Canada’s ambivalent environmental record at the centre of sewage dump crisis in Montreal

Intro

As Montrealers brace themselves for a possible sewage dump in one of the world’s largest water ways, they are holding the federal government accountable for failing to do more. The St. Lawrence River, which surrounds Canada’s second largest city, is the proposed disposal site for eight billion litres of untreated sewage. Approved by Quebec’s provincial Environment Department, the controversial decision is being met with “public outcry,” and experts are signalling an onset of disruptive impacts to survival mechanisms for aquatic species, such as throwing off their ability to find food and shelter. At the federal level, Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq claims that Environment Canada only became aware of these plans last week and has temporarily suspended Montreal’s ability to move forward with the sewage dump. However, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says that the municipality notified the federal agency back in September 2014 and received no feedback on the proposal until it made news waves amid election coverage. With Canada already recognized as a climate laggard around the world, the federal government’s long list of environmental snafus continues to grow, putting them increasingly at odds with both the people they represent and the international community.

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Key Points

  • The federal government is failing to protect the people they represent from environmental threats. Canada’s Minister of Environment revealed that she only became aware of this sewage issue in the St. Lawrence last week, despite the City of Montreal submitting their plans to dump sewage into the river last year. By waiting to intervene until just days before the project goes through, the federal government’s environmental agency is failing to do its due diligence.
  • The consequences of the government failing to do its job could devastate Quebec’s ecosystem. The raw sewage — consisting of human waste, condoms, and tampons among other things — would flow into the St. Lawrence River, a major waterway that is supposed to be protected by UNESCO. It would also impact marine life by disrupting their ability to find food and shelter.
  • Like a number of environmental issues in Canada, dumping sewage into a leading waterway is an electoral issue. Montrealers care about their land and water, and this issue has lead over 85 000 people to mobilize thus far. With nearly ten days until the federal election, voters want a government takes this matter seriously and puts environmental protection at the forefront of their campaign.

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  • “As for the response from Environment Canada, there is every reason to think this is electoral posturing. After all, it is this same Conservative government that largely dismantled legislation that protected more than 99% of Canada’s lakes and rivers. It is this same government that has just approved the Enbridge Line 9B reversal. That pipeline will soon start carrying close to 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day, and it crosses one of the main tributaries of the St. Lawrence. This poses a significant long-term risk to water quality and the health of the river.” – Greenpeace Canada
  • “WWF is concerned about the negative impacts of a massive raw sewage dump would have on the health of the St. Lawrence River and the species that live in its waters.  WWF’s watershed report for the St. Lawrence watershed shows that, based on available data, there is a significant downward trend in water quality.” – WWF Canada
  • “[Environment Canada] have this file in their hands [since] September 2014 … We asked, ‘Do you have more questions? Do you have more questions?’ They had no questions.” – Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montreal

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