Premier François Legault says he has looked into the future and it is electric.Putting his stamp of approval on his party’s weekend shift to a greener agenda, Legault used a closing speech to the Coalition Avenir Québec general council to outline a sweeping vision for Quebec where oil is not part of the equation.In fact, Legault announced he wants the province to cut its oil consumption by 40 per cent by 2030, to be replaced by clean electricity. Currently 36 per cent of the energy consumed in Quebec is electric.“Instead of pumping our money into the coffers of oil companies, we will keep it here to create wealth for people here,” Legault said in his speech to 1,300 delegates at a downtown hotel Sunday.“The path I invite all of us to follow is to electrify our economy. That’s the way for more prosperity and a greener economy.”Addressing the province’s growing environmental lobby, which has accused him of not doing enough to save the planet, Legault said: “I want to be perfectly clear — we got the message from our youth.“We are going to do more. The skeptics will be proven wrong.”
Premier Francois Legault wraps up a two-day meeting of the CAQ general council with a speech to the party rank and file in Montreal on Sunday, May 26, 2019.
Dave Sidaway /
Following a weekend in which environmentalists cranked up the pressure and the party adopted a package of green political resolutions, Legault chose to run with the movement rather than fight it.And describing himself as pragmatic, Legault said that in his mind the CAQ’s shift will happen via electricity.That includes using more electric power in Quebec and exporting surpluses for profit to the power-hungry states south of the border. Making use of that power also represents Quebec’s contribution to reducing greenhouse gases everywhere, he argued.“Greenhouse gas knows no borders,” Legault said. “If we help our neighbours, we help the planet. It’s a win-win for Quebec and for the planet. Let’s become the green battery of North America.”The speech drew several standing ovations, even though a day earlier a small pocket of old-guard members said a green CAQ is not what they signed up for. They were rapidly drowned out.On the other hand, Dominic Champagne — the media-savvy theatre director who launched a major environmental movement in November known as Le Pacte pour la transition and recently joined the CAQ membership — beamed as he left the council, as did representatives of the David Suzuki Foundation.Noting the CAQ has come a long way after winning the Oct. 1 election with almost no environmental platform, Champagne said the party now has the makings of a good one.“The mobilization of citizens over the last months made a difference,” Champagne told reporters. “Had this mobilization not happened, this convention would not have happened this weekend.“We know where the CAQ was Oct. 1. This is an awakening on their part. There is a time to bark and there’s a time to praise.”Legault cracked a joke about Champagne’s high-profile presence by linking the director to his own recent pontifications about the existence of God.“I don’t know if God exists, but we have Dominic Champagne,” he said.Legault’s plan has three tiers: converting homes and public buildings such as hospitals and seniors’ residences from oil and gas heating to electric; weaning industry off oil; and, by far the largest chunk of the plan, a massive investment in the electrification of public transportation systems.That includes finishing and expanding Montreal’s $6.3-billion REM light-rail network, extending the Blue métro line and adding a tramway to the city’s east end, plus tramways on Taschereau Blvd. in Longueuil and in Quebec City.There was no mention of Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante’s pet project, the Pink métro line, which the CAQ government does not support, but the party does endorse improvements in bus transportation.In all cases, any new trains, tramways and buses financed by the Quebec government will have to be electric by 2030 and, for the most part, built in Quebec, Legault said.Later, speaking to reporters, Legault brushed aside questions about the Pink Line, saying it would cost a “fortune.”Although he was unable to pinpoint the total cost of his vision, he argued Quebec has the capacity to pay for it through long-term amortization schemes and a revamped $1-billion green fund.As a bonus, he estimates Quebec will be able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37.5 per cent of the benchmark 1990 levels by 2030.If potential deals to sell power to Massachusetts and New York materialize as he hopes, greenhouse gases would be cut by five million tonnes a year and Quebec would be richer by $1 billion from the sales, Legault said.In deciding to make electric power his environmental leitmotif, Legault is following in the footsteps of other Quebec premiers, including Jean Lesage and Robert Bourassa.He did not promise any new dams — Quebec’s power surpluses total 12.6 terawatts, which means the province is swimming in power — but he said that as the “world’s best dam builders,” Quebecers should not fear the idea of future construction.Asked if he is sending a message to newly elected Alberta premier Jason Kenney, who dreams of exporting oil via pipelines through Quebec, Legault said Quebec will still need oil for many years.He cautiously did not repeat his previous comments about Alberta’s oil being a form of “dirty energy.” Quebec already gets 80 per cent of its oil from Alberta and the United States, and that won’t stop for now, he said.“We want to decrease (consumption) but we won’t be able to reduce it to zero in the next few years,” Legault said. “It’s a transition.”The upside to cutting oil consumption by the reduction goal, he added, is Quebec would save $10 billion a year, which is what it pays now for oil supplies.Still basking in the glow of their election victory, the CAQ rank and file from all over the province lapped up Legault’s speech, which also featured glowing words for his key ministers.One of the longest standing ovations went to Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, whom Legault praised for stickhandling Bill 21. The CAQ’s secularism legislation is expected to be adopted by June 14, when the legislature firstname.lastname@example.org/philipauthierRelated