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Geneviève Guilbault wants fewer meetings and more results in public transport

Photo: Francis Vachon Le Devoir The Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility, Geneviève Guilbault, was on a media tour Thursday and Friday to talk about the future transport agency, about which she will table a bill next week.

Isabelle Porter and Francois Carabin

Published at 0:00

  • Quebec

The Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority (ARTM) organizes “a lot of meetings” without delivering enough results, according to the Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility, Geneviève Guilbault, who wants transport companies to “optimize” their spending to get out of the red, as the government is preparing to do.

“I find that, over the past year and a half, I have had a lot of meetings,” said the minister in an editorial interview with Le Devoir, Friday. I have been presented with PowerPoints several times, then with ideas for solutions. Perhaps there we would be at the stage of applying them. »

Created in 2017, the ARTM is the body that oversees all transport companies in the greater Montreal region. It manages in particular the financing, the fare scale and the development of public transport in Montreal and its suburbs.

For 2025, the ARTM sees a financial chasm of $561 million on the horizon. Without emergency aid from Quebec, it could have to make significant cutbacks.

Under pressure from the mayors of the Montreal Metropolitan Community, Ms. Guilbault has so far refused to further loosen her purse strings. His offer: reimburse the equivalent of the “cyclical deficits” generated by the pandemic period, i.e. around a hundred million dollars.

“When someone arrives and asks me for 500 million this year, when I have a deficit of 11 billion in the budget […], that doesn’t make any sense.” , she said, Friday.

Where should the cities cut off ? The minister repeats that she does not want to tell them what to do. However, she does not hide her annoyance with their payroll. “Imagine: I have an engineer at the Ministry of Transport who leaves to work for the City of Montreal because [she pays] more. And there, in addition, I have to indirectly finance his salary. There is something that is fundamentally incoherent. »

When asked if she thinks she is dealing with “a gang of bad people”, to use the expression formerly used by Monique Jérôme-Forget with regard to the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI), the minister hesitates before responding: “No, no, no, no, no, that’s not it. But it’s certain that… You know – wait, I’m looking for an adequate answer – they have a mandate, they have things to do. Then I can't wait for them to make them. »

“What I’m saying seems critical, but I’m also united, in the sense that we all share the same problem: recurring deficits. »

An agency with a limited mandate

Government minister Legault was on a media tour Thursday and Friday to talk about the future Transport agency, about which she will table a bill next week.

Basically, the agency, called “Mobilité Infra Québec”, must ensure that major public transport projects are carried out more quickly and at lower cost.

“We were brought out […] some examples of projects that we have carried out here at the Ministry of Transport. […] We had an average of 95 months and we compared it with the Caisse de dépôt and the REM [Réseau express métropolitain]. They were at 31 months,” she said.

“Just because they are more agile. There were relaxations in their way of working that we did not even give ourselves as a government,” she added.

Ultimately, the minister no longer wants the government to be “dependent” on the Caisse de dépôt to carry out major projects. The expertise, which is currently “scattered” between the project offices and the Caisse, must therefore be grouped together to create a “supra-project office” employing between “30 and 50 people”.

“I think that finally correcting the shortcoming that we had as a government of being incapable of delivering public transport projects, that's what needs to be done in 2024”, she said.

The minister says she envisions a future where public transportation will be more accessible. The objective, she says, is “to expand the offer, to improve it sufficiently so that more people want to take public transport […], then eventually, so that our children can perhaps never buy car. Because, when they are old enough to travel and go to all kinds of places, there will be public transportation. »

The entry of the agency on the scene, however, will not change the problem of transport company deficits.

Mobilité Infra Québec will not tackle technological failures like those recently experienced by the STM with the OPUS card. It will also not look at issues like interurban transportation, for example, confirms Ms. Guilbault.

From the outset, its power over major projects will not be absolute in the face of government priorities.

In transport as in health, the creation of agencies has often been presented as a way of depoliticizing certain issues. “There was a moment when the ribbon-cutting syndrome was very present and we must get out of that,” said former PQ minister Sylvain Gaudreault, who wanted to create one.

Does this mean that a party like the Coalition Avenir Québec could no longer campaign by promising the equivalent of a third link before the agency has established that it is necessary ?

Without commenting on the specific case of the Quebec-Lévis tunnel, Ms. Guilbault does not go that far. “Ultimately, it is certain that it remains the minister and the government who are accountable and who make the decisions. »

“A huge step”

Nor should we see in the agency the promise of a multiplication of major public transport projects. For the minister, it is about landing those who are already in the boxes. “We will finally deliver projects so that there are things other than the current metro, then the five current metro lines. There are five lines in the metro ?… Or six ?” she wonders out loud.

Last week, after the minister affirmed that public transportation was “not a mission of the State”, the mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, invited her to “come and take the metro in the morning, to come take the bus to Laval, to wait a long time in the suburbs because there is only a bus that passes once an hour…”

“There is no vision currently emanating from this minister,” said the mayor of Quebec, Bruno Marchand.

Asked about this, Ms. Guilbault reiterates that she did not come into politics to “be popular.” “Excited”, the minister assures that her agency will constitute a “huge step” forward for sustainable mobility.

His bill should be presented to Parliament next Wednesday or Thursday. In the meantime, Ms. Guilbault has invited all the mayors responsible for transport companies to a meeting on Monday to discuss financing public transport.

With Marco Bélair-Cirino

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116