A democratic breakdown

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There may not be social acceptability for the exploitation of natural gas in Quebec.

What we can be sure of, is the Government of Quebec did not meet its own standards for social acceptability by imposing a moratorium on any meaningful natural gas development in Quebec.  To be sure they have left a window open for possible new discoveries, but only if it’s in some types of rock rather than others.

The arbitrariness and capriciousness of the regulation is exposed on this point alone.  The beginning of the process by the former Liberal Government was a four-year process to complete 134 independent studies in Quebec.  No link was found between fracking and drinking water because there isn’t any.  Moreover, there was no hint in the studies that the type of rock was of any interest or made any difference to anyone other than geologists.  

What is most egregious is that the proposal is originally the idea of Martine Ouellette who was the former Party Quebecois, Minister of Resources.  She crafted a law that did its best to gerrymander a moratorium covering where there was a discovery but not where there wasn’t.  In this way, the PQ Government could be seen to be moving forward on something in general without the risk of it being anything in particular.  The current Government flatters Ms. Ouellette by imitation and is perhaps interested in seducing her anti-economy voters as well.

Ms. Ouellette is well known as an environmental protester and activist. The current Government shines a light on her lesser-known democratic credentials.  Former Minister Ouellette, respected the law and democracy in general, by exposing her law to the will of the National Assembly and ultimately the people through a full public consultation.  After all, billions of dollars are at stake for the people of Quebec, and there should be democratic and social acceptance of the decision.

The current Government under its former Minister Arcand, at first meticulously and painstakingly, respected the democratic process.  Building on the four-year environmental review and BAPE consultation, Minister Arcand moved forward cautiously, step by step.

First a lengthy public consultation, on a new energy policy.  This was only adopted once all stakeholders had their say including at a special session on hydrocarbons.  The policy is designed to promote transition and end Quebec’s hydrocarbon import problem. Local natural gas was part of the solution and part of the policy.

Second, a new Green Book was published outlining the process that Government expected companies to follow, to achieve social acceptability.  This also was subjected to public input and consultation.

Third, a new law was drafted subject to both the requisite public consultation and the full democratic process of the National Assembly.   The law put in place the legal framework for local development of oil and gas.  It was passed by both the Liberal Party and the Coalition Avenir Quebec in a large majority.

One can see why from beginning to end it has taken seven years.  We are far from done yet since the process of the Green Book for social acceptability has barely started.

Now on a whim, seven years of a democratic and public process was changed behind closed doors.  A surprise moratorium was announced, contrary to both the Government Energy Policy and contrary to the purpose and the very spirit of the Hydrocarbon Law duly passed by the National Assembly.  The announcement was even made in the middle of trading hours showing the place where private investment is held in Government political priorities. No one would have predicted that this long and rigorous process initiated under Minister Arcand’s leadership would have ended up in such a pure electoral expedient.  

A poll just published by Ipsos shows that public opinion has changed a lot in the last seven years.  The step by step process has made a difference.  Though to be fair, the last seven years of a booming economy in the United States with falling greenhouse gases and no water problems has not been lost on the Quebec public either.

According to Ipsos, Quebecers are currently 60% in favor of natural gas development with only 22% opposed.  This number increases to 66% with only 18% against, if the next generation of biodegradable frac chemicals, zero production emissions, and 100% recycled water are applied to natural gas exploitation.  We are confident as Quebecers understand the new generation of clean gas that these numbers will improve more.

Surely 66% of Quebecers at least deserve a say through their National Assembly and public consultation.  Surely, any Quebec town where a majority of their citizens wants to share in 3% of the profits and to have Canada’s highest paying jobs, should have a right to move forward. 

Should the desire for just a few of Martin Ouellette’s anti-development voters justify overriding democratic principles, ignoring the science and ignoring the silent majority of Quebecers?  Is this social acceptability? 

Even Ms. Ouellette did not go so far.