Quebec pact to reduce carbon footprint greeted with populist backlash
Elite decried for an ecological guilt trip when their own lifestyles were far from sustainable.
MONTREAL — When Quebec stage director Dominic Champagne this month enlisted other famous Quebec artists to sign a pact committing to a reduction of their ecological footprint, he hoped it would persuade ordinary people to do the same.
Among the hundreds of artists, scientists and others he got to sign on were Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberte and the Quebec power couple, Veronique Cloutier and Louis Morissette, all considered showbiz royalty in the province.
The point of the exercise, Champagne said, was to show the public that some of society’s wealthiest, most famous people were prepared to do their part to save the environment.
Then came the backlash.
Social media lit up with criticism of Champagne and the other signatories, suggesting Quebec’s elite was giving an ecological guilt trip to regular citizens when their own lifestyles were far from sustainable.
“I salute the initiative,” the songwriter Fred St-Gelais wrote on Instagram, “but I see on my feed a good number of stars who own houses three times too big with two SUVs in their double garage and a mega-chalet that is empty 90 per cent of the time, signing this between two trips to the south.”
Quebecor pundit Richard Martineau singled out Cloutier, whose Instagram account has plenty of photos of her getting into planes and SUVs.
In an appearance Sunday on Quebec’s popular TV talk show, “Tout le monde en parle,” Champagne was asked to defend the pact. Host Guy A. Lepage noted many people have criticized the pact for the “lack of consistency” among some of its signatories, including Laliberte, “who flies a private jet and has gone into space.”
Champagne responded that no one signed the pact to give people moral lessons.
“We are all intoxicated by oil. We live in this world,” he said. “We eat meat, we are alone in our cars in traffic.”
In the interview, Champagne said he wasn’t expecting such a “virulent” backlash.
“I don’t often read the trolls or those opinion writers,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “But what I noticed is that people badly interpreted (the pact.) They saw the name, ‘Laliberte’ and ‘Morissette,’ and all of a sudden they started to defend the good people versus the elite.”
Champagne said he specifically sought out big names in order to get media attention “and to show it’s not the poorest people who have less of an environmental footprint who need to make the biggest effort,” he said.
And while he may not be happy with the backlash, Champagne has undeniably had an impact.
More than 210,000 people have already signed the pact online since the initiative was launched Nov. 7.
The pact’s signatories vow to reduce their dependence on oil, to recycle more and to eat less meat.
But they also call on politicians and other decision-makers to ensure the province meets its greenhouse gas reduction targets and to “launch a big energy efficiency and electrification initiative in Quebec.”
Alexandre Moreau, policy analyst with the right-leaning Montreal Economic Institute, says Quebec’s carbon cuts are “largely symbolic” because the province produces such a small fraction of global emissions.
China, for example, emits more greenhouse gases in a couple of days than Quebec does in a year, he said.
“The question is not if we should act, but how we should act in order to reduce greenhouse gases in the most efficient way,” Moreau said.
A public pact signed by wealthy, globe-trotting artists isn’t the best way to get the public to act on reducing their environmental footprint, he said.
“We certainly see the good intentions of the initiators of the pact, but there was a paradox in their marketing approach,” Moreau said.
Champagne said despite the criticism, he has been “overwhelmed” by positive comments from people across the province.
“No one here is posing as people who are perfect,” he said, adding he is committed to reducing his own plane travel.
He added: “I have the impression that we have never talked as much about environmental footprints as we have over the past few days, since we launched the pact.”