely on financial compensation so that we can build highway extensions, like in Sainte-Julienne and Laval. We need to reduce energy demand instead of always trying to produce more to satisfy the appetites of increasingly energy-intensive industries, such as data centres.
No room for error
Our expectations for Minister Andrée Laforest are therefore high, with her critical role in defining and implementing a comprehensive land use planning policy. We are at a crossroads in terms of land use planning, and there is no room for error.
Many of the plans and strategies that had been promised in the government’s last mandate were not delivered and are eagerly awaited: the sustainable development strategy, the strategy on plastics and the expansion of the deposit refund system. The government does not have the luxury of dropping the ball on these issues.
Over the course of this next mandate, we want to see better decisions from the Quebec government with regards to energy and economic development. These decisions must consider the limits of resource availability, rather than simply replicating the model of overexploitation. The recent creation of a super minister for the economy, innovation and energy is therefore problematic. Environmental protections are already being undermined by industrial and infrastructure projects. The risk of destroying natural environments and the living species that call them home is now heightened.
Opportunities abound to do better
Like the majority of Quebecers, we want to see the government redouble its efforts and its ambition on environmental issues. Équiterre's expectations of the new government are all the greater in light of the upcoming opportunities, such COP27 on climate change in November, and COP15 on biodiversity in December, which will be taking place in Montreal.
At COP15, protecting the living world from biodiversity collapse of will be the focus of the conference. It will be an opportunity to demonstrate the Quebec government’s economic, industrial and land use planning orientations that seek halt and reverse the decline of wetlands, agricultural land, and fauna and flora. As for COP27, it is now high time to increase the ambition of Quebec’s GHG emissions reduction target set by the Couillard government in 2015.
The government will also have to focus on adaptation during its new mandate in order to better prepare Quebec for the challenges of climate change. The Quebec government's adaptation strategy expired in 2020. It had been drafted by the Charest government... in 2012. If there is anything to be learned from the pandemic, it is that by preparing Quebec for the challenges ahead, we will better protect our citizens and reduce the costs of the impacts of extreme weather events, all while avoiding having to react to catastrophe.
Over the next four years of this mandate, Équiterre will continue to take a critical but fair look at government actions. On our own, we will not be able to sufficiently pressure the government to get the ambition and solutions needed to collectively face our environmental challenges. We are calling on Quebecers to make their voices heard, to make our collective voice stronger.
We will make ourselves heard. We will mobilize. We will put forward new ideas. We will find solutions. We will imagine a more just and environmentally sound Quebec. Together, we will effect change.
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