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Environmental action group extends its reach into the Haut-Saint-Laurent

The Mouvement d’action regional en environnement (MARE) will celebrate its fifth anniversary this May. What first started as a small, citizen-based environmental action group has now swelled to become a volunteer-driven movement helping to affect change across southern Quebec.

“We were fed up with being told that the environment wasn’t doing well,” says Martin Legault, who is one of the group’s founding members. Rather than curl up into a ball, convinced there was nothing that could be done to fight climate change or solve environmental issues, Legault says he and four others launched the MARE.

“What we decided to do was simply offer help, and to try and build a network from there,” says Legault, who admits their initial goal for the first year was to double their membership and organize a few action campaigns. In fact, they gained over 100 new faces during their first year, and now count over 500 members.

Legault says that while major national organizations such as Greenpeace, Équiterre, the David-Suzuki Foundation, and Nature Québec are well organized with large budgets, they are based in major centres like Montreal. One doesn’t have to venture far off the island before these organizations are replaced by small citizen groups or non-profit organizations that are working hard to fight environmental issues on their own.

“Now we are in touch with many small citizens’ groups, but also with the bigger organizations,” Legault says. “We touch everything,” he explains, suggesting the MARE focuses a lot of its work on protecting the natural environment because many local groups galvanize around such issues. “We weren’t experts at first,” he admits, “but members have quickly accumulated a lot of knowledge.” So much so, that the MARE created a citizens’ guide to protecting natural environments, which has now been included in the National Assembly’s catalogue.

Legault points out that the MARE is not registered as an organization and receives no government funding. “The group includes many different kinds of people, from different social classes, different ages, and different backgrounds,” he says, while estimating that upwards of 100 members are actively involved in different actions on the ground.

Structurally, the MARE includes a small communications committee, and a team of seven members who manage the day-to-day decisions. These are then presented during public meetings, referred to as MAREcredis, where members plan, organize, and share updates on current campaigns, or discuss different topics of interest.

 

Members of the Mouvement daction regional en environnement including Martin Legault Hélène Ladouceur and Philippe Lelièvre participated in the Earth Day Summit in Ormstown on April 20 PHOTO Mouvement daction regional en environnement

 

The MARE has previously focused more of its actions in the regions of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Beauharnois-Salaberry, Deux-Montagnes, and Laval; however, they have recently become more involved in the Haut-Saint-Laurent. Two years ago, Ormstown became the first municipality in Quebec to adopt a bylaw banning the use of pesticides that was based on a model bylaw developed by the MARE. The bylaw applies to the urban perimeter of the village and was approved in consultation with the Haut-Saint-Laurent syndicate of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA).

“It is a great project that was done in Ormstown,” said Legault. “We’d like the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent to become the first in Quebec to have a harmonized bylaw covering its entire territory on the issue of pesticide use in residential areas,” he added. The MARE is also now waiting on several other municipalities to adopt modified versions of their proposed bylaw.

Another action that was undertaken locally involved touring local municipalities during the summer of 2022 to ask councils to adopt climate emergency bylaws. Legault says at least 26 municipalities declared a climate emergency as a result. Members are now returning to these municipalities to determine whether any actions have followed their declarations.

“What is important for us is to always come up with solutions,” Legault insists. For example, the group has published a municipal climate guide that compiles over 100 different actions that municipalities can adopt as part of a climate action plan. He says they prioritize collaboration, especially when it comes to working with municipalities.

The MARE was present as one of almost 40 kiosks at the Earth Day Forum in Ormstown on April 20. The group also participated in the inaugural event last year, where they solidified several partnerships and recruited new members. “We are trying to do a little bit everywhere, to create links and join forces on all environmental issues,” says Legault.

Ormstown resident and MARE member, Alain Gaulin, agrees and suggests this perspective is important. “All too often, people end up trying to reinvent the wheel on their own,” he explains, suggesting it makes more sense to work together. “We’re not going to change the world, but we can take concrete action,” he says. And, when combined, these actions will make a difference.

More information on the MARE can be found online in French and English mouvementmare.org.

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