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CAQ wants all environmental powers and calls for ban on asbestos

LAVAL – A Coalition Avenir Québec government would try to obtain all the environmental powers and functions that the federal government now has in Quebec, party leader François Legault says.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be open to the idea because the environment “doesn’t seem to be his cup of tea,” Legault said, explaining that Harper’s government has shown a general disinterest in environmental regulation. Harper is also a big fan of efficiency, Legault added.

“It’s an opportunity for us. We’ll say there should be one wicket for environmental matters in Quebec.”

Although he told a press conference at a recycling plant that his party wants Quebec to obtain all federal powers and functions in environmental matters, an aide later clarified that Legault meant that a CAQ government would try to obtain all powers over environmental impact studies in the first mandate.

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The rest of the powers, such as the federal regulation of environmental standards in Quebec, would be a goal for a subsequent CAQ government, party spokesperson Guillaume Simard-Leduc said.

“Ideally we would like to get all the functions and powers” that Quebec does not already have, Simard-Leduc added. Currently environmental impact studies in some areas are done by Ottawa while Quebec does some of its own.

Simard-Leduc pointed to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which conducts tests and studies to determine the environmental impacts of proposed development projects, as an example of what Quebec would try to get out of, with compensation for the share of the agency’s budget paid for by Quebecers. The agency had an annual operating budget of $36 million and 240 employees as of last spring but the Tories said they plan to cut the budget by 40 per cent.

Legault also said Quebec should stop exporting asbestos and rescind the Quebec government’s $58 million loan, promised by the Liberal government of Jean Charest earlier this summer, to the Jeffrey Mine in the Eastern Townships.

Science has proven asbestos is dangerous to health, Legault said. The government has said the substance can be used safely.

“Exporting asbestos is morally and scientifically indefensible,” Legault said. “It does not conform to the moral values of Quebecers. We have to accept the death of an industry from an era that has passed. Asbestos is dangerous. I don’t see why we would export that danger to other countries.”

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The loan is expected to revive the industry in the town of Asbestos and create between 400 and 500 direct full-time jobs over 20 years and 1,000 positions indirectly related to the mine.

Legault said he would personally involve himself in trying to help Jeffrey Asbestos Mine adapt to another industry and to find other jobs for those affected. “It will be difficult for them,” Legault admitted.

The CAQ would also impose a moratorium on most shale gas exploration, although not on some pilot projects closely followed by Quebec’s Environment Department. Many of the ongoing projects are not properly monitored, he said. Legault added that there is no conflict with his party’s proposal to boost oil and natural gas exploration and drilling because those techniques are older, safer and more advanced.

The party plans to release its full platform on Sunday, Legault added. However, it will not contain the full explanations on how the party plans to finance its promises. That is because the CAQ would prefer to know the governing Liberal party’s financial framework before it releases its own, he said.

“We based our figures on the government’s last projections in the last budget (in the spring), with revenues and expenses over five years,” Legault said. “We calculated our budget cuts with the expenses along with our promises, such as our tax cuts and investments in schools and I can tell you, it balances. We would have a zero deficit as soon as next year.”

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But Legault said he does not know if the provincial government’s real expenditures for the last five months have altered the spring projections and that is why he would prefer the Liberals release their financial platform before the CAQ does, so he could adjust it if necessary.

However if the Liberals do not release their full budgeted platform soon, the CAQ will definitely do so before the party leaders televised debates, which start on Aug. 19.