Give Quebecers back access to public water bodies

* Letter addressed to the Premier of Quebec François Legault and to the ministers of municipal affairs and housing, forests, wildlife and parks, sustainable development, the environment and the fight against climate change, and tourism.

The Collective for equitable access to public water bodies was created with the objective of obtaining real equity for all in access to water. The Collective brings together the Alliance de l’Industrie nautique du Québec, the Association of Sport Fishermen of Quebec, the Fédération québécoise des Chasseurs et des Pêcheurs, Canot Kayak Québec, Eau Vive Québec, as well as Voile Québec, and is supported by more than a hundred organizations and industrial and commercial companies.

We, the collective, demand that the Government of Quebec take immediate action to give all Quebecers back access to public water bodies in Quebec.

Increasingly difficult access

For several years, accessibility to public water bodies has become increasingly difficult. The current context has only accentuated this unfortunate trend. Indeed, the low water levels experienced this year make several launching ramps inoperable. In addition, the confinement having reinvigorated the enthusiasm of Quebecers for nautical activities, we note an increased traffic of certain small lakes and rivers in the region. The reaction of many municipalities to such issues is to reserve access to water bodies on their territory to their residents only. Instead, other municipalities choose to impose exaggeratedly high tariffs.

Thus, it is now difficult to put a boat on a trailer in the water for less than $ 40 or $ 50 or to park a vehicle for less than $ 20, when roadside parking is made illegal in the areas where speed is limited. More and more municipalities are no longer offering a daily rate and are opting for a seasonal sticker at costs ranging from $ 300 to $ 600. What’s more, in many places, daily rates exceed $ 250, or even over $ 400!

Many Quebecers struggle to find launchings that suit their budget and, if they do, have to travel great distances to get there. Modest-income families who own small boats simply cannot afford to practice their favorite boating activity.

Navigation is a constitutional right

The legal basis of the Collective’s demands is solid and is based on the constitutional rights of citizens. The Constitution, the fundamental law of Canada, establishes the division of powers and section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867 gives the federal government jurisdiction over navigation and ships.

Consequently, Canada has the power to legislate on all matters relating to navigable waters, to be able to regulate in particular by the 2001 Canada Shipping Act and to apply by the regulations on restrictions on the use of ships. The scope of the federal regulations extends to rivers, streams and lakes across Canada.

The rights of water users are violated

However, the constitutional rights of users are constantly flouted by these too many municipalities which restrict or remove users’ access rights to water bodies.

This deplorable situation already prevailed in 2002, when the Quebec government adopted the National Water Policy. It was then planned to grant additional powers to cities to facilitate access to water bodies on their territory, even extending their power to expropriate land in order to restore access to the population. Unfortunately, this orientation was not followed by consequent actions. There was no obligation to restore access, and above all, there was no ban on municipalities not to sell all the land surrounding a body of water. As the land bordering the water has a high property value, the greed has instead motivated municipalities to sell them and thus increase their property tax revenues.

Not only were the ramps never returned, but, unhappy at having to be called to order, the municipalities acting illegally now refuse to comply with court decisions. They react to the injunctions sent to them by establishing exorbitant and totally discriminatory tariffs for non-residents, simply because they do not add a ballot to the municipal ballot, flouting the principle of equality before the law.

Promise of the CAQ not kept

Before coming to power, the current government made a commitment by affirming: “It is inconceivable that Quebecers are struggling to take advantage of one of our greatest riches. The CAQ makes a formal commitment to give the population back access to our bodies of water, by revising the tariffs. To do this, we will work in close collaboration with the municipalities, for the benefit of all citizens ”. We still find this commitment on the website of the party in power.

Recently, Minister Benoit Charette announced the creation of the Water Action Forum and affirmed that this consultation body “will allow all the actors concerned to participate in decisions” sic. As users must be represented, the Collective for equitable access to public water bodies is asking for its place around the table. For us, it is a question of defending the rights of users, who must be able to practice their favorite aquatic activity on all public bodies of water if they comply with the regulations in force in Quebec.

The spinoffs generated by the practice of aquatic activities support thousands of Quebecers. More and more, fishermen and other users are resigned to spending their money either in other provinces such as Ontario, or in American border states which have understood the interest of properly welcoming these essential economic players. tourism.

Take action immediately

Access to public bodies of water is a legitimate and constitutional right of all Quebecers. In order to reverse the current trend, the Collective calls for the energetic and immediate intervention of the government. We hope that he will find a solution to this unhealthy situation which threatens our right to enjoy our national heritage. All water users, now grouped together in the Collective for equitable access to public water bodies, want solutions to be put in place as quickly as possible. The Collective therefore calls for the following measures:

  • The town planning plans being approved by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAMH), must provide plots of public land giving access to water bodies, as well as spaces allowing the parking of vehicles and trailers. .
  • The construction of new ramps and other boat launches must be undertaken and managed by the Quebec government, due to the plethora of visitors near large urban centers such as Montreal, Quebec and Sherbrooke.
  • Also, in order to limit the spread of invasive species, washing stations should be built in rest areas and along major highways.
  • The government must oblige the municipalities to allow parking near the launching ramps at an affordable cost to all Quebecers and without discrimination resident non-resident. The cost of parking a vehicle with or without a trailer should be fair and equitable.

We are sensitive to environmental issues, the tranquility of local residents and the spread of invasive species. The government must take immediate action on the main river axes such as the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries in urban and peri-urban areas and finally, the lakes formed by the widening of the river and the Ottawa River. The CAQ government must keep its word. It must put in place the concrete actions required to give Quebecers back access to their waterways.

For the Collective for equitable access to public water bodies,

Stephan Bourgeois, president of the Association of Sport Fishermen of Quebec