Ministers Geneviève Guilbault and Jonatan Julien seated at the table of a press conference, next to a screen where we can read: “For quality projects, faster and at better cost”.

Minister Geneviève Guilbault says she is convinced that Mobilité Infra Québec will be able to make the planning and implementation of public transportation projects more efficient.

Photo: Radio-United States / Sylvain Roy Roussel

For several years in Quebec, public transportation projects have been stalling. They are canceled, postponed, they cost too much for the Prime Minister’s liking or they do not obtain the required social acceptability. In short, the results are disappointing, despite the urgency to act. Will the new Mobilité Infra Québec structure change things?

Let’s hope so. The new entity has the advantage of concentrating high-level expertise in one place, essential for analyzing, planning and carrying out transport infrastructure projects, for which there are pressing needs. And Mobilité Infra Québec could prove more effective than project offices scattered everywhere, which are set up each time an idea appears.

That said, the bill confirms, once again, a tendency specific to this government which is that of concentrating powers in its hands. From the explanatory notes of the project, it is specified that the new organization will have for mission to carry out, when the government entrusts it with responsibility, the opportunity analysis, planning and implementation of complex transport projects.

And this is where the problem lies. Why is it the government that comes to decide, guide and entrust mandates to this new entity to analyze, plan and carry out projects? Should we not proceed differently and instead ask Mobilité Infra Québec to analyze the needs, use its expertise in town planning, land use and sustainable mobility, inform the government and then implement the selected projects?

Let’s understand each other well. The government must retain responsibility for establishing priorities and an overall vision, particularly on the choices to make to achieve its objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And it is clear that the realization of a project must obtain the final approval of those who finance it, the government.

Moving away from political choices

But for several years, the Legault government has managed public transport projects based on polls. These are political decisions that determine the destiny of public transport. By entrusting mandates to CDPQ Infra, we also made political choices, the results of which are more than unequal.

THE REM of the East, entrusted to CDPQ Infra, was poorly put together. Social acceptability was never there with this idea of ​​building an airbridge in the middle of the city, an aberration which led the government to withdraw the project from the hands of the Caisse. And the REM of Taschereau Boulevard towards the South Shore was abandoned by the Caisse de dépôt at the beginning of the year.

This political choice, that of entrusting such important projects to an entity – CDPQ Infra – which seeks maximum efficiency, is not optimal, far from it. Moreover, Minister Guilbault said, at a press briefing, that she wanted to see the government reduce its dependence on CDPQ Infra, which is still analyzing the structuring transport project in Quebec. We are not close to a turnaround!

For six years, we have witnessed the procrastination of the Legault government on the third link and on the tramway in Quebec. Let us also remember that Valérie Plante’s proposal to create a new metro line – the pink line – also came up against the political choice of the Legault government of not wanting to carry out this project.

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If Quebec had already equipped itself with an independent, expert and competent entity in matters of public transportation, perhaps we would be inaugurating the REM from the East, imagining the REM of the South Shore and to implement the structuring transportation strategy in the Quebec region.

Return to the experts

Rather, we wasted a lot of time. The expertise of competent people, qualified to think and plan for the needs of a city, transport and sustainable mobility, has been ignored. Today, with her bill, the minister seeks to correct the situation. It is very good. But shouldn’t opportunity analyzes and project planning be the responsibility of people who are capable of identifying the real needs in terms of transportation, and then proposing the necessary projects to the government?

If there is one level of government that must be heard louder than the others on these projects, it is certainly the municipalities, which know their territory and their citizens. It is written in the bill that in the absence of an agreement with the minister, the amount of the financial contribution of a municipality or other organization to a complex transport project is set by the government.

However, municipal autonomy is a cardinal value for city mayors, as Bruno Marchand recalled Thursday morning. For the mayor of Quebec, not only must we rely on competent people to establish needs, but we must also get out of management in the short week and establish a vision over 5, 10, 15, even 20 years. Are we moving towards this vision? Does the new entity bypass municipalities and transport companies?

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Faster and cheaper?

Furthermore, the bill on agility in infrastructure projects presented by Minister Jonatan Julien opens the door to more efficient development of such projects. Quebec has an infrastructure plan worth $153 billion over 10 years. Minister Julien wants to see projects carried out 25% faster, at a cost 15% lower.

By moving from a rigid and confrontational approach to one where companies will be involved in the design, development of projects and the materials to choose, Quebec is convinced of being able to carry out projects for schools, seniors’ homes and road projects more efficiently.

There too, hopefully! It is surprising, at the same time, that we are not there yet. The Minister of Infrastructure affirms that planning will be optimized by avoiding multiplying projects where there is a shortage of manpower, by launching approval processes for several projects of the same type (construction of 12 schools, for example ).

The two bills presented by Geneviève Guilbault and Jonatan Julien, with their strengths and weaknesses, must lead to a more effective process of planning and carrying out projects. We will have to wait some time before measuring the real effects of this new approach. You will have to be patient. But at stake is Quebec’s ability to face the most important economic challenge of our time, that of the energy transition in the era of global warming. It has to work!

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