Young climate activists say Quebec needs to be more ambitious with green plan

CBC Montreal's Daybreak spoke with two young activists who were among the hundreds of thousands of people marching for action on climate change about what they thought of Quebec's plan.

They want Legault to be a climate leader, not put the economy first

Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through downtown Montreal last year to show world leaders that young people are demanding action on climate change. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

When Quebec Premier François Legault laid out his plan on Monday to reduce carbon emissions and phase out combustion motor vehicles, he noted there was "social pressure" to act.

He was likely referring to the hundreds of thousands of young people who marched through Montreal last year — demanding that world leaders take the climate crisis seriously.

CBC Montreal's Daybreak spoke with two young activists who were at the march last year — Cédric Gray-Lehoux, a spokesperson for the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Youth Network and John Nathaniel Gertler, a Dawson College student and organizer with the Coalition étudiante pour un virage environnemental et social — about what they thought of Quebec's plan.

On the transition to electric vehicles

Gray-Lehoux said Quebec's plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 is "a good start, and that's something important to recognize."

"But at the same time, is that the only thing we could have targeted? Industry is one of the biggest polluters and we know that we have to give it the stick, maybe, if social pressure hasn't been working."

Most of the government's commitment to spend $6.7 billion over five years will fund the transition to the use of public and private electric vehicles. But Gertler pointed out that this plan alone will not make Quebec reach its emission reduction targets.

"We should be looking to be leaders," Gertler said, rather than comparing Quebec's plan to what other provinces and countries are doing.

On reaching emission reduction target

While the plan sets the goal of Quebec's greenhouse gas emissions reaching 37.5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030 — Gertler says that goal should be more ambitious and the plan should come with more details about how to reach it.

He said a policy that highlights electric vehicles and energy-efficient buildings is "yet again treating climate change as a matter of opinion and not a matter of science."

He said there's an inconsistency in how the government is treating the climate crisis and how it has reacted to the pandemic.

"This is a government that for months now stressed to us it's important that we listen to the science when it comes to COVID, in particular for the younger generation to not have parties to protect the older generation that is more vulnerable," Gertler said.

John Nathaniel Gertler, 20, says there are answers to the climate crisis — but the Legault government has failed to listen to them. (Submitted by John Nathaniel Gertler)

"When it comes to the climate crisis, where the younger generation is much more at risk, suddenly we don't listen to the science, we throw science out the window."

The province says the gap in emission reductions would be made up by advancements in technology and federal programs.

Gray-Lehoux said legislation that included penalties for corporations that destroy the environment would have made the plan stronger.

"We have the stats, we have the science, we can do more," he said.

WATCH | Gray-Lehoux stressed the importance of listening to elders at the climate march:

On the proposed GNL-Québec project

"I think we've gone past that step of creating pipelines," said Gray-Lehoux of the GNL-Québec project that would process and export natural gas from Alberta.

"The argument that we're going to reduce greenhouse gasses in other areas, I don't believe that. Even if you look at it from an economic standpoint, it's not worth it."

Gertler said the Legault government's support for the project, which would construct a 782-kilometre pipeline linking northern Ontario to a new plant in Saguenay, is a "the biggest slap in the face," noting that dozens of student associations across the province have come out against GNL-Québec.

"Clearly there's no social acceptability for this project yet Legault keeps going ahead with it because he has this view that he puts the economy over the environment."

On what they want from government

"Social pressure is one of the ways [to reduce emissions] but it can't be the only way," said Gray-Lehoux, noting that tougher laws, not just incentives, are needed to get corporations and Quebecers to reduce carbon emissions.

"It sounds like a political thing to protect the party, to protect their re-election," he said of the plan. "It's not enough."

"It shouldn't be the youth's burden. We need people in positions of power to act," said Gertler.

"And the answers are there," he said, pointing to the roadmap created by the Front commun pour la transition énergétique for a carbon-neutral future.

"It talks about education, the important role of the knowledge of Indigenous peoples, agriculture, waste, all these things that Legault didn't touch on in his plan," he said.

Listen to the full segment below:

The Quebec government’s plan for a greener economy is getting some mixed reviews. We checked in with two young Montrealers who were involved in the 2019 Climate March about what they think, and if Legault's plan goes far enough. 15:01

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak


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