The Gleaner

Google wants to build on Beauharnois farmland

On Monday, May 10, the provincial government announced that the multinational corporation Google aims to acquire land in Beauharnois for a computer data center. The deal would be part of Google’s plan to carry out growth projects in Quebec, which could lead to a potential investment of $600 million USD, or approximately $735 million Canadian dollars. The company has announced that the center would create roughly 30 skilled and well-paid jobs.

Although many are pleased at the prospect of this development, the 62.4 hectares of land owned by Hydro-Quebec is currently zoned for agriculture, and many are worried about the sale of this finite resource. The discussions concerning the land were carried out without the input of the Commission for the Protection of the Agricultural Territory of Quebec (CPTAQ), an independent task force which advises the government on anything relating to the protection of agricultural land in the territory. “Preferring residential, commercial or industrial development to the nourishing vocation of our agricultural lands and bypassing the mechanisms in place to protect them will not ensure food autonomy for Quebec,” said Jérémie Letellier, president of the UPA of the Montérégie, in a press release on the matter. “The adoption of a decree allowing a foreign multinational company to get its hands on targeted land without going through the established process creates a deplorable and worrying precedent.”

The government has, however, made plans to re-zone a different but equivalent plot of land in Beauharnois for agriculture, hoping to mitigate the impact of the Google project on the Montérégie and its agricultural activities. This land would be entrusted to the UPA-Fondaction agricultural trust to support its operations and activities concerning the preservation of Quebec’s agricultural heritage. The government would also contribute $3.54 million to the UPA-Fondaction trust. For their part, Hydro-Quebec would cede approximately 150 hectares of land in Saint-Stanislas-de-Kostka to the UPA-Fondaction.

Although the UPA is pleased with the offer of compensation, the fact remains that usable agricultural land in Quebec is a finite resource, making up only two per cent of the province’s territory. “Given the compensation announced, we can in no way doubt the good faith of the stakeholders. However, the government of Quebec, by not letting the Commission do its work, deprived itself of an independent professional analysis which could have enabled Google to set up in Quebec, while being transparent and protecting as much fertile land as possible,” says Letellier. “This example, which opens the door to politicizing rezoning in Quebec, must never be repeated.”

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