While the federal Minister of the Environment will be recommending an order under the Species at Risk Act to ensure the survival of woodland caribou, Quebec would once again be willing to negotiate with Ottawa. But who is responsible for the protection of endangered species? And why does this iconic species suddenly find itself at the heart of a good old federal-provincial dispute? Explanations.
Updated yesterday at 5:41 p.m.
What’s happening with woodland caribou?
Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault announced Thursday that he intends to submit to Cabinet a proposal for an order under the Species at Risk Act (THE P) to protect woodland caribou in Quebec. “I have to proceed. In the near future, I will introduce an order to protect the caribou. Mr. Guilbeault was reacting to remarks made the day before by Premier François Legault, who said that the protection of caribou was exclusively a provincial matter. “According to our lawyers, it is clearly, caribou, a field of jurisdiction of the government of Quebec, not of the federal government”, declared Mr. Legault. “This assertion is obviously wrong,” replied Mr. Guilbeault, who clarified that the environment is rather a shared responsibility.
Okay, another federal-provincial squabble. Who’s right this time around?
According to Anne-Sophie Doré, lawyer at the Quebec Center for Environmental Law (CQDE), “there is no longer any debate on this subject. [L’environnement], it is indeed a jurisdiction shared between the federal and provincial governments”. Mand Doré also points out that it is rather rare to see a federal law that defines the responsibilities of each level of government as well as the THE P. Even on the constitutional side, the debate no longer exists, argues the lawyer, who recalls that the Federal Court of Appeal confirmed Ottawa’s right to intervene in a province to protect an endangered species. Remember that the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear in 2020 the appeal of a proponent challenging federal intervention to save another species at risk. In 2016, he adopted an emergency decree to protect the chorus frog, threatened by a subdivision project in La Prairie.
Is the decree the only possible option?
If no concrete action is taken quickly, Ottawa will somehow be forced to act to protect the woodland caribou in Quebec. In a letter sent to Minister Steven Guilbeault on April 14, the Innu Council of Pessamit asks him “to recommend that the Governor in Council issue a protection order under section 61 of the Species at Risk Act by July 15, 2022”. “Failing to follow up on this request, we will take all necessary measures to force this action,” writes the vice-chairman of the council, Jérôme Bacon St-Onge. It should be noted that a similar process led by Nature Québec and the CQDE in 2015 led to a scathing judgment by the Federal Court against the former Minister of the Environment, Leona Aglukkaq, who had refused to recommend a decree emergency response for the chorus frog, another endangered species. The Court then gave the former Conservative minister six months to make such a recommendation. This was finally adopted by the newly elected government of Justin Trudeau in the fall of 2015.
What is Quebec waiting for to act?
The Quebec government has set up an independent commission on woodland and mountain caribou, and says it wants to wait for its recommendations before moving forward with a concrete plan. An operation that is described as “window dressing” by several groups and experts, especially since no biologist sits on this commission. François Legault says his government wants to find the right balance between the approximately 5,000 forest-dwelling caribou still alive and the forestry industry, which could suffer from the addition of new protected areas. “I completely agree with Mr. Legault, it takes a balance, said Thursday Steven Guilbeault. But right now there’s no balance, we’re not in balance [pour le caribou], and all scientists and experts agree on this. »
How is it going in the other provinces where caribou are threatened?
Mr. Guilbeault indicated Thursday that the federal government was working in particular in collaboration with the governments of Ontario and British Columbia, where caribou populations are also threatened. An agreement with Ontario would even be announced in the coming days. It seems that Quebec is the only province that does not work with Ottawa for caribou protection, according to Alain Branchaud, director general of the Society for Nature and Parks in Quebec. “What I am told is that Quebec is not cooperating. Steven Guilbeault’s office, however, indicated that a meeting between the federal and provincial deputy ministers had taken place on Wednesday, during which the Quebec government “undertook to return quickly in writing” to this file. In Quebec, it is confirmed that a meeting took place between senior officials on Wednesday. “It was agreed to review the situation next week to agree on the elements of a new agreement and a timetable for this agreement,” explains Florence Plourde, the press secretary for the Minister responsible for Canadian Relations, Sonia LeBel.
With the collaboration of Charles Lecavalier, The Press
- Number of woodland caribou still alive in Quebec
Source: Government of Quebec