The threat of a federal decree still hangs over the negotiations between Ottawa and Quebec to arrive at a plan to protect the woodland caribou.

Published on May 16, 2022

Source: Pierre Saint-Arnaud, La Presse Canadienne

While in Montérégie on Monday, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault suggested that negotiations are on the right track. “We had some differences with the Quebec government, but in recent weeks, the Quebec government has returned to the negotiating table to find an agreement.”

Steven Guilbeault reiterates that this is what he has wanted from the beginning.

Steps taken

However, he added, the sword of Damocles remains in place and time is running out.

“We will have to do this quickly because in parallel to a negotiation process, I have begun the steps that would lead me to ask the cabinet in Ottawa to issue an order in council.

“That’s not what I want to do,” he said, adding that “the order-in-council is plan B. Plan A is to get the government to do something. Plan A is to find an agreement with the Quebec government.

The decree in question would be issued under the provisions of the federal Species at Risk Act, which allows Ottawa to put measures in place to protect caribou habitat in Quebec.

Ottawa is asking Quebec for a plan to ensure the protection of the habitat, but has not found the proposals brought to the table by the Legault government sufficient to date.

Difficult balance

Since the beginning of this arm wrestling match with Ottawa, Prime Minister François Legault has repeated that his intention is to find a balance between the protection of caribou and forestry operations.

For Minister Guilbeault, however, it is not the continuation of forestry operations that will determine how the large cervid will be protected. “What is important is what the experts think, the scientists, whether they are from the Quebec government, university scientists, federal government scientists. And the scientific consensus right now is that what is being done in Quebec – I’m not saying nothing is being done – but what is being done is not enough.”

The caribou of contested jurisdiction

Premier Legault, for his part, has already argued on several occasions that this is a provincial jurisdiction. On the contrary, according to Steven Guilbeault, the issue of species at risk is a shared jurisdiction, as demonstrated by the adoption of a federal order protecting the habitat of the chorus frog in Longueuil last November.

Guilbeault maintains, however, that the federal government is prepared to provide financial support to Quebec, as it did to Alberta, to protect an increasingly precarious caribou population.

Logging is the main cause of this precariousness, particularly because of logging roads that encourage the movement of natural predators of caribou such as bears and wolves.