Minister of The Environment
Paradis was re-elected in the 1989 provincial election and was promoted to Minister of the Environment in October 1989. When Daniel Johnson succeeded Bourassa in January 1994, he changed Paradis's title to minister of the Environment and Wildlife. He also served as the Government House Leader from 1992 to 1994.
- Ministry reforms
At the time of Paradis's appointment, the Quebec environment ministry was known for being disorganized and bureaucratic. In November 1989, he introduced restructuring changes directed toward fighting industrial pollution. The most notable change was the appointment of a deputy minister for sustainable development, charged with ensuring that new industrial projects would be environmentally sound. The following year, Paradis expressed disappointment that his department received only fifteen million dollars for restructuring rather than the expected fifty million.
- Great Whale River project
As Environment Minister, Paradis was responsible for overseeing Quebec's environmental assessment of the proposed Great Whale River project. As such, he became involved in separate but overlapping controversies with one of his cabinet colleagues, the government of Canada, and the Cree of northern Quebec.
Paradis and provincial Energy Minister Lise Bacon engaged in a public dispute over Great Whale's schedule in 1990. Bacon wanted a two-stage environmental assessment that would allow access roads and airports to be constructed as quickly as possible. Paradis initially agreed, but he later called for a single comprehensive assessment when the Cree warned that a two-stage process would violate a prior agreement. He also stressed that Great Whale could be shut down if it was found to be environmentally unsound, while Bacon argued that it was necessary for Quebec's energy needs. The government ultimately approved the two-stage approach over Paradis's objections.
Paradis also opposed the federal government's bid to conduct an independent environmental assessment, on the grounds that Great Whale was within Quebec's jurisdiction. He reached an agreement with federal Environment Minister Robert de Cotret in January 1991 to conduct a shared review of the project's dams, but not of its roads and other infrastructure. This agreement later fell through due to differences between the parties. De Cotret's successor, Jean Charest, tried to establish a single, comprehensive assessment involving both levels of government; although Paradis still supported the idea of a single assessment, he opposed what he described as Charest's encroachment into the provincial domain.
The Cree of northern Quebec opposed the Great Whale project on the grounds that it would cause massive flooding in their traditional territories. Under Matthew Coon Come's leadership, the Cree used lawsuits and an international publicity campaign to draw attention to their concerns. Paradis expressed support for their position, although he criticized tactical decisions made by the Cree leadership.
The Bourassa government curtailed its development plans in August 1991, and Paradis announced that construction would not begin until a thorough environmental review had taken place. The following month, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the federal government was legally bound to undertake a comprehensive study of the project's effects on the environment and indigenous communities, and that it therefore had final authority over the project. The court also ruled that the federal and provincial governments could not undertake a joint review without agreement from the Cree and Inuit. The Great Whale project was ultimately cancelled by the Quebec government 1994.
- Federal–provincial relations
In 1989, Paradis and Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley successfully pressured the federal government to increase standards for motor vehicle emissions. Paradis and Bradley also worked to harmonize their respective environmental laws, to ensure that companies would not be able to leave one province for the other to avoid regulation.
The Parliament of Canada passed a law in 1992 to increase federal oversight of projects such as dams and paper mills. Paradis described the law as "totalitarian", arguing that it encroached on Quebec's jurisdiction. The bill was not proclaimed into law until late 1994, by which time the Quebec Liberal Party was out of office.
In early 1994, Paradis reached an agreement with new federal Environment Minister Sheila Copps for a six-year program to clean up the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River. In the same year, the Quebec Environment Ministry was given sole responsibility for enforcing pulp and paper environmental regulations.
- Other environmental concerns
In October 1991, Paradis approved a gas processing and storage project by Soligaz in Varennes. The initial provincial review recommended that the project be rejected due to safety concerns, although two subsequent reviews called for the government to approve it.
Paradis ordered the closure of a Tioxide plant in Tracy, Quebec in 1992, saying that the company had repeatedly broken its promise to improve environmental standards. The plant had long been regarded as one of Quebec's worst polluters. The company initially challenged the ruling, but shut down part of the operation in 1993.
A Montreal Gazette report in late 1991 noted that Paradis had "injected new vigor into the enforcement of anti-pollution laws" but added that he had not succeeding in making the environment a priority of the Bourassa government.
- Canadian federalism
As a vocal supporter of Canadian federalism, Paradis had little involvement in the Bourassa government's turn to Quebec nationalism after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. He opposed the nationalist Allaire Report and promoted changes to Quebec's Charter of the French Language to permit an increased use of languages other than French on public signs. In 1994, however, Paradis said that his party would need to reach out to Quebec nationalists for the "Non" side to win the next referendum on sovereignty.
Paradis chose not to run for the Liberal Party leadership when Robert Bourassa resigned for health reasons in 1993. Daniel Johnson won the leadership without opposition.
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