Montreal

Environmentalists to spend weekend with CAQ in hopes of persuading government of 'urgency to act'

When Coalition Avenir Québec members gather this weekend for the first time since their party's majority victory, the focus will be on the issue considered by many to be the CAQ's biggest weakness.

'Will they go in a good direction for real, or will it just be marketing?' asks Québec Solidaire MNA

Environmental activist Dominic Champagne, seen here with Liberal MNA Marie Montpetit, is scheduled to speak Saturday at the CAQ's general council meeting. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Coalition Avenir Québec government isn't known for its environmental commitment.

The CAQ has been criticized for putting money toward suburban highways and a third link in Quebec City, while resisting calls for another Metro line in Montreal.

To the dismay of environmentalists, in its first budget, the CAQ used its sizeable surplus to put billions more into the province's roads rather than public transit.

More recently, Environment Minister Benoit Charette said a proposed natural gas plant in Saguenay has "merit" in terms of economic development, despite widespread concern about what the impact would be on the ecology of the region and its endangered beluga whales.

But when party members gather this weekend for the first time since their majority victory, the focus will be on the issue considered by many to be the CAQ's biggest weakness.

The two-day general council meeting, dubbed "Toward a Green Economy," will feature some of the province's most prominent environmentalists — and some of the CAQ's most vocal critics.

Dominic Champagne, a well-known Quebec writer and film and theatre director who launched a petition last fall calling for more robust climate policies, will be part of a panel on Saturday.

His petition, which has now garnered about 300,000 signatures, secured him a meeting with Charette and Premier François Legault.

But Champagne was disappointed with the budget, telling CBC "the politicians I met are not in line with what the science is telling us."

He became a card-carrying member of the CAQ, however, to ensure his voice was heard.

In a statement, Champagne said he will try this weekend to persuade the CAQ of the "urgency to act" on climate change.

Policy or politics?

Karel Mayrand, the executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation in Quebec, is on the panel with Champagne. Mayrand said he plans to take a more tempered approach, to "build trust, and kill some of the preconceived ideas we have about each other."

"Our goal, really, is to feed into the discussion by providing perspective that the economy and the environment don't go against each other," Mayrand said in an interview.

"Quebec needs to get at the forefront of this transition, and we hope to convince their members that this is the way to go."

Mayrand said it's the first time his organization has been invited to any ruling party's congress after a new government has taken power. That, at least, is a positive step, he said.

"It's a sign that they are listening."

Mayrand said he will be paying close attention to what Legault​​​​ says in his closing speech Sunday.

Sol Zanetti, a Québec Solidaire MNA, cautioned that the CAQ should be celebrated more for its policies than for its list of speakers.

"I understand those people want to have influence," he said. "The question is, will they go in a good direction for real, or will it just be marketing?"

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler is based in Montreal. He previously worked at The Canadian Press, Al Jazeera America and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Reach him by email at benjamin.shingler@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

With files from Cathy Senay

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