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Open letter for equitable access to public water bodies in Quebec

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Montreal, August 11, 2022

Mr. François Legault, Prime Minister of Quebec
Coalition Avenir Québec
1260 Mill Street, Suite 50
Montreal (Quebec) H3K 2B4

Subject: Open letter for equitable access to public water bodies in Quebec

Prime Minister,

It will almost be 20 years since the Quebec government adopted the National Water Policy. At the time, it was a question of responding to ecological and public health issues, while taking into account certain internal and external political factors. This policy was to mark a turning point in the management of water resources and the status of water. This same policy gave a glimpse of a promising future for sport fishing while it stated that “Promoting recreational tourism activities therefore constitutes the fifth orientation of the National Water Policy which is structured around three areas of intervention: expand access to water and encourage the development of recreational fishing in Quebec, promote nautical safety and promote nautical tourism.”

The 2018-2030 Quebec Water Strategy recently took over from this policy. Once again, access to bodies of water is put forward, as evidenced by objective 4 of the said overhaul, worded “Promote access to bodies of water and courses”. Paragraph 4.4.2 goes even further, by directly targeting the deployment of the “[…] Access to water bodies for recreational fishing program”.

Despite what seems to be a firm political will to make access to Quebec's waterways and bodies of water a priority (you actually made this an electoral promise during the last elections), we must admit that this priority remains theoretical to date.

More and more barriers to accessibility

Quebecers are having more and more difficulty accessing the rivers, lakes and rivers of Quebec, even though they are considered our national blue gold. With confinement having reinvigorated Quebecers' enthusiasm for water activities, causing increased traffic to certain small lakes in the region, many municipalities now reserve access to bodies of water in their territory only for their residents. What's more, some municipalities do not hesitate to restrict access to bodies of water in their territory to their own non-riparian citizens.

Municipalities which, for their part, allow access to their launching ramps impose increasingly high rates. It is now difficult to put a boat on a trailer in the water at a rate lower than 50 $ per day, with some municipalities even charging daily rates of around 500 $. A growing number of municipalities no longer offer a daily rate and opt for a seasonal vignette at costs varying from 150 $ to 600 $. Many Quebecers therefore struggle to find launching ramps that suit their budget and, if they succeed, have to travel many kilometers to get there. Low-income families with small boats simply no longer have the means to practice their favorite water activity.

Concrete actions requested from the government

The Collective for equitable access to bodies of water, which brings together the Association of Sports Fishermen of Quebec, the Alliance of the Nautical Industry of Quebec, Canot Kayak Quebec, Eau vive Quebec and Quebec Subaquatique, the Fédération de Voile du Quebec, the Quebec Federation of Hunters and Fishermen, as well as the Fondation Rivières, supported by more than a hundred organizations and businesses in industry and commerce, considers that concrete actions must be put in place in order to rectify the problematic situation of access to the province's water bodies. All of this, obviously respecting the support capacity of the environment, the preservation of natural environments and the fight against invasive exotic aquatic species.

We attempted to enter into a dialogue with several cities and municipalities that have recently changed their regulations regarding access to bodies of water and watercourses in their territory. Unfortunately, municipal officials did not respond to our requests for meetings. On a few occasions already, the Collective has attempted to question various ministers of the Quebec government as well as you, Mr. Prime Minister, on this issue. Once again, our efforts fell on deaf ears.

Unable to note what seems to be the disinterest of cities and municipalities in responding positively to our requests for dialogue, and given the inaction of the Government of Quebec in this matter to date, the Collective for equitable access to the plans of Public water demands, without delay:

  • The imposition of a moratorium on coastal towns and municipalities in Quebec on any change relating to access to public water bodies in Quebec;
  • The establishment of standardized, fair and reasonable cost scales that may be required by municipalities for the use of access infrastructure and boat washing stations;
  • Recognition of the preponderance of the precautionary principle in the face of the decline of public water bodies in Quebec accessible to sport fishermen and other users;
  • Clarification of the position of the Government of Quebec and the Union of Municipalities of Quebec regarding access to public bodies of water in Quebec;
  • The creation of a joint working committee on the subject. This committee could be led by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, and supplemented by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Environment and of the Fight against climate change, the wildlife federations members of the National Wildlife Table and the members of the Collective.

Vision of political parties

Alongside this request for targeted action, and on the eve of the provincial elections on October 3, the Collective asks political parties to clearly indicate to us what their commitments and objectives will be in terms of preserving and developing public access to the St. Lawrence River as well as lakes and rivers throughout Quebec? Could you tell us if you will be able to prioritize this issue which affects a multitude of vacationers in all regions of Quebec and meet the expectations of the Collective?

45 years ago now, Minister Yves Duhaime initiated the great unclubbing, sounding the death knell for private hunting and fishing clubs in Quebec. At that time, the forest was only accessible to rich Americans and company owners, and the rare Quebecers with access to it were, for the majority of them, close to political power. Should Quebecers understand that we are witnessing the return of these clubs?

Unfortunately, the question arises quite legitimately.

Awaiting a return from you, Mr. Prime Minister, we send you our most cordial greetings.

The Collective for equitable access to bodies of water

Francis Girard
Vice-president of the Quebec Sports Fishermen's Association
1-866-656-2777 ext 3

Photo: Ali Kazal/Unsplash


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