Quebec’s “climate spring” is a cascading grassroot trend that the province’s “powers that be” ignore at their peril, argues Karine Péloffy, legal counsel for the Centre québécois du droit de l’environnement (CQDE), in a recent post for iPolitics.
Péloffy describes the situation as “an epic clash of world views”, pitting “a cabal of conservative forces and polluting industries” against a “citizen-based movement led by kids” that is taking a stand for our common future.
When 150,000 students across Quebec and more than 100,000 in downtown Montreal flooded the streets as part of the global #SchoolStrike, it was “just the latest of a recent, unprecedented mobilization in Quebec, initially sparked by the neglect of environmental issues in the 2018 provincial electoral campaign,” she writes. “In the span of a few months, 317 Quebec municipalities, representing almost 74% of the population of Quebec, have endorsed a Declaration of Climate Emergency; close to 268,000 individuals have signed a pact to individually and collectively minimize their footprint and pushing for the adoption of a climate law; and a class action on behalf of all Quebecers 35 and under has been filed against the federal government for inaction on the climate file. Thousands marched twice in the bitter cold of late 2018 to demand climate action.”
But the new provincial government in Quebec has yet to introduce a climate or environmental plan, Péloffy notes. And “across the river in Ottawa, federal environmental bills are held hostage in the Senate, and climate regulations and policies are being weakened and challenged in court.” She notes that Bill C-69, which would enable the new federal Impact Assessment Act and Canadian Energy Regulator Act, “is under heavy attack in the media and in the Senate from the oil and gas industry, whose many mouthpieces are spewing misinformation on complex legislation that reflects nearly three years of comprehensive consultation and compromise.”
While the bill “does require decisions on all projects to consider their impacts on our climate commitments, it goes nowhere near as far as what Quebec civil society demands for climate accountability,” Péloffy notes. “Still, the fossil fuel industry would like to remove the climate factor from the bill, along with other corrections and advances, many of which, such as open public participation and sustainability-based reports, have been the mainstay of environmental assessment in La Belle Province for decades.”
While “Bill C-69 has become a scapegoat for an industry in decline,” she adds, “the international investment market is already accounting for climate risk and will continue to do so, regardless of whether Canada includes consideration of climate impacts in its assessment law.” And that isn’t her only warning for elected officials at all levels.
“For the children’s sake, climate action has to be above partisan politics and no longer become victim to it,” she concludes. “The powers that be underestimated the opposition to the Energy East pipeline in Quebec. Recent mobilizations in the province demonstrate yet again that citizens have no intention of going away.”