Jacques Boissinot The Canadian Press The mayor of Quebec, Bruno Marchand, speaking to journalists before his meeting with François Legault on Wednesday
Faced with an explosion in costs and the unpopularity of the project, François Legault will remove the tramway from the hands of the City of Quebec and will instead entrust it to the Caisse de dépôt et placement (CDPQ). This is the conclusion reached by the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening, following a meeting with Mayor Bruno Marchand, according to certain media.
Mr. Marchand initially wanted the City to become project manager of the project, recently valued at $8.4 billion, and hoped to obtain approval from the provincial government. This “plan B” was imposed last week, after the withdrawal of the consortia expected to build the infrastructure for the route.
“I had a very good discussion with the Prime Minister where we both spoke face to face, alone, he and I, where I presented the plan for the City to carry out the project structuring transport that is the tramway. This is not the option he will choose. Obviously, I am disappointed,” declared the mayor, with a low expression, in the press scrum, after his meeting with Mr. Legault.
Bruno Marchant then spoke with the Minister of Transport, Geneviève Guilbeault, and the Minister responsible for Infrastructure and the National Capital, Jonatan Julien. “We are going to give a mandate to the Caisse de dépôt to start from the need for mobility in Quebec and come up with the best structuring project for the city of Quebec. The Caisse de dépôt […] has already demonstrated its expertise in public transport and […] delivered the first branch of the REM. A mandate of maximum six months,” explained Ms. Guilbault.
The CDPQ will have six months to propose its new version of the project. “We all know that we need an effective structuring transport network that will convince people to use it,” she added. So, we start from this need and in six months, maximum, the Fund will do the evaluation, will come to us with the best project, at the best cost,” assured the minister.
New modes of transport envisaged
The government has also obtained a “commitment” from the boss of the Caisse, Charles Émond, that the mandate can be carried out within this timetable, said Jonatan Julien. The latter indicated that the tram project presented by Bruno Marchand would be one of the scenarios studied by the Caisse, but did not want to say whether an automated light train like the REM could be retained by the CDPQ.
“It can go from the SRB (rapid bus service) to a REM, a metro or a tramway,” he declared earlier on Wednesday. There are several models of heavy transport. I'm not a specialist in heavy transport, but we definitely don't have it in Quebec.”
While work is already underway to accommodate a tramway in the capital, Mr. Julien explains that the government will “agree [with the City] on what we stop and what we continue”. $527 million has already been committed for contracts awarded to partners and suppliers. Of this amount, the City spent $371.5 million on acquisitions and preparatory work.
A predictable turnaround in the situation
François Legault had already described the most recent assessment of $8.4 billion associated with the project as “expensive, very expensive”. In the corridors of the National Assembly, CAQ ministers even preferred to mention “a heavy mode of transport” rather than specifically naming the tramway. No one within the Quebec caucus came to its defense either, according to information reported by Radio-Canada on Tuesday.
Only the federal government still supported the project. “Quebec City has the choice to catch up or let other cities benefit from available and future investments from the Canadian government,” declared the federal Minister of Transport and Member of Parliament for Quebec, Jean-Yves Duclos.
Moreover, even before the tramway was estimated at $8.4 billion, the City of Quebec revealed, at the end of last month, that 60% of citizens were opposed to the project. Among the 1,005 respondents surveyed by Léger, 44% said they had a very bad opinion of the project.
Despite his disappointment at the end of Friday's meeting, Mayor Marchand said he assured Mr. Legault of his collaboration.