In light of the upcoming Montreal municipal elections on November 3, two prominent local environmental groups held a public meeting on September 18 at l’Église Notre-Dame de la Salette to discuss environmental crises in the greater Montreal region and their prominence – or lack thereof – in the current electoral agenda.
The public discussion began with the ongoing project of creating a greenbelt in the greater Montreal region. A greenbelt is typically defined as protected green space or park that can include forest, wetlands, marshes, and meadows, and that helps keep an urban area such as Montreal pollution-free.
Les Partenaires du Parc Écologique de l’Archipel de Montréal (PPÉAM) – in English, “Partners of the Montreal Archipelago Ecological Park Project” – is an environmental group and coalition working to promote a greenbelt since 2007.
In 2011, the Green Coalition participated in public consultations with the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM). The Coalition submitted a request that the CMM’s Land Use and Development Plan (PMAD) include the creation and protection of a greenbelt. After 400 groups filed briefs in support, CMM ultimately added the goal of a greenbelt to the PMAD’s outline.
Additionally, the PMAD calls for the conservation of 17 per cent of greater Montreal to maintain biodiversity. But Sylvia Oljemark, founding president of the Green Coalition, noted the PMAD’s slow pace.
“We are in 2013 and there is still not a hell of a lot of movement in this plan,” she told The Daily. “Without the greenbelt, there will just be condos as far as you can see.”
In her opinion, many of those condos are unneeded. “To me, that’s only a proliferation of greed,” Oljemark said.
David Fletcher, the vice president of the Green Coalition, added to the conversation by criticizing municipal candidates for a perceived lack of concern for natural spaces.
“[Excluding Projet Montréal], the other electoral candidates in Montreal, with embarrassingly few natural spaces left, have made no mention of a conservation imperative in their platform, and we have heard nothing favourable from Laval candidates either,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher also pushed the need for a green agenda in the upcoming elections.
“We have [the] power to make an impression on the people that govern us and on the people that now seek to govern us,” he continued. “It is clearly very important that we now talk [about] this issue of preserving [natural spaces], and ensure that it becomes part of the political dialogue between now and election day. We need to make sure that it is resounding enough that all of the parties of the provincial level hear the message.”
Other members of the Green Coalition and environmental activists expressed their own concerns, such as the ongoing controversy over the condo development that will potentially destroy Parc Oxygène in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood.
In 2008, a change in zoning laws to allow development on the land put Parc Oxygène – a small green space maintained by Milton-Parc residents – in danger. The Milton-Park Community, the local co-owners’ association, has fought to save the space ever since.
Norman Nawrocki, a resident and active member of the Milton-Park Community, told The Daily that the CMM – which heads up the Land Use and Development Plan – the city council, and a member of Projet Montréal, Alex Norris, all promised to help, but the public had yet to see any tangible results.
“We are still fighting by ourselves – up until two weeks ago,” he said. “Two weeks ago, they decided it was time to take action. Two weeks ago, after four years of non-stop activity by citizens in the neighbourhood, looking for the support of Projet Montréal to back us up against a developer.”
Norris said during the meeting, “What we did upon taking office was to seek assurances that the land will be protected, and we obtained those assurances.”
“Our responsibility is not only to protect green spaces, but also to manage our budget,” he added.
Fletcher ultimately emphasized the holistic nature of environmental reform.
“We’ve all been redefined socially as consumers and workers, there is no other definition for us. We need to stop looking at ourselves that way, we need to start looking at ourselves as valuable human beings that have other dimensions that need to be fulfilled,” Fletcher said. “Green has to stop meaning green bags, and has to start meaning what is in the heart and soul of each one of us, but what we have been deprived of for so long. And that is the opportunity to get out into the nature. […] We’re living in a place for termites and rats, not for people.”
At the end of the meeting, the attendees decided on a declaration of intent, and planned a follow-up meeting to create more elaborate plans for spreading their message and seeking public support.