A Zombie EIA process in Quebec ?

The economic downturn which started in 2008 has now lasted for a number of years. To counter the effects of the recession, the recently elected Liberal government in Quebec has decided to take measures to cut so-called redundant spending and create jobs.

With the latter objective in mind, two major projects have recently received approval. The first is the McInnis Cement Plant in Port-Daniel, Gaspésie.

Plan of McInnis Cement Plant, Port-Daniel, Gaspésie

This project, partially funded by the government, will create about 400 permanent jobs [1] in a region with few job opportunities, but will also be a major source of greenhouse gas pollution. This cement plan was a priority for the previous government, and it seems to be a priority for the current government as well. In fact, the Couillard government has introduced Bill 37 to allow the project to be exempted from a review by the BAPE (Bureau d’Audiences Publique en Environnement), because of threats from the proponent to pull out if the project would have to go through this more extensive process [2]. It should be noted that the construction of the plant had already started before the introduction of Bill 37. How then can the BAPE influence the design of the project?  As you will see in this short news coverage (in French only) by Radio-Canada [3], there are a number of legal issues related to this project, but some of the environmental concerns were arguably “dissipated” through mediation between the proponent and environmental organizations. Is that enough considering the lack of transparency in the process?

The second major project is the Arnaud Mine in Sept-Îles, Quebec. This mine will extract apatite, a mineral used in the production of fertilizers and create about 330 permanent jobs [5]. The Couillard government has announced that the Arnaud mine project would go forward (with 10 additional conditions) on March 16, 2015, about one year after a review of the project by the BAPE [6]. In 2014, the BAPE had declared in a report that in its current form, the project was unacceptable, mainly because of risks of groundwater contamination, health, noise, and air quality issues, and a lack of social acceptability of the project (division within the community) [7]. From the information available, since the initial review of the project by the BAPE, the proponent has not submitted a revised version of the project.

Protest against the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-ÎlesProtest to support the Mine Arnaud project, Sept-Îles

These two examples show the little regard the government has towards the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process and the little impact EIA reports have on decisions. Are we going back to treating the EIA process as a hindrance to development?

“Je ne sacrifierai pas une seule job dans la forêt pour le caribou”
Phillipe Couillard, Quebec Prime Minister [8]

This quote from the Quebec prime minister demonstrates that the government puts a higher value on job creation and short-term growth than on sustainable development or any environmental concern. This philosophy has led the government to bypass its own legislation, as seen especially in the McInnis cement plant case, and to ignore recommendations by its independent panel of experts in the environmental field (BAPE). This behavior and discourse will likely decrease the confidence citizens have in the EIA process in general and lead to further pessimism towards governments [9].

Maybe it is time for governments to create a long-term plan for the future and to stop opposing economics and environment. We need to have a vision as a society to focus governmental policies. In the meantime, a number of actions should be undertaken to strengthen the EIA process. First, we need to give legislative power to the BAPE, so that they have means to implement their recommendations. Second, we should systematically consider the “no-project” alternative when evaluating projects.


Sources :

[1] Radio-Canada (2014). Port-Daniel aura sa cimenterie. Ici Radio-CanadaLast update: June 2nd, 2014. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2014/06/02/001-cimenterie-port-daniel-gouvernement-couillard.shtml

[2] Shields, Alexandre. (2015). La cimenterie de Port-Daniel échappera définitivement au BAPE. Le Devoir. Actualités sur l’environnement. 19 février 2015. http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/432213/la-cimenterie-de-port-daniel-echappera-definitivement-au-bape

[3] Biron, Martine. (2015). Cimenterie de Port-Daniel-Gascons : Québec veut éliminer toute entrave au projet. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: February 18, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/politique/2015/02/18/005-cimenterie-port-daniel-projet-loi-quebec-eviter-bape.shtml

[4] Corbeil, Michel (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Le Soleil. March 13. 2015. http://www.lapresse.ca/le-soleil/affaires/les-regions/201503/12/01-4851720-feu-vert-a-mine-arnaud.php

[5] (2011). Mine Arnaud: Un projet de diversification économique. http://www.minearnaud.com/fr/benefices/

[6] Radio-Canada (2015). Feu vert à Mine Arnaud. Ici Radio-Canada. Last update: March 16, 2015. http://ici.radio-canada.ca/regions/est-quebec/2015/03/16/002-mine-arnaud-annonce-sept-iles.shtml

[7] Québec Meilleure Mine (2014). Conclusion historique par le BAPE: Projet Mine Arnaud à Sept-Îles jugé “inacceptable”. Mining Watch Canada. Last update: http://www.miningwatch.ca/fr/news/conclusion-historique-par-le-bape-projet-mine-arnaud-sept-les-jug-inacceptable

[8] Côté, Charles (2014). Bras de fer en vue sur le caribou. La Presse. Last update: April 28, 2014. http://www.lapresse.ca/environnement/especes-en-danger/201404/28/01-4761476-bras-de-fer-en-vue-sur-le-caribou.php

[9] Morissette, Samuel. (2013). Les parlementaires de l’Assemblée nationale et le cynisme envers la politique: Entre la réalité politique et l’utopie démocratique. Fondation Jean-Charles-Bonenfant, Assemblée nationale du Québec. 42 pages. Retrieved at: http://www.fondationbonenfant.qc.ca/stages/documents/Essai_SamuelMorrissette.pdf

Images:

McInnis Cement Plant: http://argent.canoe.ca/nouvelles/les-desmarais-et-les-beaudoin-saffronteront-dans-le-ciment-17102013

Protest against the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2013/09/20130921-171034.html

Demonstration to support the Mine Arnaud Project: http://tvanouvelles.ca/lcn/infos/regional/estduquebec/archives/2014/03/20140314-202740.html

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