Municipalities, stand up!
On June 20, the Quebec Court of Appeal unequivocally confirmed the authority of municipalities to regulate shorelines. The highest court in Quebec emphasized the municipalities’ role in assuming being at the forefront of environmental protection and policy: « The protection of the environment in all its forms is certainly a collective responsibility, but clearly, government must play a leading role. We can therefore easily conclude that Quebec’s municipalities must acknowledge their growing responsibility »
An increasing role and growing responsibility translates into a duty for municipilaties. The Court emphasized that the time for complacency is over: « The protection of the environment is now considered outside the private sector, of the aegis and goodwill of property owners and consumers, but becomes a collective project, implemented through legislation and regulation, with administrative and criminal enforcement, symbolic of the public interest and domain it represents »
Leaving little room for interpretation, the Court continues by referring to the Municipal Power Act as a tool for municipalities to effectively carry out their obligations regarding environmental matters.
In speaking so clearly, the Court of Appeal wrote what many have been thinking for a long time: the government must take measures to protect our resources and cannot solely rely on the goodwill of its citizens. Now that the courts have told the municipalities to act, there is only one step remaining and it will not be long before it is implemented.
Shoreline residents’ grievances regarding their liberties and property rights were given no weight by the Court: «Property rights in Quebec are not absolute»
It should be emphasized that the contested regulation at issue in the case requires a protected band of 10 meters (not of 5 meters) and active revegetation, not the mere prohibition of lawn mowing as is the case for property owners on Lake Massawippi. Therefore, a regulation twice as severe as the one place here has been upheld by the courts.
With regards to the foundation of this statutory law, the Court of Appeal ’sruling was unequivocal« The urban landscaping seen on shoreline properties, as beautiful as it might be, defies in many ways the laws of nature and it seems that the latter has difficulty accommodating itself to this. Natural landscaping in these circumstances is most often the only response to harmful consequences resulting from our urban approach in rural areas. In any case these are the conclusions of the experts assigned to look into this situation»
The Court of Appeal concluded its decision with a comment inviting shoreline residents protesting against this decision to think about the bigger picture.
« The likely effects resulting from the insensitivity of the government on a matter as fundamental as the preservation of the quality of the lake’s water could have adver se consequences on the lifestyle of shoreline residents and the value of their property. Come to think of it, the measures implemented by the respondent serve the private interest of the appellants as well as the collective interest of citizens »
Hopefully this decision will also make the municipalities think about the big picture.
The argument that they fear the courts or that they rely on the cooperation of residents no longer have value and are recognized as red herrings.
Four years have passed since the regulation on shoreline zones came into effect. Most of the shoreline’s residents have complied. Some only reluctantly. Even if only out of respect for them, how can municipalities continue to tolerate the defiance by some who defy the regulation without consequences?
Would the municipalities accept a delay of 4 years in tax payments? It is now confirmed that the environment is the government’s responsibility. Its inaction will have a negative impact on both the quality of life and property values around the Lake.
What are the municipalities waiting for? Disaster? Or that someone decides to take them to court to force them to do their job, accomplish their duty, for which members of their council were elected to do?
They are supported by a majority of shoreline residents, non-governmental organizations, and now the courts as well. The time for waiting is over. Municipalities must accept their responsibilities and take action.