November 12, 2007

Quebec closer to comprehensive sustainable development strategy

The Quebec government has just concluded an on-line public consultation on its draft Sustainable Development Strategy, released in early October by Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks Line Beauchamp. Preparation of the strategy is a key requirement of Quebec's Sustainable Development Act, which came into effect in April 2006. As part of the process, the government also held public consultation meetings throughout the province this past spring.

The strategy gives the provincial government an implementation framework it can use to work toward the overall goal of sustainable development. It specifies aims, objectives and methods for integrating economic advancement, environmental protection and social equity, and will govern all ministerial policies, as well as public service programs and activities. Eventually, the strategy will apply to municipal bodies and educational, health and social service institutions, so as to improve the quality of life for Quebec residents.

The strategy is founded on 16 sustainable development principles set out in the Sustainable Development Act. Topping the list of these principles is health and quality of life, followed closely by environmental protection, economic efficiency, prevention, precaution, intergovernmental partnership and co-operation, access to knowledge, and biodiversity preservation. Included in the list as well are respect for ecosystem support capacity, responsible production and consumption, polluter-pays, and internalization of costs.

The government sees three fundamental challenges to be addressed: the development of knowledge, which will lead to informed decisions and better action; promotion of responsible action in order to reduce society's ecological footprint; and fostering of commitment by all sectors of Quebec society as well as the public service.

Accordingly, the strategy sets out nine directions through which these challenges will be addressed. These include: informing, raising awareness, educating and innovating; reducing and managing risks to improve health, safety and the environment; producing and consuming responsibly; increasing economic efficiency; addressing demographic changes; practising integrated, sustainable land use and development; preserving and sharing the collective heritage; promoting social involvement; and preventing and reducing social and economic inequality.

Within these nine directions, the strategy lists 19 areas of intervention and 29 specific objectives, all of which will serve to guide more than 50 Quebec government department, agencies and corporations in preparing required action plans, once the Sustainable Development Strategy has been officially adopted.

The government has also put in place measures to ensure that the strategy translates into measurable action and, through mandatory annual progress reports, will hold all agencies accountable for carrying out their action plans. Once the strategy is in place, sustainable development indicators and monitoring measures will be developed and drafted for public consultation prior to formal adoption. These will provide a consistent standard by which progress can be gauged. Finally, a provincial Sustainable Development Commissioner, reporting to the Auditor General, will regularly evaluate the government's performance in implementing the Sustainable Development Strategy.

In conjunction with the strategy, Minister Beauchamp also released for comment her ministry's draft Sustainable Development Action Plan 2007-2012. As the lead agency responsible for co-ordinating the development of such plans by other ministries, the Ministry recommends that they include at least ten specific ministerial objectives in their action plans, backed up by specific measures for achieving them. Its own draft action plan includes 25 objectives, accompanied by initiatives and activities, as well as indicators for measuring progress. A summary of the Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks draft action plan may be viewed on the Ministry's Web site, www.mddep.gouv.qc.ca/developpement/inter_en.htm. The provincial Sustainable Development Strategy and other related information may be viewed on the National Assembly Web site, www.assnat.qc.ca.

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