Companies collecting Quebec’s blue gold at low prices better watch out, Environment Minister Benoit Charette warns. He intends to introduce legislation in February that would introduce a “significant increase” in water rates and lift the veil on the amounts of water pumped by the private sector.
This is one of the three priorities that the elected CAQ has set itself for the next six months. It comes alongside the submission of the updated version of Quebec’s climate plan, expected in the spring, and the caribou conservation strategy, scheduled for June, he said in an interview with Le Devoir.
Last year, Benoit Charette presented Bill 42 to the National Assembly, “mainly aimed at ensuring the revision of the fees payable for water use”. The text of the law presented at the end of the parliamentary session, which did not specify the amount of the license fee, never had a chance to be adopted due to time constraints.
But the environment minister, who was reappointed this fall, is sticking to his position: the $3 million annually paid in royalties by companies drawing water from Quebec’s rivers and lakes is “insufficient,” to the point of “ridiculous.” “We are talking about several hundred billion liters of water that are withdrawn every year. I cannot put the proposed increase into perspective, but I can tell you that the current situation is nonsense, ”he emphasizes broadly.
Mr. Charette can’t wait to present his new bill. “Conversely, I would say it’s a good thing we didn’t pass the first law because we’re coming up with something much more substantial and substantial. […] This is something I would like to see presented somewhere in February, in the first few weeks of the parliamentary session,” says the elected representative of the Coalition avenir Québec.
He will also take the opportunity to try to unveil the confidentiality of the amounts of water withdrawn each year by bottlers operating in Quebec, such as Amaro, Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Last year, the Quebec court objected, arguing that the data was confidential in nature. “Quebecians are being briefed now,” he summarizes.
Mr Charette, who is newly in charge of wildlife and green space protection, also admits to taking “steps” behind the scenes during the last CAQ mandate to split up the Department of Forests, Wildlife and Parks from the Fire Service, he confides duty on.
This ministry was criticized by several environmental organizations for being too loyal to the foresters and was reorganized with the appointment of the cabinet last autumn. Wildlife and parks now belong to Minister Charette, while forests have fallen into the hands of Minister for Natural Resources Maïté Blanchette Vézina.
The decision to review the structure of government “will help achieve better consistency,” says Mr Charette, careful not to say deforestation will stop overnight. “Deforestation will continue and I support it in many cases because it is important for the vitality of our regions. Except that you have to do it intelligently,” he argues.
Member’s new title for Deux-Montagnes doesn’t fit in one line – Minister for the Environment, Combating Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks. His mandate will not be easy either. By June, he must come up with a strategy to protect herds of forest and mountain caribou, which are melting like snow in the sun and threatened with extinction.
Conversely, I would say that it’s good that we didn’t pass the first law, because we’re coming up with something much stronger and more substantial
The picture isn’t improving, according to an inventory of active caribou populations released Monday by Quebec. On the north coast, the so-called “outardes” population of woodland caribou has declined an average of 11% per year from 2018 to 2021. In Gaspésie, mountain caribou are fighting back: in 2021 there were a few dozen, but the prospects of extinction are dim. still and always real.
“The solution is seldom as simple as one might think,” says Mr. Charette. It’s not enough to say: We stop logging, the problem is solved. Because if it were only that, we would not consider the environments dependent on forestry. »
The CAQ minister agrees that the data released earlier this week is “not good news”. “The decline is certainly worrying, but we have a feeling that the decline is slowing down,” he says.
But he wants to make up for the delays in species protection that have accumulated in recent years. In December, he announced at the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (COP15) that 27 animal species would be included in Quebec’s list of threatened or endangered species. Others should follow.
“Probably in 2023, [notre comité consultatif] will provide us with a list of new species. We caught up last December, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be more updates,” explains Mr. Charette.
Apart from the fact that the law currently does not guarantee protection of the 37 classified species, the environmental organizations estimate. They are calling on the minister to reopen the Threatened or Endangered Species Act to strengthen it.
Mr Charette says he is open but cautious. “When it comes to changing the law, it often takes a year, if not more,” replies Mr. Charette. Passing the law is one thing, but passing the resulting regulations can take two or three years. I don’t want to lose two or three years. »
Benoit Charette, who is still captain of Quebec’s 2030 greenhouse gas reduction operation, hopes to provide an update on the green economy plan in April. Development of the government’s new environmental plan, which last year included only half of the actions needed to meet Quebec’s environmental goals, is going well, he says.
Does the next four years represent the “last chance mandate” as Québec solidaire said during the campaign? Mr. Charette does not answer directly. “The alarmist or strictly partisan discourse, the election is behind us, I urge people to put it aside,” he said.