Quebec dosn’t want any invovement from Ottawa when they asses future pipeline, mine, dam, power line or port projects on its territory. This is what letters sent by the Couillard government to the federal Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency reveal.
“When the federal and Quebec governments establish that they both have a responsibility for a project, we are of the opinion that the application of the Quebec procedure should be systematically favored,” writes the Minister. Quebec Environment Minister Isabelle Melançon, in one of the two letters obtained by Radio-Canada.
Quebec has several concerns about the Trudeau government’s Bill C-69, introduced last month, which must reform the way in which environmental risks are assessed.
Quebec’s request is surprising because, under their agreements, the federal and provincial governments have agreed for several years to work together on the same evaluation, based on the “one project, one evaluation” principle.
But Ottawa has repeatedly evaluated projects on its own, without Quebec being able to exercise its jurisdiction. This created conflicts even in the courts, as in the case of the Energy East pipeline or the expansion of the Port of Quebec.
In both letters, Quebec refers to its concern regarding the expansion of the Port of Montreal to Contrecoeur, a $ 750 million project . The federal assessment is already underway, but the province is asking for it to be done instead.
Our government wants it to be explicitly established that, when the federal and Quebec governments establish that they both have a responsibility for a project, the application of the Quebec procedure is systematically favored. It is in this context that we conceive that major projects, such as the construction of a port terminal at Contrecoeur by the Montreal Port Authority, should be evaluated.
Extract from the letter from the Deputy Minister of the Environment, Patrick Beauchesne, addressed to the President of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The Trudeau government’s Bill C-69 plans to reform the way environmental assessments are conducted to transform them into impact assessments.
The Trudeau government, for example, wants to take into account the “public interest” of a project, beyond its negative effects on the environment, and the possibility of creating jobs “for the middle class”.
Aboriginal people among irritants for Quebec
The deputy minister in Quebec expresses at length in his letter a piece of the bill that bothers him: the importance of aboriginal people.
Project C-69 provides for Aboriginal communities to conduct environmental assessments in place of the government. “We do not see how such an initiative could be put in place,” writes Patrick Beauchesne, who doubts “its applicability”.
In addition, the Quebec Ministry of the Environment does not seem to be digesting the Trudeau government’s desire to make respect for Aboriginal traditional knowledge mandatory in the evaluation of projects.
The intention of the federal government to systematically consider Aboriginal knowledge, along with science and evidence, could be problematic in cases where Indigenous knowledge and science conflict.
Excerpt from the letter from the Deputy Minister of the Environment, Patrick Beauchesne
“There is a lot of richness in indigenous knowledge, but you have to take and leave it,” says a source who is well versed in these issues. Indigenous knowledge, sometimes it’s interesting, but sometimes it does not make sense.”
In the case of mine or dam projects near remote communities, Aboriginal knowledge may be the only available information, for example on animal movements.
“I do not think that the consideration of indigenous knowledge is a threat,” says the director general of the Quebec Center for Environmental Law (CQDE), Karine Peloffy, to whom we have read the letters. I think that it is rather the political will that sometimes comes into conflict with science. ”
Provinces will not be able to evaluate pipeline projects
The CQDE has identified another element of the bill that could upset a province like Quebec. Clause 39 states that Ottawa will exclusively reserve the assessment and decision regarding pipeline and nuclear projects. The future legislation would also make it impossible for a province to evaluate offshore petroleum projects and make a decision on them.
“It’s odious, that collaboration is impossible,” says Karine Peloffy, Executive Director. It’s Stephen Harper with new clothes. ”
It only keeps up the problems we faced during the Harper era, particularly the Energy East project.
Karine Peloffy, Executive Director of the Quebec Center for Environmental Law
According to Karine Peloffy, the fact that Quebec wants to defend its competence in the environment is “positive and legitimate”, but it is just as “worrying” that Quebec also wants to act alone.
“Best practice is cooperation,” she says. “The environment is more protected when all levels of government exercise their competence in collaboration. Some expertise is more present in one level of government and vice versa.”