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Quebec’s climate leadership has pulled Montreal along

Quebec’s climate leadership has pulled Montreal along

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante gets out of an electric car after driving it to a press conference for an announcement about the city's electrification on Aug. 16, 2021.

The city has a plan to combat climate change. Thanks to the Quebec government, it now has the means and resources to do so.

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A few years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine the scene that unfolded Monday morning at Montreal’s Maison du développement durable.

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A beaming Mayor Valérie Plante stood side by side with Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette and the minister in charge of the metropolis, Chantal Rouleau, as a chunk of change from The most recent provincial budget was handed over for the city’s ecological transition plan. This is certainly one of Plante’s priorities, but it’s not an obvious one of Quebec’s.

While politicians always smile and treat each other with deference when one level of government cuts a cheque to another, the sense of a shared vision and atmosphere of co-operation on display Monday was a long way from the fraught political tensions that existed between the province and its largest city in the early days after the Coalition Avenir Québec government was elected in 2018. With just two seats on the Island of Montreal, Premier François Legault’s administration focused on the suburban voters who put them in office. Quebec was sometimes antagonistic or dismissive of Montreal and its progressive, environmentally-minded mayor.

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Signs of the old friction still exist, of course, most notably with the pressure on Plante to get unequivocally behind the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec’s controversial REM de l’Est project in the east end. But her decisive re-election to a second mandate last fall has given Plante new clout — and the CAQ a few clues about what issues resonate with Montrealers as they themselves face a vote come October.

The long-awaited cash commitment Extension of the Blue Line moving also speaks to a renewed effort to find common ground, especially now that the REM de l’Est has stalled. However, the Dispersal of $117 Million from Quebec to fund environmental projects close to Plante’s heart is on a different level entirely.

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The money will fund the acceleration of Montreal’s rollout of 800 electric vehicle charging stations toward the goal of 2,000; energy retrofits for municipal buildings, like the Atwater Market and the Botanical Garden to help reduce their emissions; the planting of thousands of trees; the creation of infrastructure to collect storm water runoff along Papineau Ave. in the Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough; and the first “parc bleu,” or park that includes floodwater mitigation features, at the Université de Montréal’s new MIL campus.

These are the kinds of innovative projects Plante’s detractors, including members of the CAQ government, might have sneered at in the past. But as Legault has come to realize that his economic goals of turning Quebec, with its abundant renewable hydro power, into the green battery of North America will also require bolstering the province’s environmental credibility, the priorities of the province and the city may have become more closely aligned.

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Plante is blessed with green credibility. Charette was also recognized on Monday.

“Montreal is our metropolis, it’s our major city. And Montreal — and Mayor Plante — is a leader, and she’s received like that around the world,” he said. “It’s not only good news for Montreal but for Quebec as well.”

Even before she was the Only Canadian politicians are invited to address the United Nations General Assembly during Climate Week in 2019, Plante’s leadership on the existential emergency of global warming has been steadfast. During the pandemic, she unveiled the city’s roadmap for reducing emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 and making Montreal carbon neutral by 2050, her pledge before world leaders at the UN. But while she blazed the trail, the city, as part of the province, wasn’t necessarily assured of having the resources to put her plans in place. Plante acknowledged that Quebec was her financial backer at the news conference.

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“Today’s announcement is important to Montreal and it’s important to me as mayor of Montreal. Failure is not an option. Future generations are counting on us,” she said. “This is so important because we are acting here in Montreal. We are proud to be leaders in Quebec and Canada as well as around the world. But we need to have the means.”

Plante won’t be resting on her laurels, though. The city announced Its first annual climate forum will take place May 3. She also noted work is underway on plans to introduce Canada’s first zero-emissions zone, which will start out as a low-emissions zone downtown in the coming years.

Plante stated that the tone in which discussions have taken place on this policy shows how quickly things have changed.

“The population is open to it now. Even 10 years ago it was heresy.”

The Legault government may still be hopelessly wed to its environmentally disastrous Troisième Lien project and meddling in Quebec City’s design for a tramway that will include a shared road on an urban boulevard. But it finally seems to have seen the benefits of backing Montreal’s green agenda.The city has a plan to tackle climate change and now, thanks to the Quebec government, it has the means to put it in action.


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