Montreal

Calls mount to put Montreal's LRT project under greater scrutiny

When an independent review of Montreal's expensive light-rail project questioned its transparence and viability earlier this week, the mayor and premier shrugged off the concerns, insisting the project would go forward regardless. But now Montreal's opposition party is calling on the federal government to subject the project to greater scrutiny before committing funding.

As Coderre, Couillard dismiss concerns raised by environmental review, Projet Montréal reaches out to Ottawa

A mock-up of the planned Kirkland commuter LRT station. Montreal's opposition party, Projet Montréal, is calling for increased scrutiny of the plan. (CDPQ INFRA)

When an independent review of Montreal's expensive light-rail project questioned its transparence and viability earlier this week, the mayor and premier shrugged off the concerns, insisting the project would go forward regardless.

But now the Official Opposition at city hall is calling on the federal government to subject the project to greater scrutiny before committing funding. 

"We want to put in place the best transit network for Montreal, and to do that we have to take into account the recommendations that seek to improve the project," the leader of Projet Montréal, Valérie Plante, said in a letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and obtained by CBC News.

The party was joined in its call for greater scrutiny by a coalition of community and environmental organizations, which wants the National Assembly to hold a commission to examine the impact of the project on taxpayers and the environment. 

"It doesn't take into consideration the real needs of urbanism for the city of Montreal," said Jean Fortier, a former member of Montreal's executive committee and a spokesperson for the Trainsparence coalition. 

A developer hopes to build a vast residential and commercial complex around the South Shore end of the line. (Devimco)

Project lacks transparence, BAPE says

Last week, Quebec's environmental review agency — known by its French acronym, BAPE — issued a 300-page report that called several aspects of the light-rail project into question. 

As it stands, Quebec's pension fund manager, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, has promised to bankroll a majority of the costs for a 67-kilometre light-rail transit system (LRT).

The Caisse subsidiary leading the project, CDPQ Infra, has unveiled plans for a LRT network that would include 27 stations connecting the South Shore, the West Island and Trudeau airport to downtown Montreal. 

CDPQ Infra has committed to providing $3 billion in funding. The balance, $2.9 billion, is expected to come from Ottawa and Quebec City.

But the details behind these financial arrangements, such as profit and risk-sharing mechanism, are clouded in secrecy, according to the BAPE report.

The LRT would include 27 stations stretching over close to 70-kilometres of track. (CDPQ Infra)

The report also questions whether other, cheaper, alternatives to Montreal's transit needs have been thoroughly studied.

It questions, too, the impact the current proposed route will have on environmentally sensitive areas and notes complaints from residents about their inability to provide input.

Bape not infallible: Coderre

The BAPE report received a detailed rebuke from CDPQ Infra, and its importance downplayed by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and Premier Philippe Couillard.

Coderre was particularly dismissive of the report. At a news conference on Friday, he said "The BAPE is not the pope" (the phrase rhymes in French: "Le BAPE, ce n'est pas le pape").

"It will be on budget, on time. That's settled," the mayor added.

Couillard expressed similar sentiments, suggesting the BAPE's concerns didn't merit reviewing the project.

"Let's be very clear, [the LRT] is going to be going forward as planned," he said alongside Coderre on Friday. "It is an essential project for Quebec, Montreal of course, and Canada."

That attitude was singled out by Plante in her letter to Trudeau. She told the prime minister that Coderre and Couillard "preferred to attack the report's credibility rather than take its criticisms into account."

With files from Shaun Malley

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