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“The collaboration that we have had for a very long time with Énergir is a subject that we decided to address in two weeks at the board of directors, to see the comfort level of everyone”, underlines the president of the UMQ, Martin Damphousse.

The “uncomfortable  » between UMQ and Énergir

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The president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec, Martin Damphousse

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The legal battle between Énergir, formerly Gaz Métro, and the city of Prévost, places the Union of Municipalities (UMQ) in an increasingly “uncomfortable” position, according to the admission of its president Martin Damphousse and the voices of are raising to denounce the proximity between the two organizations, Radio-Canada learned.

The story caused a lot of reaction last October. The town of Prévost, in the Laurentians, became the first municipality in Quebec to adopt a by-law to ban natural gas in new residential and institutional buildings.

Énergir’s response was instantaneous. The company owned by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and the Fonds de solidarité FTQ has decided to sue the municipality.

To At the time, the mayor of Prévost, Paul Germain, spoke of a fight akin to David against Goliath and accused Énergir of preventing municipalities from acting for the environment and decarbonizing their buildings. I found it very very cavalier, he said.

Mayor Germain did not wish to grant an interview to Radio-Canada as part of this report.

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But this legal fight by a member of the UMQ places the municipal organization in embarrassment. Énergir is one of the Union's largest contributors and paid $42,500 in 2022.

Énergir is a partner with the UMQ for a decarbonization journey which targets municipalities. The gas company also pays a research grant to students.

Énergir is also a prestigious partner during UMQ events, particularly during its meetings. The two organizations also ride within the same team during the Grand Défi Pierre Lavoie.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, the mayor of Varennes, Vincent Damphousse, who is also president of the UMQ, recognizes: Énergir is one of the most important partners of the union and the situation has become uncomfortable, according to his own words.

The unease is easy to understand from the moment the UMQ maintains business ties with a company and that company pursues one of its members, says – it quite simply.

In the coming weeks, the UMQ will also discuss the subject with Énergir, but also during the board of directors of union.

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The president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec and mayor of Varennes, Martin Damphousse, during an event.

The collaboration that we have had for a very long time with Énergir is a subject that we decided to address in two weeks at the board of directors, to see the level comfort for everyone, underlined Mr. Damphousse.

For its part, the city of Prévost will need help from the UMQ in its legal battle and has requested funds to defend itself against Énergir. This was analyzed by our committee and we will have a favorable recommendation from the committee for the defense of Prévost, indicated Mayor Damphousse.

But the president of the UMQ and mayor of Varennes for 14 years has an even closer relationship with Énergir. Since 2018, he has also been president of the Société d'Économie Mixte de l'Est de la Couronne Sud (SÉMECS), made up of three MRCs and the biogas company EG.

SÉMECS operates a biomethanization center which produces renewable natural gas (RNG) with residual materials, which is sold to a partner, Greenfield Global, then to Énergir.

As president, Mr. Damphousse receives a salary of $7,000 annually. We understand that it is not much, assures the manager who emphasizes that the company does not make profits.

But this role risks being more scrutinized at a time when the UMQ must accelerate the process of implementing regulations to decarbonize Quebec's cities and municipalities. A framework which will have to align with the CAQ government's bill on the environmental performance of buildings, specified Mr. Damphousse.

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The president of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec, Martin Damphousse

Does this put me in a conflict of interest situation? Absolutely not.

A quote from Martin Damphousse, president of the UMQ

But a professor of business ethics consulted by Radio-Canada believes that Mr. Damphousse finds himself in a delicate position.

The UMQ must always make the decision that is in the best interest of the municipalities. It is certain that it would benefit from maintaining autonomy with those who have interests that may diverge from the municipalities, explains Michel Séguin, professor in the Department of Organization and Human Resources at the School of Sciences of the management of UQAM.

According to the specialist, the situation could even cause harm to the organization.

It can raise the appearance of a conflict of interest when Mr. Damphousse comes to praise biogas […]. The fact that he is associated with an organization with economic interests in a company leads me to think: does he have any interests in touting this? Even if this is not the case, appearance is as important as the actual conflict of interest. It causes so much harm, he said.

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Énergir is an important partner of the UMQ.

Mayor Damphousse denies taking sides, but affirms at the same time that municipalities are not against renewable natural gas to decarbonize. The intention of the CAQ government is to produce more with the example of France which has 60% of RNG in its network.

In Quebec, it there is a very small percentage of RNG in the Énergir pipe. The remainder is natural gas, which comes in particular from the United States, which proves to be a hindrance for certain municipalities, such as Prévost, but also Candiac which has also adopted a regulation which prohibits natural gas in new residential buildings.< /p>

We are currently talking about only 2% of RNG in the Énergir network. For us, for the moment, it is prohibited, underlined the mayor of Candiac, Normand Dyotte.

Mayor Damphousse affirms that few members , who can be counted on the fingers of one hand, were concerned about the relationship between the UMQ and Énergir.

But environmental organizations are, on the contrary, concerned about this proximity at a pivotal moment for the decarbonization of municipalities.

It's totally scandalous to see that this partnership continues while Énergir pursues a member of the union who wants to decarbonize and fight against climate change, thunders Patrick Bonin, of Greenpeace Quebec.

The current proximity is totally unhealthy. There is an appearance of a conflict of interest as big as an arm, even though we know very well that the gas companies are carrying out this type of lobbying exercise at all levels to slow down the fight against climate change. The UMQ should keep a healthy distance, he continues.

Same story for Jean-Pierre Finet of the Regroupement des organisms Environnemental en Énergie (ROEÉ ).

Énergir promotes its products to municipalities, as a transitional energy. But the gas is part of the problem, the transition is over, he emphasizes.

The problem is that the UMQ gives an answer a little cutesy in the defense of Prévost against his business partner. And the president also has a business relationship with Énergir. We shouldn't find ourselves in this situation.

For Rémy Trudel, former Minister of Municipal Affairs and professor at the National School of Public Administration, the UMQ must be transparent about its relationship with Energize.

Yes, that casts doubt. This weakens the role accepted on behalf of municipalities by leaders in unions. This question should not be taken as trivial. This is very serious. There are 8,000 municipal leaders, mayors and councilors, all of whom can be affected by these situations, he maintains.

The latter is also worried of the framework proposed to municipalities in terms of decarbonization by the UMQ and which must align with Quebec legislation.

In my experience, I have never seen such a provision on the part of municipal unions which would affect the most precious element of municipalities, their autonomy, underlines Mr. Trudel.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">For its part, the lawsuit against Prévost does not change anything in Énergir's collaboration with the UMQ and the municipalities, the company emphasizes in a statement.

Énergir has been a partner of the UMQ for over twenty years and as a public service, we firmly believe in the importance of collaboration with cities, particularly to achieve the energy transition, underlined spokesperson Élaine Arsenault.

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