Quebec red tape slows down Lac-Mégantic bar rebuilding

The owner of a popular bar in Lac-Mégantic, Que., that became a symbol of the train derailment and explosion that wracked the small community last July says he’s had a very hard time getting the new Musi-Café off the ground.

Musi-Café may have become a symbol for the town of Lac-Mégantic, but owner says support is lacking

Musi-Café was a bar and venue in Lac-Mégantic's downtown area. It was destroyed in the July 6 train derailment and explosion. Now owner Yannick Gagné says he's not getting the help he needs from the town or province to rebuild. (Musi-Café/Facebook)

The owner of a popular bar in Lac-Mégantic, Que., that became a symbol of the train derailment and explosion that wracked the small community last July says he’s had a very hard time getting the new Musi-Café off the ground.

A train carrying 72 tanker cars of crude oil derailed at the centre of town early the morning of July 6. Several of the cars exploded, engulfing the centre of the town in flames.

A staff photo of the Musi-Café's workers taken before the July 6 train explosion. (Musi-Café/Facebook)

Now YannickGagné said he feels he’s not getting the help he was promised to rebuild Musi-Café, the bar where many of the 47 who died were at the time of the explosion. The much-loved bar was destroyed.

He bought the land and the foundation of the new Musi-Café has been laid, but work is slow. He said the paperwork and red tape involved in getting the new bar built has been cumbersome.

“It’s insane, it’s crazy all that it takes in Quebec. The permits, the law, the engineers, architects. It’s insane. Nothing to encourage young entrepreneurs,” Gagné said.

$1.6M to rebuild

He said he’s looking at $1.6 million in costs by the time the new bar is up and running.

He told CBC Quebec City reporter Marika Wheeler that he’s received a number of calls from supporters offering him money to help get Musi-Café off the ground and that makes him uneasy.

I thought I was more appreciated than that.- Yannick Gagné, Musi-Café owner

He told them a fund exists to help the people and businesses of Lac-Mégantic who were affected by last summer’s disaster. Gagné feels he is entitled to some of the money from that fund, especially since the town council is now asking him to put in parking spaces and landscaping that he never had at his previous location and wouldn’t include now if he weren’t being forced to.

However, he said, perhaps the town hasn’t allocated its resources in a way that offers him any kind of real support.

“I thought I was more appreciated than that, that I was more a part of the flavour of the town than that,” Gagné said. What he really wanted to hear was, “We want you to stay, we want to help you.”

An artist's rendering of the new Musi-Café. Owner Yannick Gagné said he expects the entire rebuilding project to cost about $1.6 million. (Musi-Café)

Town treasurer Luc Drouin said that even if some of the donations that came flooding into the Fonds Avenir Lac-Mégantic, the fund set up to receive people’s donations to the town, were specifically intended for Musi-Café, that’s simply not the way it works.

The town council decided it would use the fund to waive municipal taxes, notary fees and welcome taxes for businesses, as well as moving costs. Of the $3.7 million collected through donations, $163,000 has been spent so far.

“Mr. Gagné will make demands for the Lac-Mégantic [fund], he will be entitled to the same benefits as the other people,” Drouin said. “I would have to have the opinion of city council if he gets a special treatment or not.”

Quebec the 'champion of red tape'

Gagné met with his local MNA recently to discuss his concerns, and told CBC News he came away from it feeling slightly more reassured about getting the help he needs. However, he said, he’ll believe it when he sees it.

His discouragement with Quebec bureaucracy is not unusual, said Martine Hébert of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She called Quebec “the champion of red tape.”

Her organization polls small business owners. She said that between 25 and 30 per cent of them say they would never start a small business again because they are so discouraged by the hurdles they have to jump.

As for Gagné, he said he decided to rebuild the Musi-Café because he knows what the bar represents to the people of Lac-Mégantic.

“Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off giving up, cashing in on my insurance, selling the house [and moving to Cuba],” he said.

He said the new Musi-Café’s rebuilding depends on the help he gets because as it stands, he doesn’t have the $1.6 million it will cost.

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