Pierre Arcand, Québec’s Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, has introduced in the National Assembly a bill designed to protect from industrial activity a massive tract (some 600,000 square kilometers) of the Province’s northern territory, approximately equivalent to the size of France. Bill 65: An Act respecting natural heritage conservation and the sustainable development of the area covered by the Northern Plan is part of the Plan Nord – Québec’s ambitious 25-year design for the economic, social and ecological development of the Province’s northern reaches above the 49th parallel and its Lower North Shore area.
The Bill is intended to replace Québec’s existing Natural Heritage Conservation Act. It renews the “permanent protection status” of certain lands governed by the present statute, as either aquatic reserves, biodiversity reserves or ecological reserves, while reviewing the specific rules applicable to them. The Bill also creates marine reserves and recognizes man-made landscapes, while continuing the recognition of natural reserves. The rules applicable to designated natural settings are also to be reviewed. In addition, Bill 65 renews the “temporary protection status” of proposed ecological reserves. Other temporary protection statuses are abandoned. They will be replaced by a mechanism suspending the issue of rights for an identified area and a mechanism permitting the pursuit of certain activities for a maximum period of five years. The Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks will continue to be required to maintain a public register of protected areas.
The Government of Québec is committed to adopting a conservation strategy, by 2035, under which 50% of the area of the Plan Nord is to be governed by measures to protect the environment, maintain biodiversity, enhance the natural heritage and promote the sustainable use of resources.
A reporting process regarding these conservation measures is also provided for. Bill 65 also authorizes inspections, seizures, monetary administrative penalties and proceedings before the Administrative Tribunal of Québec, as well as penalties, certain regulatory powers and certain transitional provisions to ease the transition from the Natural Heritage Conservation Act to the new law.
It is understood that the above-mentioned conservation strategy will be unveiled in the near future, providing for the protection of 20% of the territory concerned by 2020, with the remaining 30% to be affected by 2035. Like the Plan Nord as a whole, the objective of sheltering one-half of Québec’s north from industrial operations is an ambitious one, and only time will tell if, how and when it will actually be achieved.