Less green to help the economy

Less green to help the economy

and Dominique Cambron – MISE & Agrave; DAY

The Legault government will not require the reduction of greenhouse gases during the construction of its largest road projects, our Bureau of Investigation has discovered despite the efforts of the MTQ to conceal the information . 

Use of hybrid and electric vehicles on the construction site, reuse of residual materials and reduction of deforestation: several measures have been planned to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ( GES) during the repair of the Louis-H.-La Fontaine tunnel. 

However, in the name of economic recovery, these efforts will no longer be required for the other “carbon neutral” sites of the Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ). This concerns at least six major projects and possibly around fifteen others.    

  • Listen to the interview with Philippe-Vincent Foisy with Dominique Cambron-Goulet:    

In 2019, the MTQ has adopted a directive to make its major road works carbon neutral. This means that construction is done by trying to reduce GHGs and offsetting what is impossible to eliminate by planting trees or buying carbon credits. 

The Minister of Transport, François Bonnardel .

But the Legault government wants to speed up construction and believes that this approach would have slowed it down. The ministry will therefore content itself with offsetting GHG emissions at the end of construction.

“Carbon neutrality is an accounting operation and it is only credible if we have made reductions beforehand, warns Claude Villeneuve, director of Carbone Boréal, an offset and research program at the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi. I can't run my parked car all day and pay the carbon credits afterwards. It doesn't make sense.” 

“You can be carbon neutral [without reducing GHGs], but it will cost more because you will have emitted more during the project and you will have to compensate more,” he adds.

  • Listen to the interview with Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace Canada at the microphone of Geneviève Pettersen on QUB radio:

Hidden Info

We learned of the ministry's new direction through an access request information, among several elements that the MTQ was trying to conceal. 

“The full application of the steps planned for carbon neutrality (i.e. the step of developing a reduction scenario) could not be completed without delaying the implementation of the project,” indicates a draft response from the MTQ, which was blocked and then edited.  

In an internal email, communications director Julie Berthold insists that responses do not give the impression that the environment is being sidelined.

“We must at all costs avoid that the message that could be perceived is the fact that since we are accelerating the projects, we do not have time to do the carbon neutrality steps properly,” she explains.

“It seems to me that we should focus our response much more on the fact that we had so many more major projects to orchestrate […], that it was impossible (lack of manpower) to follow the steps of carbon neutrality.”  

A “hoax”

Offsetting GHGs does not necessarily make a project green. In the case of the Turcot interchange, the trees planted will take 100 years to capture the equivalent of the pollution from the construction site and the carbon credits that were purchased from a controversial Indian hydroelectric project.

“ Emissions offsetting is a hoax, it doesn't work, and the creation of offset projects will only delay the adoption of concrete measures to reduce emissions,” said Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace.  

Remember that the government had also reduced its target for the number of carbon neutral projects. 

WHAT IS CARBON NEUTRALITY?

For a project to be carbon neutral, it must first attempt to reduce or eliminate GHG emissions. If this is not possible, emissions can be offset by buying credits on the carbon market. These credits are held by a project that helps clean up, such as planting trees or producing green energy.  

The MTQ is committed to making its construction sites carbon neutral. Only the emissions from the machinery used for the work and the transport of the materials will be offset, and not those from the vehicles that will circulate on the new facilities. 

“Emissions offsetting and carbon neutrality claims n do not prevent carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere in the short term and warming the planet. They just take pollution off the books of polluters and irresponsible governments,” says Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace.

In 2009, the MTQ estimated that the Turcot jobsite would generate 17,000 metric tons of GHGs. There were 7 times more, or 121,000 tons.  

The ministry tried to hide information &nbsp ;

The MTQ's internal exchanges, obtained through an access to information request, show the extent to which the department tried to conceal information from our Bureau of Investigation. 

The MTQ's director of public communications acknowledges that her department is unable to follow carbon neutrality approaches.

The Deputy Minister's Office is requesting significant changes to the response provided to our Office of Investigation. Traces of the existence of the Carbon Neutrality Directive are disappearing.

From our first questions to the ministry about carbon neutrality, the file is described as “sensitive”.  

“Thank you all for taking a last look at it, since this is a sensitive file, and handled by more than one sector. The Cabinet [of Minister François Bonnardel] will be notified before contacting the journalist, of course,” wrote MTQ spokesperson Gilles Payer on March 22.

“Let’s make sure the cabinet knows Let Quebecor dig into that,” Assistant Deputy Minister Isabelle Mignault wrote to her assistant and senior advisor, Marianne Pépin, the same day. 

Missing references&nbsp ;

After an intervention by the deputy minister's office, any reference to the abandonment of GHG reduction on “carbon neutral” construction sites disappeared from official responses. 

Furthermore, the MTQ is stepping and hands to keep secret its Carbon Neutrality Directive, which establishes the main policy guidelines and coordinates GHG reduction and compensation actions.       

  • On March 15, we were first told that the directive was not public information, as the document was not in “its final version”.         
  • Then, when we questioned the ministry, we were about to be told that “the directive was adopted in 2019. The directive is in force and its application is progressive.”        
  • Next, the deputy minister's office demanded a “significant correction”. The fact that the directive exists was then erased in the official response sent to us.             
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    Faced with our insistence, the MTQ continued to keep the existence of this directive vague, which sowed doubt among some officials. 

    “For the text of the e-mail, the directive already exists… So I don't really know”, writes in particular in an internal e-mail the director of communications, Julie Berthold.