The famous chorus of a small frog, no more than 2.5 centimetres long, has proven to be loud enough to block the construction of 171 homes.
Thanks to an emergency order approved by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, the federal government is taking an unprecedented step of blocking part of a major Quebec housing development project in order to protect the threatened species - the western chorus frog.
Environment and Climate Change Canada officials made the announcement Wednesday, saying their decision was based on recommendations of scientists and designed to protect the habitat of western chorus frogs - in danger because of the residential development in La Prairie, Que., on the south shore of Montreal.
Federal officials said that the order would prevent a real estate developer from proceeding with about 171 units out of a residential project that was initially supposed to include about 1,200 units. But they said that other parts of the development would proceed, including the municipality's plans to build a new arena and school.
"Canadians expect us to do two things at the same time - that we create a more prosperous economy for all and that we protect the environment" Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters, when asked about the order on Wednesday at a news conference. "This is something that governments in the past have not always been able to do at the same time, but it's something that Canadians expect us to do. We will do this... We will protect the environment, the ecosystems and we will find ways to create jobs and prosperity."
Scientists believe that the western chorus frog is disappearing because of threats such as urban sprawl, pesticides, intensive agricultural development and climate change, according to a federal recovery strategy posted in 2014.
As its name suggests, the species is known for its distinctive chorus that can be heard up to a kilometre away during mating season.
The emergency order follows a long legal battle, spearheaded by environmentalists, including the Quebec Environmental Law Centre and Nature Québec, against the previous Harper government. At the time, documents released in court indicated that senior officials in the former Conservative government had altered written warnings raised by scientists about the imminent threat to the species in order to justify their efforts to allow the full residential development to proceed.
Lawyers from the centre praised the decision as "courageous" noting that it was the first time the federal government has used its powers to protect a species on privately-owned land. It also sends a signal that the federal government is prepared to use its powers under the Species at Risk Act to protect threatened species whenever the other levels of government fail to live up to their responsibilities, said the centre's director Karine Péloffy.
But Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel wasn't pleased, accusing the Trudeau government of interfering with Quebec's jurisdiction.
"It's a unilateral approach, an approach that runs counter to the type of collaborative federalism that we had hoped for and that we had seen ever since the arrival of the new (Trudeau) government," Heurtel said, following a provincial cabinet meeting, Le Journal de Montréal reported. "With today's decision, which is a first in Canada, someone is acting in Quebec without working in collaboration."
Heurtel said that his own provincial department had already protected about 83 per cent of the area covered by the federal order, based on an agreement it reached with the city and the project developer, the newspaper reported.
"And now, the federal government arrives and ruptures this type of spirit of cooperation, gets off and imposes a decision," Heurtel said, adding that Ottawa made its decision without working to achieve sustainable development and without reaching a balanced approach.