MONTREAL -- The nomination of former environmentalist Steven Guilbeault to the position of Canad'as environment minister is generally being very well received by environmental groups -- though there are some reservations.

Two of the organizations he led for several years, Équiterre and Greenpeace Québec, see it as excellent news.

He has "experience and knowledge of the issues" that will be very useful, said Colleen Thorpe, executive director of Équiterre, adding that he is "a man of conviction who is a good listener and who is able to rally people from different backgrounds."

Patrick Bonin, responsible for the climate-energy file at Greenpeace, has also worked with him for several years.

"Steven Guilbeault knows the climate file, knows the key players and the importance of the issues. His approach is pragmatic, and he knows the fine details and the rules to ensure that the Liberals' climate commitments are implemented and, above all, to go even further because the Liberals still lack ambition," said Bonin.

The director-general of the Société pour la nature et les parcs (SNAP Québec), described the appointment as a "bold move."

The new minister is "a calm, composed and strategic person and is an excellent communicator," said Alain Branchaud, noting that Guilbeault has also spoken out about the need to better protect biodiversity, a key element of environmental protection.


Despite his environmental pedigree, Guilbeault's approach will still be under scrutiny.

"Only the future will tell us if appointing Mr. Guilbeault was the right thing to do or not, or if he is capable of rallying the cabinet and, more broadly, the opposition on climate ambition and on pretty strong action," warned Thorpe.

Bonin echoed this sentiment.

"Mr. Guilbeault is a very good communicator, but we will have to see what guidelines he will defend because we have seen a lot of 'greenwashing' in the past on the part of the Trudeau government, which promised a lot but still bought a pipeline while we're in a climate crisis," he said.

The David Suzuki Foundation's executive director for Quebec and the Atlantic, Sabaa Khan, emphasized that "no matter who is appointed minister of the environment, the Canadian government has a huge and urgent job to decarbonize the economy and make climate change a priority in all its departments. The minister of the environment will have to play a key role in bringing the rest of the Canadian government together."


This appointment does not solve any of the real problems, said André Bélisle, president of the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique (AQLPA), saying it's a symbolic gesture.

"There is no saviour for the climate and this is the card that the Trudeau government is playing, that is obvious. Canada has never respected any of its commitments for 30 years and they continue to tell us that we must sell oil to have money to fight the climate crisis and no self-respecting environmentalist will accept that," Belisle said.

Bélisle didn't hide the fact that he has strong reservations about the new minister, whom he said had wavering positions on certain issues when he was still a prominent environmental activist.

Bonin also expected his former colleague will face the challenge in the gap between reality and government rhetoric.

"We are not on track, for example, to meet our 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target, and it is not ambitious enough. With the magnitude of the current climate threat, he's going to have to convince the government that it needs to be much more ambitious and also make sure that it protects workers and communities in the transition and the exit from oil that needs to be accelerated," he said.

In this regard, the Greenpeace spokesperson welcomed the appointment of outgoing environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson to the natural resources file.

According to Bonin, "it suggests there will be a greater contribution from a ministry that has historically been a major detractor from action on climate."

Bonin noted that Wilkinson not only knows the climate change file, but also "has roots in the west. He is also pragmatic and, most importantly, is not attached to the oil and gas industry, which will need to be addressed quickly in terms of cap and trade," as promised by the government.

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 26, 2021.