The Canadian Press, editing Le Devoir Robert Poëti and Sylvain Gaudreault
To what extent would abandoning the tram project be a precedent? Has the government often abandoned such big projects? Le Devoir asked two former ministers to explore their memories.
When asked, former minister Robert Poëti thinks of the McInnis cement factory. After the Liberals returned to power in 2014, the party caucus seriously considered abandoning the project pushed by the former PQ government.
“Several MPs did not want us to continue with the cement plant, but because Quebec had invested a lot of money, some believed it was necessary to continue. »
The former PQ government had granted $165 million in equity capital to this highly polluting project and Investissement Québec had lent another $250 million. The PLQ decided to continue and it was Philippe Couillard who inaugurated the factory in 2017.
“Based on everything we know today, it was a bad decision,” assesses the man who was Minister of Transport from 2014 to 2016. “It’s a good example of a project where we should not have move forward.”
Mr. Poëti does not want to comment directly on the Quebec tramway issue, but judges that the question asked is a question of principle. In his eyes, it is part of the role of a responsible government to reject a project that turns out to be a “bad investment.”
The CAQ government showed this clearly, he said, by abandoning the road tunnel project between Quebec and Lévis. “If a decision was good last year and it's not good this year, it's OK to change your mind, but the government has a duty to explain it,” he says.
When it is pointed out to him that the sums committed to the tram project so far are much greater than what was spent on the third link, Mr. Poëti repeats that the same principle applies. It is not because we have spent a lot that we should continue with “a mistake”, he says.
Former PQ minister Sylvain Gaudreault, who also had the Transport portfolio, is categorical: the government enjoys “very great autonomy” and can absolutely “pull the plogue”. “It becomes a question of political decision, of capacity to assume a decision,” he says.
With the exception of the third link, Mr. Gaudreault does not recall another major transportation project abandoned midway in recent history. The precedents he remembers concern mining and the energy sector.
The PQ's decision to close the Gentilly-2 power plant, for example, represented a risk of this kind, he notes. At the time, the government created a regional fund of $200 million to compensate for the 800 positions lost in the Bécancour region. However, in this case, the owner of the plant was Hydro-Québec, which did not expose it to prosecution by the operator.
It was different with the Hydrocarbons Act, another example mentioned by Mr. Gaudreault. Adopted two years ago, the law which put an end to hydrocarbon exploration provided for compensation of around $100 million for companies which “held oil exploration rights”, he recalls. .
The case is currently before the courts. The Utica Resources company alone is suing the Quebec government for 18 billion.
To what extent should we fear such lawsuits? “It’s a question of political courage,” according to Mr. Gaudreault. Mr. Poëti points out that contracts contain provisions to regulate this. He adds that companies “want to be able to work with the government in the future” and “have no interest in remaining in endless battles.”
With Sébastien Tanguay< /i>