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An official denounces “a political order”. The Deputy Minister brings the employees together in the “storm.” The union intervenes.

Northvolt: crisis management at the Ministry of the Environment | The battery sector

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The Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette

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Officials from the Ministry of #x27;Environment of Quebec expressed “concerns” to their superiors about the authorization granted to Northvolt for the construction of its battery factory in Montérégie, letters and registration records show. an internal meeting obtained by Radio-Canada.

I am hurting my ministry, writes the coordinator of the analysis and expertise team of the Ministry of the Environment for the Lower region -Saint-Laurent, Ghislain Côté, in two long messages addressed, on February 21 and 25, to Minister Benoit Charette as well as to his hierarchy.

According to Mr. Côté, the authorization granted by the ministry to the Swedish company to destroy dozens of wetlands in Montérégie is a government order. He thinks that the ministry has agreed to play the game of politics and put aside its mission for the moment of a file.

Last week, Radio-Canada revealed that Quebec had withdrawn scientific arguments from its analysis of the project. A few months earlier, these scientific references had justified the rejection of another project, this residential one, in the same location.

I urge you to be transparent […]. If it is a decision that falls to the minister, take responsibility for it. The Environmental Quality Act gives you the right to do so, but do not place a burden on the teams who normally work in complete independence.

A quote from Ghislain Côté, coordinator of the analysis and expertise team of the Quebec Ministry of the Environment in Bas-Saint-Laurent

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In the past year, biologist Ghislain Côté served as interim regional director for the ministry. It was not possible to speak to him. His letter had a lot of resonance internally and circulated among officials at the Environment and even beyond the ministry.

Some officials are asking legitimate questions, said Assistant Deputy Minister for Environmental Authorizations and Regional Operations, Daniel Labrecque, during a virtual meeting convened last Thursday, to which all employees responsible for analyzes and environmental assessments as well as wildlife.

He wanted to reaffirm his full confidence in the work of the analysts. Our methods are proven, we work on the basis of scientific knowledge, that’s what guides us, said the assistant deputy minister. We do it with rigor and professionalism.

Protecting the environment, protecting wildlife, that's what motivates us, that's what excites us.

A quote from Daniel Labrecque, assistant deputy minister for environmental authorizations and regional operations

During the meeting, Mr. Labrecque recalled that the file was delicate, since the merits of the environmental analysis are contested in Superior Court. Deputy Minister Marie-Josée Lizotte spoke of a media storm that she finds deplorable and unfair.

The Legault government denies having given a free pass to the battery mega-factory project. He recalls that in the context of a request for an injunction to stop the work, the judge did not find serious reason to conclude that the decision was unreasonable. The Court must, however, analyze the case on the merits, with new evidence.

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The Ministers of the Economy and the Environment, Pierre Fitzgibbon and Benoit Charette (Archive photo)

In his letter, Ghislain Côté recalls that Minister Benoit Charette publicly declared himself in favor of the project in November, even before his ministry's analysis process was completed.

This output generates a strong appearance of a decision taken in advance, which fuels questions relating to our analysis process, writes Ghislain Côté. How do you plan to support the teams in order to show that our work is independent? he asks.

Where was the rigorous analysis process that I know, the one that does not allow the destruction of natural environments without a concrete project, the one that does not accept futile and future commitments to protect potential environments as compensation, the one that does not does not know the answer to the decision to be rendered before having started to study a request?

A quote from Ghislain Côté, coordinator of the analysis and expertise team of the Ministry of the Environment of Quebec in Bas-Saint-Laurent

Ghislain Côté wonders why he authorized the work to fill wetlands, when the factory project is still, at present, the subject of analysis by officials. There is no point in destroying an environment […] if we do not know the details of this project, which could itself be deemed unacceptable.

He wonders what would happen if the second analysis resulted in a rejection of the project, since the wetlands are already being destroyed.

The official is also concerned about a form of double standards. He gives the example of a developer, in Bas-Saint-Laurent, who wanted to destroy wetlands on land with a view to the possible construction of a factory. This authorization was refused, in particular on the basis that no subsequent activity was presented in the application.

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Part of the Northvolt land, in Saint-Basile-le -Large

The official also does not understand how the ministry was able to approve the project without knowing the details of Northvolt's plan to compensate for the destruction of wetlands. The Swedish company has 36 months to submit its plan which aims to create, restore and/or conserve an area of ​​natural environments of 30 to 50 hectares, outside the project location.

Once again, Ghislain Côté gives an example, in Bas-Saint-Laurent, where a developer had made a promise to the ministry to obtain authorization. We were not able to include this argument as part of the analysis of the project, he explains.

The official wonders what the promoters will tell him from now on.

No political pressure was put on the officials to change the reports and allow the construction of the Northvolt factory, declared Minister Benoit Charette on Wednesday, following the publication of this text.

< p class="Text-sc-2357a233-1 fnWfaZ">The mission of my ministry consists of “playing a key role in the climate transition, from a sustainable perspective in order to contribute to the priority issues of Quebec society.”

A quote from Benoit Charette, Minister of the Environment, of the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks

Tuesday, the Union of Professionals of the Government of Quebec (SPGQ) defended the biologist who acted as principal analyst of the Northvolt project. The SPGQ assured The Canadian Press that the civil servant was not subjected to political pressure to modify her reports.

The president of the Association of Biologists of Quebec, Marie-Christine Bellemare, deplores that we cannot cross-check how the environmental analysis of the Northvolt project took place, because it does not exist of a professional nature for biologists.

A biologist who is a member of an order could refuse to act if it contravenes his obligations to protection of the public and the environment, she indicates.

We wonder if everything was done according to the rules of the art. Was there pressure? Did the people who intervened have room to maneuver?

A quote from Marie-Christine Bellemare, president of the Association of Biologists of Quebec

According to Ms. Bellemare, there is a lack of transparency in the Northvolt file. If there had been transparency from the start, we wouldn't be here.

In his letter, civil servant Ghislain Côté also criticizes the declaration of Minister Fitzgibbon, who called into question the ecological value of the land (by evoking the presence of three-eyed fish), as well as the comments of Prime Minister François Legault, who x27;is presented to the media with fruit to explain that we cannot compare several projects with each other.

These media outings are an insult strictly speaking, which is a value of the ministry, and even harm our professional work, writes Mr. Côté.

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