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Isabelle Porter in Quebec

February 8, 2024

  • Quebec

By allowing cities to ignore their urban planning regulations to stimulate construction, Bill 31 on housing risks opening the door to “favoritism” and “corruption” , like the one that led to the Charbonneau commission, experts judge.

“It is certain that it opens the door to collusion and corruption,” says law professor at the University of Montreal (UdeM) Martine Valois, who sat on the public committee monitoring the recommendations of the Commission d investigation into the awarding and management of public contracts in the construction industry (CEIC).

By putting the rules aside, we give too much “discretionary power” to elected officials, she summarizes.

UdeM political science professor Denis Saint-Martin, who also sat on the monitoring committee, is of the same opinion. “I have like a yellow light flashing in my head,” he said.

“When we teach what corruption is, we always propose the same equation: ‘monopoly + discretion-accountability = corruption’,” he says, emphasizing that the conditions for the calculation risk being met in certain cities.

Last November, Quebec Housing Minister France-Élaine Duranceau tabled an amendment to Bill 31 (amendment 37.2) which allows cities to ignore their regulations planning to accelerate the authorization of construction projects.

“Sky is the limit”

This special permission lasting five years would be offered to all municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants whose vacancy rate is below 3%. It would apply to buildings with three or more dwellings.

This last-minute amendment had nothing to do with the main subject of the project — relations between tenants and owners — and could not be the subject of consultation with the groups concerned because it had been tabled too late in the process. At the time, the municipal world applauded this change.

However, this week, the Order of Urban Planners (OUQ) and the Order of Architects of Quebec (OAQ) advised the government that it posed serious ethical problems.

“We are particularly concerned about the risks of favoritism and the possibility of too much politicization of approvals,” they wrote in a letter sent Monday to Minister Duranceau, to the Minister of Municipal Affairs , Andrée Laforest, and to the elected members of the parliamentary commission which studied the bill.

Reached by telephone, the president of the Order of Urban Planners, Sylvain Gariépy, speaks of a possible “Wild West” in the approval of construction projects.

By putting aside regulations, elected officials would, according to him, have the leisure to favor certain manufacturers to the detriment of others without clear justification. “It’s a step backwards to the Charbonneau commission. But, at that time, we still had municipal regulations that were applicable. There were documents that were signed, requirements that were there, and some people could still find a way to circumvent the rules. But now we're taking them all away, the rules. “Sky is the limit! ” somewhere. »

A mandate for the Public Procurement Authority

The study of Bill 31 in parliamentary committee ended this week. It could be adopted as early as next week.

In the context of the housing crisis, many voices are being raised in the public space to denounce the burdensome municipal regulations and their effects on the start of construction projects.

“We’re coming to provide flexibility. It's all stuck in molasses, it's too slow, too restrictive. There is a crisis, we must act,” Ms. Duranceau declared in November. “This measure will attract attention, so the municipalities which will take advantage of it will be in the spotlight and will act according to the rules of the art,” she also argued.

A statement that leaves Denis Saint-Martin doubtful. “We know that, in many municipalities, public attention is not likely to be on this. I don't share his faith that it will attract attention and that, if there is a problem, someone will blow the whistle. »

If we remove safeguards in cities, we must compensate with more transparency, he says. The Public Procurement Authority (AMP), which was created in the wake of the Charbonneau commission, could, for example, be mandated to keep “a register” of all the municipalities that take advantage of this power during the five years.

A suggestion that Martine Valois finds interesting. “We give powers, they must be as less discretionary as possible and there must be a control body outside the body in question. »

The government could also introduce legislation on regulatory relief in construction, she suggests. “If we must move forward with these construction projects, we must adopt a law which ensures that it is not the municipal council which will decide, it requires a structure which will provide counter-powers. »

Questioned about another deregulation initiative proposed this week by the mayor of Longueuil, Catherine Fournier, Ms. Valois was more nuanced.

As revealed La Presse on Wednesday, Ms. Fournier wishes to require special financial contributions from developers in exchange for zoning relaxations to finance its non-profit housing projects. A proposal that the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Andrée Laforest, said she was open to making a reality.

“We have to see how the regulations will be written,” says Ms. Valois, who notes that at least in this case the measure targets non-profit organizations.

In contradiction with his colleague Andrée Laforest

Amendment 37.2 is in complete contradiction with Minister Laforest's National Architecture and Land Use Planning Policy (PNAAT), deplore the OUQ and the OAQ. Unveiled in June 2022, this policy aims to plan urban development in a more coherent manner by limiting urban sprawl in particular. It is the culmination of many years of work at the ministry and extensive national consultation. “We adopt a policy and the first thing we do is to bypass all the town planning and land use planning tools,” Mr. Gariépy is surprised. To accelerate the pace of housing construction, town planners and architects are making certain proposals, including the development of a comprehensive housing strategy and a clear signal from the government on “gentle densification”. They also welcome the opening made in Bill 31 to “accessory dwelling units” (AHU) and also recommend modifications to the Construction Code.

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