It was very possibly the first time that three ex-Quebec environment ministers were assembled at one table for an open discussion.
The historic meeting, involving former Liberal environment ministers Victor Goldbloom (1973-1976) and Tom Mulcair (2003-2006) and former PQ environment minister André Boisclair (2001-2001), was the centerpiece for environment lobby group Nature Québec’s annual general assembly on Dec. 4 at Université du Québec à Montréal.
Goldbloom’s presence was especially appropriate, since he was the first Quebec cabinet minister to hold the environment portfolio. First elected in 1966, it was largely on Goldbloom’s recommendation to Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa that the environment ministry (which was initially attached to the municipal affairs dossier) was first created.
According to Goldbloom, a little known fact about the first piece of legislation enshrining the environment ministry and the first environmental regulations is that it was drafted by former Liberal Premier Jean Lesage who had only recently stepped down after leading Quebec’s Quiet Revolution during the previous decade. Goldbloom recounted how he wanted to write into the legislation that the environment ministry would be responsible for waste management.
James Bay project
“Mr. Lesage said, ‘You don’t manage waste, you get rid of it,’” said Goldbloom. “But I said, ‘Mr. Lesage, with all due respect, this is exactly what needs to be done, manage waste.’ And for once I won. I didn’t always win.” A year after becoming responsible for the environment, Goldbloom had a major responsibility served to him, when Bourassa announced the James Bay hydro-electric development project.
Goldbloom said that although Bourassa was aware of the importance of protecting the environment during such a massive undertaking in the wilderness of Quebec’s far north, the Premier didn’t seem to be aware that Goldbloom would come under fire as the Liberal environment minister. Although the nascent environment ministry’s budget was tight in those days, Goldbloom managed to get enough funding together to compile the equivalent of an environmental impact study, with recommendations for protecting the environment around James Bay.
While Boisclair’s time as environment minister isn’t remembered for especially outstanding actions, he did put in place a moratorium on pork production, at great cost to his credibility among many rural constituents. “I suffered politically from that,” he acknowledged. He said an environment minister will sometimes not take action even when he personally feels he ought to, and that environment ministers from one party will often continue the work started by ministers from rival parties when they judge it worthwhile.
Mulcair, who left provincial politics three years ago after disagreeing openly with Premier Jean Charest over a sustainable redevelopment plan at Mount Orford Provincial Park, admitted that environmental activists played a key role in making him all the more determined to see that “the law was respected in the case of Mount Orford. It is a question of respect and rigorous application of the laws. We live in a society founded on law.”
“isn’t so much that we need laws or regulations, we already have many. The problem is they’re not applied.” Regarding the preservation of wetlands on the island of Laval during the time Mulcair was the Liberal MNA for Chomedey, he said he was involved for years in a very public conflict with the city’s mayor, Gilles Vaillancourt, “and I learned which of the two of us had the most influence at a certain level.”