Ottawa’s ultimatum ends today | Caribou are under provincial jurisdiction, according to Legault

(Quebec) Caribou are under provincial jurisdiction, according to Premier François Legault, who believes that the issue of safeguarding this endangered species is “under control” by his government, but the argument has been undermined by constitutionalists.

Posted at 5:16 p.m.

Charles Lecavalier

Charles Lecavalier
The Press

“We, according to our lawyers, it is clearly, the caribou, a field of competence of the government of Quebec, not of the federal government”, launched Mr. Legault Wednesday during a press conference on the subject of energy development in Gaspé. .

Mr. Legault assures that his government wants to find the right balance between the nearly 5,000 woodland caribou still alive, and the forestry industry that could open up with the addition of protected areas. “Basically, we try to find a balance. Today, there are 5,000 caribou left, there are 35 left in the Gaspé, it is an endangered species. Now there are also jobs in the forestry sector that are at stake,” he said.

Mr. Legault denies doing anything to stop the decline of the emblematic species since he is in a showdown with Ottawa, which wants to preserve its habitat as quickly as possible. Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault issued an ultimatum to Quebec City last week that ends today, April 20. Without new measures, it will intervene by decree to protect the territory of the caribou.

However, the Legault government claims that the protection of this species is the exclusive responsibility of the Quebec government, but the argument is criticized by constitutional experts.


“It’s unbelievable. Caribou, in and of themselves, is not a skill. The protection of the environment, including that of endangered species, including caribou, is an area of ​​law shared between Ottawa and the province, and federal law even takes precedence in the event of conflict with that of a province,” notes constitutionalist Maxime St-Hilaire, professor at the Faculty of Law at Sherbrooke University.

He points out that “caribou may therefore fall under federal law, on species at risk for example” and notes that “the woodland caribou has been classified as a nationally threatened species under federal law since 2003.”

His colleague Benoît Pelletier, former minister and constitutional expert at the University of Ottawa, adds. “In this file, there was a collaborative effort by Ottawa with Quebec, and it did not bear fruit. Mr. Guilbault sees federal intervention as a measure of last resort, and despite everything, he still invites the Quebec government to take more care of the issue, on the threat to caribou,” he explains. .

He adds that it is difficult to claim that the Government of Canada has no jurisdiction over the safeguarding of the country’s natural heritage, when it is a signatory to international conventions on biological diversity, and operates parks nationals.

In his opinion, the Legault government has chosen a bad fight, and if he decides to challenge a hypothetical decree from Minister Guilbault, he is likely to break his teeth there.

no letter

Moreover, Forest Minister Pierre Dufour ultimately did not send a letter to federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to explain the actions that Quebec has taken and intends to take to help the caribou population recover. the beast.


The Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, Pierre Dufour

Last Wednesday, he had nevertheless undertaken to send a missive before the weekend. His cabinet explained to the Journal that the situation has changed. “The file has been evolving since last week,” explained Minister Dufour’s communications manager, Michel Vincent, in a written exchange.

He points out that she is now the Minister responsible for Canadian Relations. Sonia LeBel, who is now responsible “for the rest of things”. On the side of the cabinet of Mme LeBel, Florence Plourde affirms that “discussions” have taken place with the federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc and that “discussions are continuing both politically and administratively”.

Mr. Dufour found himself in the hot seat last week after criticizing an Innu community, which he held partly responsible for the fall in the caribou population following a hunt in which 50 animals were killed.

Fundamentally, however, the problem remains. The Legault government does not intend to put forward a concrete plan to preserve the endangered species, even if there are only 5,250 woodland caribou left in Quebec. Instead, he wants to wait for the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Woodland and Mountain Caribou, which has just begun its work.

Instead, Federal Minister Steven Guilbeault is asking him for quick action to protect caribou habitat, which has been abused by the forestry industry.

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