QUÉBEC FIRST PROVINCE TO ADOPT WETLANDS CONSERVATION ACT
By Cori Marshall
This story is brought to you in part by Waterloo Biofilter Systems
On June 16, 2017, Québec's National Assembly unanimously assented to bill 132, an Act respecting the conservation of wetlands and bodies of water. The Bill was introduced by its sponsor, Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change, David Heurtel on April. The house quickly accepted the bill and it was sent to the Committee on Transportation and the Environment.
It was in the Special Consultations and Public Hearings that the voices of the stakeholders were heard. They came to make known what they wanted to see enshrined in the finished product. The Québec City Administration, with Mayor Régis Labeaume, was present.
Representatives from the "Capitale Nationale" highlighted the difficulties that cities and entrepreneurs face when their projects touch wetlands and bodies of water. Entrepreneurs are forced to deal with two levels of bureaucracy "the City and the Ministry, often going back and forth with delays and uncertainties," Labeaume said. He continued by saying "the protection of wetlands and water must be integrated into the strategic vision of the territory," rather than being compartmentalized.
To that end, Québec City was looking to "simplify the process by making the municipal level accountable," though the city administration was in complete accordance with the fundamental principles of the Act itself.
For their part, the Laval municipal administration believed "that the passage of the bill in its [original] form may have undesirable consequences," for the environments it is trying to protect. The representatives were trying to address the vagueness of some of the definitions contained in the Act. Virginie Dufour, Member of the Laval Executive Committee, said that they deserve "to be clarified in order to avoid making the application of the law unpredictable and causing legal uncertainty."
Dufour pointed to the definition of "no net loss of wetland and water,” as being problematic. Stating that it was unclear whether it was referring to "the total area of habitats, the area of each wetland and water type, or the amount of the ecological services rendered." How the objective was to be assessed was cause for confusion, it was not obvious if it would be assessed on a provincial basis, at the watershed, or the administrative region."
Despite these early concerns about the proposed legislation, the bill passed its second reading on May 31, by all members present in the assembly that day. It was returned to the committee and received its final reading and assent in mid-June. The question remains is this act truly progressive?
According to Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) Quebec Regional Manager, Bernard Filion, the answer would be a resounding yes.
Filion said that DUC is "happy to see this Act in Québec." It was necessary to adopt this legislation because "every time there was a development project there was a loss of wetlands." For Filion and DUC the “No Net Loss Principle” is extremely important.
Filion is realistic in the face of development, "it is not possible to keep all of the wetlands areas," the real promise of this legislation is in mitigation. The words that express the desire to protect wetlands and bodies of water are backed with financial consequences for developers and entrepreneurs whose projects harm these essential environments.
Fines are to push developers to take into consideration the conservation of wetlands. Filion explained entrepreneurs "must pay $200 thousand for every hectare [of wetland] that is destroyed." The amount doubles to $400 thousand in the regions of Montréal and Québec City.
Also encompassed in the no net loss objective is the concept of replacing what you destroy. The act also establishes a "restoration fund," Filion said. The funds will be present and available to undertake conservation projects.
The progressive nature of this Act is that it has been voted into law. Filion pointed to the fact wetlands conservation at the federal level and in "other provinces is just policy." Policy is simply a strategy or course of action, whereas Québec has adopted Bill 132 which modifies five different laws that are on the books.
For example, the federal government adopted a wetlands conservation policy in 1991. In Ontario, according to the Wetland Conservation page, the province "has laws, regulations and policies that guide land use, [and] many of these help protect wetlands." Neither example represents a law that directly addresses conservation, only good intentions.
Québec has taken a step forward in protecting its wetlands and bodies of water by adopting Bill 132. The fact that the province's partisan politics did not get in the way of this act is another positive take-away. The next step, as Filion said, municipalities and Regional County Municipalities (MRC) "have five years to develop regional [wetlands and bodies of water] plans," which have to be precise and indicate areas for conservation.