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Calling out Quebec's hypocrisy in Wakefield

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Members of the Wakefield community marched this weekend in a street parade calling on the government of Quebec to apply the principles of sustainability it adopted in the Quebec Sustainability Act of 2005.

As mentioned in previous blogs, The Council of Canadians has been working with SOS Wakefield to ensure that a provincial environmental assessment is conducted on the highway expansion and its impacts on the aquifer and spring before any construction proceeds. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow, staff and chapter activists were recently in Wakefield at a packed fundraiser for SOS Wakefield at the Black Sheep Inn. More on that at http://www.canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=6502.

The following is part of a speech I delivered on behalf of the Council of Canadians at the march.

In theory, Quebec established principles of sustainable development in 2006. Five years later, these remain theoretical ideas while the Quebec government plows ahead with large-scale industrial projects with short-term economic benefits which trump the environment and communities that depend on it. The highway expansion in Wakefield is but one of many examples.

It has become clear that unless the government establishes a hierarchy that ensures the primacy of environmental protection, health and quality of life, the precautionary principle and social equity, these principles are meaningless. The pursuit of economic efficiency, also a principle of sustainable development according to the Quebec government, will always dominate.

Furthermore, mechanisms need to be established to ensure access to information and the participation of communities in making decisions about development projects that impact the local environment. Such mechanisms along with programs for environmental monitoring and protection need funding.

In addition, the Quebec government must update its sustainable development in light of the impacts of climate change and the global water crisis. The Quebec government continues to build an economy based on the false assumption that it has unlimited supplies of water. Montreal-based Eau Secours has pointed out for example that Quebec has failed to monitor and regulate the contamination of waterways through large-scale agricultural projects.

In July 2010 the UN General Assembly voted to recognize water and sanitation as a human right. The Quebec and Canadian governments need to follow suit. It is wonderful to have principles, but communities need to tools to fight back when governments decide to violate these principles.

Finally the principles make no reference to indigenous rights. 11 mining projects are currently under way under Quebec's multi-billion dollar Plan Nord despite massive opposition from indigenous communities who have not been consulted about the developments that will permanently alter the landscape and impact waterways on their land. The Quebec government is in violation of First Nations Treaty rights and must include a respect for treaty rights and indigenous sovereignty as criteria for any development project.

The community of Wakefield is among many communities around the world that are fighting to protect their local water supplies. Your resolve is heroic and the Council of Canadians is proud to extend our solidarity to your campaign.

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