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Our expectations for the Quebec government’s first budget

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The arrival of spring is synonymous with the release of government budgets. Never before have the expectations of environmental organizations and ordinary citizens been so high when it comes to protecting the environment and fighting climate change. People and organizations throughout the world are mobilizing, including going on strike on behalf of the climate, and signing petitions demanding the banning of dangerous pesticides and legal recourse against governments to force them into action. Équiterre is eagerly awaiting the release of the provincial budget, which will set the tone for new government with respect to environment-related matters.

Funding the energy transition without new expenditures

First and foremost, the Ministry of Finance needs to announce a panel of experts mandated to identify and recommend new fiscal tools to achieve objectives in the areas of energy transition, the environment and sustainable mobility in its 2019 budget. It is important to note that protecting the environment does not always mean new expenditures by the government. In many cases, there may be savings to be realized and even new revenues available.

To that end, we expect that the exercise will include a review of the current tax relief measures granted by the Quebec government for hydrocarbon consumption, which are undermining the efforts to achieve our goals in the fight against climate change. From 2011 to 2017, the Quebec government paid out an average of $300 million per year in fuel-tax relief, working against reducing the use of hydrocarbons.

In order to better work towards achieving our greenhouse gas (GHGs) reduction goals and transitioning to greener forms of energy, Équiterre is demanding that Quebec eliminate these exemptions (which are depriving the province of many millions of dollars in annual revenues that could be used to accelerate the transition to greener forms of energy).

Transportation: a key to the war on climate change

Équiterre is demanding that this government attack the transportation sector head-on, as it is responsible for over 40% of the province’s total emissions and is also the sector for which GHGs are expected to increase the most between now and 2030. As pointed out in the Quebec inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, the ever-increasing size of the automobile fleet, strong consumer preferences for larger and more gas-guzzling vehicles, and the increase in the number of kilometres travelled are important sources of this problem.

Quebec’s Policy on sustainable mobility, which was adopted last year, has set out some major ambitions for attacking the transportation sector. In order to carry it out, the government must absolutely rebalance the proportion of its investments between public transit and highway transportation. Currently, the proportion is approximately 30% for public transit versus 70% for highway transportation. Équiterre would like the 2019 budget to set the rate of investments for public transit at 40% and then achieve parity in 2020.

Along with its efforts to increase the modal share for public transit, Quebec needs to tackle the electrification of transportation. With a highly favourable position in this area, Quebec can and should strengthen its position as leader in the field of transportation electrification.

Despite an increase in the sale of electric vehicles in recent years, the electric share of the market remains marginal when compared with gasoline-powered vehicles. It is therefore essential that the government continue its incentive program until the electric vehicle share of the market surpasses what is commonly referred to as the “early adopters” (the first sector of the population to adopt this technology). Eliminating this incentive too quickly would result in a drastic decline in the sales of electric vehicles, as well have witnessed next door in Ontario.

To support the growing proportion of electric vehicles in the automobile fleet, the expansion of charging infrastructure must continue. Équiterre is therefore demanding that the provincial budget include provisions for continuing the financial support for programs to expand the network of electric charging stations, in both residential and industrial areas.

Équiterre is also encouraging the electrification of school buses (some 8,000 vehicles) as an objective that can be achieved by 2030. By electrifying school transportation, we will not only be fighting climate change and helping with the development of this technology in Quebec, but we will also be improving the quality of the air that the children who ride the school bus breathe. Équiterre is demanding the government to review its existing financial support programs to encourage the purchase of electric school buses.

Independence of pesticide research and support

The firing of agricultural scientist, Louis Robert, by Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for raising the alarm regarding an unacceptable situation involving private interference in public research on pesticides, illustrates the urgent need for the government to reclaim its role of public protector. Équiterre is reiterating our demand for an increase in funding for research on pesticides, and that the funds be directed solely to researchers, research institutes or agencies that are independent of the industry and free from any conflict of interest.

Under its bio-food policy 2018-2025, the Quebec government wants to “bolster the reduction in risks related to the use of pesticides.” Right now, most agricultural experts who prescribe pesticides that are restricted by Quebec have ties to the pesticides marketing industry, placing them in a possible conflict of interest. Équiterre is demanding that the government, at a minimum, provide 100% of funding for the independent advisory service for farmers, as opposed to the 70-90% currently available via the farm advisory network. This would reduce the incentive to resort to the free services offered by pesticide marketing companies.

Supporting local and organic food in our institutions: a matter of public health

There are many economic, environmental and health benefits of local organic sustainable agriculture: avoiding polluting the water and soil, regenerating the soil, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and supporting the vitality of regions through local marketing programs. Promoting and properly supporting organic food production would go a long way toward achieving, in a major way, many of the elements of Quebec’s bio-food policy (reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the bio-food sector and its vulnerability to climate change, improving water quality, soil health and biodiversity protection, continuing to grow the organic sector and reducing the risks associated with the use of pesticides).

In connection with the elements of the bio-food policy, Équiterre is demanding financial support for institutional food services to allow them to increase their supply of local and organic food.

IN SUMMARY

  1. Establish a commission on ecofiscality
  2. Eliminate tax relief from fuel taxes in Québec
  3. Restore the proportion of investments in public transit to parity with highway investments for 2020 and raise it to 40% in 2019
  4. Continue the electric vehicle incentive program
  5. Continue investing in electric vehicle charging stations
  6. Encourage the purchase of electric school buses
  7. Increase research funding into pesticides and direct it solely to researchers, research institutes or agencies independent of the industry without conflicts of interest
  8. Provide financial support to institutional food services to allow them to increase their supply of local and organic food

This coming March 21, Équiterre will be closely following this first budget from the new Quebec government. Watch for our reactions on social media!

For more information:

Équiterre’s recommendations for the Quebec budget (in French)