Quebec’s new bill forces expropriation for LRT project
LRT – In order to speed up the process for Montreal’s controversial Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, Quebec Transport Minister Laurent Lessard introduced a new Bill on May 11th in the National Assembly, forcing the expropriation of land and preventing property owners from contesting it. Although there are those who have supported the project from the start, there are many more who are outraged on how it is being handled.
Back in April of 2016 the Caisse de Dépôt announced their proposal to build an electric Light-Rail Transit system linking a good part of the Greater Montreal area. The 67km system would connect the areas of downtown Montreal, the South Shore, the West Island, the North Shore and Trudeau airport. The Caisse proposed building 24 climate-controlled stations, now up to 27, that would help alleviate congestion on the Metro system.
In Quebec’s new budget announced on March 28th 2017, the government committed to investing $1.3 billion in the project and ‘several hundred millions for related work’. Public hearings and consultations took place, addressing several important issues – and despite much criticism and the call to study the proposal further, Premier Philippe Couillard and Mayor Denis Coderre both announced it would still go ahead.
A report published in January by the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) raised serious concerns about potential environmental consequences of the project, as well as the LRT routes, service and impact on Montreal’s already existing transit system – and therefore withheld their approval. But Premiere Couillard insisted the LRT project would go ahead despite the negative review.
The announcement that the project would go ahead regardless, prompted a coalition of citizens’ groups, environmentalists and the Canadian Union of Public Employees to launch a legal bid – and on March 24th of this year they filed a motion in court against the government to try and stop it, citing the need for a ‘full environmental review of the project’.
As many as 163 properties would have to be expropriated, 15 of them being homes, with construction expected to start this summer and completed by 2020.
The provincial minister of municipal affairs and land occupancy, Martin Coiteux, was cited as saying ‘that if people were allowed to contest their expropriations, that could mean cases being entangled in court for months or even years, in turn delaying the project… it’s about speeding up the process so that we can realize that project in a time horizon which is reasonable… the possibility to dispute is withdrawn and the work has to start in the fall in order for the project to be completed by 2020.’
The Parti Quebecois’ finance critic, Nicolas Marceau, said that people will have no chance to contest losing their homes and that Bill 137 is a ‘legal bulldozer’.
“The possibility of contesting decisions that are made will basically vanish. It will be very difficult to contest a decision that has been made, so it’s worrying,” said Marceau in a CTV news report.
The current estimated cost for the project is $6 billion – already up from the original $5.5 million first announced. The Caisse de Dépôt was committed to financing $3 billion, with another ‘conditional’ $2.5 billion needed from the financial participation of both the federal and provincial governments – for a total of $5.5 billion then. In Quebec’s new budget announced on March 28th, they committed to investing $1.3 billion in the project and ‘several hundred millions for related work’.
“We made it very clear right from the start that a project like this requires federal participation. They have indicated right from the start that they are interested in doing this,” said Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao.
But the Coalition Avenir Québec called the bill ‘premature without a firm commitment from the Federal Government’.
“We are not even sure if the federal government will be part of it and if it doesn’t give the money, as the government of Quebec and the Caisse de Depot wish, all the structure of the project will have to be reconsidered,” said Benoit Charette, an opposition critic with the CAQ.
At this point, one cannot help but ask, why the government is in such a rush and not taking the required time needed for a project of this magnitude to review the report by the BAPE and other professionals and environmentalists? And more importantly, its citizens.