Quebec premier turfs environment minister less than 3 months into the job

At a hastily arranged news conference in Quebec City, François Legault said MarieChantal Chassé was having a "tough time" communicating with the public.

MarieChantal Chassé replaced by Deux-Montagnes MNA Benoit Charette

Quebec Premier François Legault (right) hastily convened a news conference late Tuesday afternoon in Quebec City to announce Benoit Charette was taking over as environment minister. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec Premier François Legault replaced his environment minister Tuesday, less than three months after having given her the job. 

At a hastily arranged news conference in Quebec City, Legault said MarieChantal Chassé was having a "tough time" communicating with the public.

They met Monday, he said, and agreed it would be better for her and the government if she gave up her cabinet portfolio. 

Benoit Charette, the MNA for Deux-Montagnes and a one-time Parti Québécois MNA who joined the Coalition Avenir Québec in 2011, will take over as environment minister. Chassé will continue to represent the Montreal South Shore riding of Châteauguay. 

The premier offered a blunt assessment of Chassé's brief performance Tuesday.  A former aerospace executive, Chassé was among the numerous political rookies who Legault named to his cabinet in October. 

"That's been a success. People are satisfied. The new ministers are doing along well," Legault said. "But it was harder for one minister in particular: MarieChantal Chassé."

Her initial exchanges with journalists were awkward; she was often unwilling to answer basic questions about government policies. Liberal Opposition Leader Pierre Arcand called her "something of a caricature" in an interview last year.

"She didn't seem as comfortable as other ministers I had met in that particular role," said Sidney Ribaux, head of the environmental lobby group Équiterre.

Chassé posted a statement on her Facebook page Tuesday evening, saying she "will continue to serve Quebec."

"I leave my position with my head up, proud of the work accomplished. And I intend to continue to take on important and difficult challenges as I have done my whole life," she said.

MarieChantal Chassé, a former aerospace executive, was known for her awkward exchanges with journalists. (Mathieu Potvin/Radio-Canada)

Balancing climate change with wealth creation

But even before she took up the position, the CAQ had attracted criticism from environmentalists for advocating policies that seemed at odds with efforts to combat climate change. 

During the election campaign, Legault's party promised to expand the road network in suburban Montreal and Quebec City, while remaining lukewarm on some proposals to build new public transit offerings, such as the proposed Pink Metro line. 

Charette, Chassé's replacement, was responsible for drawing up the CAQ transport plan.

"Benoit is the person to tackle the challenge at Environment," Legault said. "He knows transport, which will be a big part of our effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I'm thinking in particular about public transit."

However, Legault also stressed that it's still a government priority to reduce the wealth gap between Quebec and the richer provinces. One of Charette's tasks will be reconciling environmental concerns and wealth creation, the premier said.

The new environment minister takes over amid heightened concerns about climate change in Quebec and mounting public pressure for governments to do more to reduce emissions. 

More than 250,000 Quebecers signed a petition late last year pushing for more aggressive action on climate change. Moreover, Quebec's opposition parties have displayed a willingness to work together on environmental issues.

"We've seen in recent weeks and months that ... more and more Quebecers are concerned about the environment," Charette said. 

"I intend to take a collaborative approach and will meet with municipal leaders, the business world, experts and environmental groups."

Charette will attend his first cabinet meeting next week. The National Assembly returns from its holiday break Feb. 5.

About the Author

Jonathan Montpetit is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

With files from Rebecca Ugolini


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