The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government has admitted that it has not focused enough on the environment and climate change. This weekend, it aims to change that. CAQ party members are in Montreal to discuss the theme “the green economy.”
“We didn’t focus on the environment in our last campaign,” said Environment Minister Benoit Charette.
But it seems public pressure is forcing the government to act.
At the two-day general council being held Saturday and Sunday at Plaza Centre-Ville in downtown Montreal, CAQ party faithful are debating and will vote on 32 resolutions aimed at bettering the environment.
“These proposals are kind of a guide (for the government),” Charette explained.
“Today is a great opportunity to talk about something that we realized, after the election, is close to Quebecers’ hearts,” said Canadian Relations and Canadian Francophonie Minister Sonia LeBel.
Premier François Legault reiterated his desire to increase export of hydroelectricity.
“It’s a top priority for me to increase the GDP, so we will have a balance, but there are ways to put both together — the environment and the economy,” Legault said.
The resolutions propose various initiatives, like investing in electric vehicles and charging stations, reducing single-use plastics and committing to recycling glass.
“Is it the perfect, right thing to do? No. Is it a step in the right direction? We must say yes,” said Dominic Champagne, a well-known playwright, director and environmental activist, who admitted many of the resolutions are far too general and not robust enough to tackle climate change to the extent he would like to see.
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Champagne is now a card-carrying member of the CAQ. He’s hoping to win the ear of those in power.
“This week, the European community, they decided to ban plastic. Here, we’re going to promote some motion to help people to reduce the use of plastic,” Champagne said.
“This is why I’m here. I feel like these politicians need pressure from the people, they need pressure from the science.”
After heated debate Saturday afternoon, CAQ party delegates voted to charge a deposit on water bottles, but not on other plastic or wine bottles.
Even so, Champagne is aware that just because a resolution is adopted on the convention floor, doesn’t mean it will end up in a bill.
“We have to make the difference between the proposals over the weekend and future government action,” Charette said. “They will influence it, but we will have to, as the government, put these ideas into a concrete plan.”
Charette added that he is already working on a waste-management plan that he will present in the fall. He said this plan will include improving recycling programs and address single-use plastics.
“We see Quebecers are quite concerned about plastic, and even glass, so it will be an important part of our plan,” he said.
Concerning another environmental issue — investing in public transit — the government did appear to show a sudden open-mindedness to the idea of a Montreal Metro pink line, which it previously said it did not support.
“We recognize that we need to connect the east of Montreal to downtown,” said Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon.
The minister said the government is committed to investing in public transit that connects to the east of Montreal by the most efficient means possible.
“Whether it’s a pink line, whether it’s a purple line, whether it’s a REM, whether it’s a tram,” he said.
While the environment was supposed to take centre stage, it was almost upstaged by politics and reports of interpersonal conflicts between two top ministers: Justice Minister Sonia LeBel and Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette.
Both ministers denied the rumours, but the premier suggested the two former lawyers were at odds and that he forced them to make up.
“To be sure this morning, I have asked Sonia and Simon to kiss each other, in front of everybody, not on the mouth, but to kiss each other. And I can reassure you, we love each other,” said Legault.