I have to say, since becoming a councillor, I have learned so much about the environment partly because of the residents who are pushing us to do better and are putting in so much energy to make sure Saint-Lazare is developing in a sustainable way. This kind of community mobilization is really important to ensure that a town is kept accountable for its decisions. I strongly encourage citizens to get involved in what’s happening in Saint-Lazare. Voting, attending (or viewing online) council meetings, asking questions, voicing opinions are all things that has a huge impact on our democracy.

What can we take away from this article?
Hudson: feu vert à un important projet immobilier en milieu humide (in French only)

A town doesn’t have to say yes to all development. That’s often a common answer towns use to rationalize their decisions. A town definitely has a certain control on what and how things are developed on their own territory. BUT, what’s important is for a town to put in place tools “immediately” to ensure intelligent and sustainable development. We know now more than ever that our environment needs protecting and how we’re destroying valuable land that can never be replaced. This is the reason why this council has put in place a moratorium in the West of Saint-Lazare. We need to make sure that we understand fully the landscape and identify the sensitive areas and make sure we put in place bylaws to protect our environment before it’s too late.

The Conservation master plan which was adopted back in 2014 by the previous council was created for that purpose. It contains recommendations and steps to ensure the protection of our sensitive areas and environment. Sadly, after its adoption, very little was done and now we’re playing catch up. The constant pressure tactics from developers on council is making the implementation of the recommendations even more urgent. Here are the 5 orientations of the Conservation master plan that the environmental committee is currently working on:

1. Protect and Restore Forest Cover
2. Enhance and Protect Wetlands
3. Restore, Create and Enhance Green and Blue Corridors
4. Protect Groundwater and Surface Water Guidance
5. Promote conservation and provide information on environmental issues

Another point that we often hear is that the government regulations are there to protect the environment (seems like a logical assumption) and that if the Ministère de l’Environnement (MELCC) gives approvals for development, then it must be good enough and towns have to allow it. But the fact is, a town can have stricter bylaws than what the government allows. As a good example, Saint-Lazare has put in place bylaws that says it’s prohibiting landfill in wetland and also zero encroachment in wetland. There’s also a buffer zone of 10 meters needed around any wetland. This bylaw is currently being extended to cover the entire Saint-Lazare territory as it was only done for the urban parameter (the process started at the May council meeting to also include the zones outside the urban parameter).

The additional challenge is that the way the system works which gives a lot of power to developers. The government is currently asking developers to do their own environmental studies which is what they use to base their decisions when issuing authorization certificates. Let’s be clear, I’m not implying that all developers are out to cheat the system but the way it’s currently designed, it leaves the door wide open for those who are looking to make a profit regardless of the consequences on the environment. Developers know how it works and it’s apparently not very difficult to play the system.

Here you can read about the minimum requirements the (MELCC) asks to issue a certificate of authorization to developers http://www.environnement.gouv.qc.ca/ministere/certif/fiche1.htm (in French only)

As you can read in this article below, the government has authorized many projects over the years, even if they were destroying sensitive areas. It’s hard to believe when reading this that the government is making the right decisions which is why towns need to be setting stricter bylaws.

Près de 450 hectares de milieux humides détruits en un an (in French only)

True that if a developer satisfies all requirements and bylaws that it will be very difficult to stop a project. You can’t reject a project without solid and legal reasons. This is why, the best way to protect our sensitive areas are to make sure we plan better how we want to see development and integrate proper bylaws as soon as possible before anything more is authorized.

There are several reasons I think why towns keep allowing these developments. Lack of knowledge, changing councils, not enough resources, not enough time, not enough budget, no real willpower, and not enough planning. There’s a need for towns to put the breaks on development and make sure that they plan and make changes “right now” as our resources are becoming endangered. That’s the only way to control our future development and it needs to be made a priority. These efforts are not a move against all development, it’s what you call “intelligent sustainable development”!

“Sustainable development is the organizing principle for meeting human development goals while simultaneously sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which the economy and society depend. The desired result is a state of society where living conditions and resource use continue to meet human needs without undermining the integrity and stability of the natural system. Sustainable development can be classified as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations.” Source wikipedia.org