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Quebec recovery Bill 61 draws fire from environmentalists

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 6/12/2020 2:05:00 PM

The Quebec government now says it will propose significant amendments to its own Bill 61 aimed at priming the economic pump by speeding major infrastructure projects. Bill 61 was sent to committee immediately after its June 3, 2020 introduction in the National Assembly, and has endured withering criticism there.

Opponents have raised two principal concerns: there will be less scrutiny of construction contracts and more discretion to government, reviving the spectre of rampant corruption in the construction industry that was revealed so painfully to Quebecers during the Charbonneau Commission; and the fast-tracking of environmental approvals and the relaxation of some environmental controls will place the environment at risk.

The government has apparently yielded. Treasury Board President Christian Dubé told the committee that Bill 61 would undergo a rewrite to address several of the concerns about government overreach. And Premier François Legault took the unusual step of turning to his Facebook account the morning of June 12, 2020 to urge Quebecers to pressure their MNAs (Members of the National Assembly) to support the Bill, promising amendments that would tighten environmental controls.

Bill 61, as introduced, includes a list of public infrastructure projects that may benefit from certain accelerated approval procedures, which include the replacement of legislated provisions of the Environment Quality Act with new provisions to be set by regulation.

There are a few exceptions. Environment Quality Act provisions remain in place for projects that may have permanent adverse effects on wetlands and bodies of water, and any construction on a former residual materials elimination site.

At a June 5, 2020 news conference, Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change Benoit Charette stressed that Bill 61 was intended to accelerate needed public infrastructure projects where municipalities are most often the proponents. No environmental standards will be weakened, he said. The main change will be a streamlining of an approval process that he characterized as unnecessarily cumbersome.

“We are not talking about building a nuclear plant. We are talking about building schools, building hospitals,” Charette said.

The governing CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec) party has even gone so far as to create a website, pl61.ca, to refute what it labels as “fictions” about Bill 61.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, June 12, 2020, and Legault has said he’s prepared to extend the sitting if that’s what it takes to gain all-party support.

“I won’t adopt the Bill 61 unless we have an approval from the three parties,” Legault told reporters on June 9, 2020.

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