The Quebec government’s plan to create a gas digital network has hit a snag as it faces a court challenge from an organization that wants the province to create its own.
The proposed gas digital infrastructure, to be launched in 2019, has been backed by the Quebec Federation of Petroleum Producers (QFPP) and a coalition of environmental groups.
The QFPP says the system would give Quebecers more control over their electricity and make the province more environmentally friendly, but critics say it would only be a first step in a long-term plan to privatize Quebec’s electricity and gas utilities.
“The Quebec Federation wants to be a central government,” said Guy Laroche, president of the federation.
“They’re not interested in the future.
They’re interested in controlling the future.”
The Quebec government, in its submission to the federal court of appeal, argued the plan is not “incompatible” with Quebec’s sovereignty.
“The Federation has no role whatsoever in any government of Canada, not even a provincial government,” wrote Public Works Minister Pierre Moreau.
The federal court heard arguments from a group of four Quebec mayors, four business groups and a local gas company on Thursday in a case about the government’s approach to gas.
The federation says the plan, known as gas-to-power, would give electricity customers control over how much electricity they use.
But Quebec’s chief executive, Denis Levesque, has dismissed the plan as “unnecessary” and an “attempt to undermine Quebec’s independence.”
Levesque said his government will fight the federation’s claims that the gas digital project will create a monopoly and “extract money from Quebecers.”
“The federation’s proposal would not be an alternative to a gas network.
It would be a direct competitor to the existing network,” he said in a statement.
He said the federation would challenge any change to the gas network in court, but added that his government is committed to working with Quebecers to “protect their interests.”
In its response to the court, the Quebec government said the plan would not create an “open market” in the province, but would instead create a central system for all power.
The plan would “reduce the cost of power transmission in the territory to the benefit of consumers, and eliminate costs of transmission and distribution by creating a new regional energy market, which will allow consumers to choose the appropriate supplier of energy,” the plan said.
It added that the federation is “seeking to create an economic monopoly by forcing Quebec to pay for the gas infrastructure and other services provided by a third party.”
“In the meantime, the federation and its supporters are trying to destroy the independence of Quebec’s energy policy,” said Laroche.
In Quebec, where the average household generates about 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, the energy crisis has put pressure on the gas sector.
The province recently had to raise its gas taxes, but it is expected to be able to avoid paying a higher one for years.
The Quebec federation has also filed a lawsuit against the province over a separate lawsuit it filed against a government employee in January for violating Quebec’s anti-money laundering laws.
The court has yet to rule on the federation lawsuit, which it claims was “political and frivolous.”