After 12 long years of struggle, ecologists in Quebec, including the RVHQ (Regroupement Vigilance Hydrocarbures du Québec) want to celebrate a victory over the predatory petroleum industry. The draft Bill 21 is a law that would put an end to all new exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the province.
In September 2010, the fracking industry was like a train barrelling full-throttle towards us; we needed “the faith to move mountains,” to believe we could stop what king of chroniclers Pierre Foglia called “birds of prey.”
But first, a couple of points must be clarified for the benefit of people who don’t live in Quebec. There is not one but two drafts of Bill 21.
First, this draft Bill 21, passed in the Quebec national assembly in April, promised to put an end to the search as well as the exploitation of gas and oil in the province in accordance with the Paris Agreement. (The law, which has received royal assent, will come into force as soon as regulations are promulgated.)
The other draft is about the neutrality — known as laïcité in French — of the state in a pluralistic society.
There is a wide social consensus (but not unanimity) about the necessity of “laïcité” in Quebec, but it is contentious in the rest of Canada.
Secondly, during the summer of 2010, we became aware the subsoil of the St. Lawrence Valley had been sold to the industry at a ridiculously low price. In the official report from BAPE (Quebec's environmental assessment agency), we learned those dubious manoeuvres, made behind closed doors, probably entail a financial loss of revenue of $5 billion.
In 2010, Quebec's oil and gas association (QOGA) announced it planned to drill 20,000 wells using the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, the same technique it had tried in the village of Saint-Louis de Richelieu in 2007-08.
In that municipality, Gastem and Canadian Forest Oil drilled and fracked a gas well just 300 feet from the patio doors of Odette Larin and her neighbours; she talks about her concerns in an episode of the public affairs program The Nature of Things entitled Shattered Ground.
Over the 12 intervening years, the achievements of the thousands of RVHQ volunteers are so fantastic that they remind me of the legend my parents and my teachers told me during my youth. Two frogs fell in a pail of cream. Both tried to escape out of the booby trap, but the sides of the pail were so high that all attempts to jump out failed because their hind feet did not have something solid to rest on while they tried to launch themselves.
Opinion: Quebec can now wean itself off hydrocarbons as it moves towards the low-carbon economy of the 21st century, writes Gérard Montpetit. #cdnpoli #BeyondOilandGasAlliance
One frog gave up and drowned. The other one, just like the Quebec ecologists, refused to give up the fight. This obdurate amphibian kept jumping and jumping; the sustained efforts of her powerful legs appeared to be useless. However, after a long time, the cream was churned into a lump of butter. The lump of butter formed a solid island, which gave her the footing needed for her leap out of the pail.
Bill 21 is just like that lump of butter; it will help Quebec wean itself off hydrocarbons and will be a great move towards the low-carbon economy of the 21st century.
A short list of the achievements of our volunteers includes hundreds of conferences and thousands of meetings — tools that were needed to form hundreds of local committees, which eventually became a confederation known as the RVHQ.
The campaign “Vous n'entrerez pas chez nous” (You're not welcome on my property) gathered 65,000 signatures from people who promised to refuse access to their property.
We participated in many BAPE and National Energy Board meetings. This meant a lot of researching and writing long presentations. We opposed the construction of the Energy East oil pipeline. We also opposed its gas counterpart called GNL Quebec and its liquefaction plant on the shores of the Saguenay River.
One of our major actions was to convince over 300 municipalities to adopt the Règlement de Saint-Bonaventure (a municipal bylaw). This bylaw gave the municipality the legal power to protect its water from pollution, whether it came from municipal water treatment plants, agricultural runoff or pollution introduced under the water table by fracking.
It also demanded a distance of two kilometres between a gas well and a water well. This came to a legal standoff when Gastem sued the tiny municipality of Ristigouche Sud-Est. The court accepted the validity of the bylaw and ordered Gastem to pay reparations to the community. It also set a legal precedent.
In this public relations war to win over Quebecers, we have used many tools, such as comité réplique (literally, to reply tit-for-tat to disinformation from the industry) and setting up a website.
Finally, our fight against hydrocarbons became synonymous with our battle against climate change. Our guiding lights in that domain were the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports and the Paris Agreement.
Recently we, the veterans of this saga, sat in a bucolic setting to exchange anecdotes of our battles. True, we have a sound reason to celebrate our victory. We must congratulate all our volunteers who spent countless hours pushing the “king” (the petroleum industry) into a corner of the political chessboard and putting him in check. But we must remain on guard; the king is in check, but it isn't checkmated yet.
Gérard Montpetit is an Ontario native who has lived in La Presentation, Que., in a house that he built, since 1979. After studying at the University of Ottawa, he worked in education. He taught for three years in eastern Ontario and then another three years in Hull, Que., before moving to a school board in St-Hyacinthe, east of Montreal, where he worked for 27 years before retiring in June 2007. Inspired by scientific studies he read in 2010, Gérard has been an active critic of fracking and is a member of the Regroupement Vigilance Hydrocarbures Québec, an anti-fossil fuels group.