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Quebec deposit-refund inside politics


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December 20, 2010 by Guy Crittenden

I thought readers might find this article from La Presse interesting about insider moves in the Quebec cabinet that may impact deposit-refund in that province. It will be interesting to follow what happens in the next year or two…

A lobbyist against deposit return in the Minister’s cabinet

December 2, 2010

by Charles Côté, La Presse

The announced dissolution of Recyc-Québec and the recent hiring of a lobbyist by Minister Pierre Arcand are worrisome harbingers for the future of deposit return which currently applies to soft drink and beer containers.

The lobbyist, Jonathan Gagnon, was hired into the cabinet of the Ministre du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs (MDDEP) last September 20.

Prior to this, he worked on behalf of ÉcoEntreprises Québec, a consortium of major retailers such as the Société des alcools du Québec and manufacturers of food products like milk and juices. He was, in fact, still a registered lobbyist yesterday, an “omission” that was corrected during the day, according to a spokeswoman for Minister Arcand, Sarah Shirley.

In his capacity as a lobbyist, Mr. Gagnon has done some “awareness-raising efforts about municipal curbside collection programs before the MDDEP in connection with drafting the new waste management policy.”

Ms. Shirley confirms that waste management “is part of Mr. Gagnon’s attributions” within Mr. Arcand’s cabinet.

As for deposit return, “it will be studied and the decision will be made in 2011,” she said.

Wine, water, milk and juice bottles are not subject to deposit return. Companies in these sectors prefer recycling through curbside collection, which makes fewer demands on them.

“The future of deposit return is a preoccupation because the lobby for curbside collection is very strong,” said Karel Ménard (Front commun québécois pour une gestion écologique des déchets (FCQGED) –[Québec common front for ecologically-friendly waste management]).

Deposit return, however, if far more effective than curbside collection.

For example, the rate of recovery for beer bottles is nearly 95%. Each bottle is reused 10 to 12 times, whereas less than 50% of non-returnable glass goes through recycling bins and is never reused.

“Personally, I see this as a problem,” said Martine Ouellet, Opposition spokesman on the environment. It’s worrisome that a lobbyist should suddenly find himself within the cabinet. As a lobbyist, he (Mr. Gagnon) has clearly positioned himself in favour of curbside collection. It is flagrantly poor judgement on the part of a Minister to enlist a lobbyist. I think it is questionable on account of the extreme proximity of the dates and mandates entrusted to him.”

Ms. Shirley defends Mr. Gagnon’s hiring: “Insofar as people are hired on the basis of their skills, this implies that they have pertinent experience. And the law does not impose a waiting period to hire lobbyists.”

The deposit return system was managed by Recyc-Québec, who levied penalties against producers who did not meet standards of effectiveness.

Such penalties helped Recyc-Québec, a government corporation, accumulate over $40 million over the years, over and above its operating expenses. An excellent application of the “polluter pays” principle, according to many observers.

“We were not expecting Recyc-Québec to disappear,” said Martine Ouellet. What is the advantage of that? It is an organization that worked and did not cost anything. It makes one wonder, what is the Minister’s true agenda?

Announced last November 11, the dissolution of Recyc-Québec is a component of the measures contained in Bill 130, which puts into application the government’s 2010-2014 Action Plan to reduce and control expenses.

In a communiqué last month, Minister Arcand contended that integrating Recyc-Québec’s activities into his Department’s activities should save $2 million a year. Ms. Shirley indicated the Recyc-Québec’s obligations and contracts would be fully respected.


Guy Crittenden

Guy Crittenden

Guy Crittenden was formerly Editor of this magazine and is currently a freelance writer specializing in environmental and producer responsibility themes. He lives in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada and can be contacted directly at gcrit @ rogers DOT com
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