Montreal sewage dump plan 'lesser of 2 evils': Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard

Premier Philippe Couillard defends Quebec's approval of a controversial plan by the City of Montreal to dump eight billion litres of untreated water into the St. Lawrence River later this month.

Couillard says Ottawa has been aware of Montreal's planned fix for more than a year

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says the City of Montreal's sewage dump plan is the 'lesser of two evils.' (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has defended his government's approval of a controversial plan by the City of Montreal to dump eight billion litres of untreated water into the St. Lawrence River later this month.

The city says it needs to shut down an interceptor — a major sewer that collects the effluent from a network of other sewer lines on its way to the water treatment plant — for maintenance and to link it to a new snow dump.

At certain moments, you have to choose the lesser of two evils,- Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard

As a result, for a week starting Oct. 18, raw sewage that would normally flow into the interceptor will be diverted directly into the St. Lawrence River.

"Nobody finds this pleasant. It's not nice," Couillard told reporters in Quebec City Wednesday.

"But until now, each time Mayor Coderre and his team have looked at this, we always come to the same conclusion — which is unpleasant — but at certain moments you have to choose the lesser of two evils."

Couillard said if the maintenance work is not done, it could result in damage to Montreal's water treatment plant down the road, and that could lead to a serious public health issue.

He said many have criticized the plan, but few have proposed credible alternatives.

"If somebody has an idea of genius that has not been mentioned until now, fine, but until then, we always come to the same conclusion," Couillard said. 

Couillard 'surprised' by Conservative reaction

The City of Montreal will allow eight billion litres of wastewater to flow into the St. Lawrence River for a week, starting Oct. 18, in order to make modifications to a major sewer interceptor under Mill Street. (Radio-Canada archives)

Couillard said he was particularly surprised to hear federal Conservatives — including Denis Lebel, Stephen Harper's Quebec lieutenant — speaking out against the plan this week.

"They were notified in September 2014 about this, and they had no questions until yesterday [Tuesday], so I'll leave this to your interpretation," Couillard said.

He called on officials from Environment Canada, which has yet to give approval to the sewage-dumping plan, to sit down with Coderre and officials from Montreal as soon as possible to address the situation.

Leona Aglukkaq, Coderre exchange tweets

Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said she found out only recently about Montreal's plan to dump eight billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River.

Aglukkaq tweeted on Wednesday that her office learned last week of the wastewater dump plan, which has become fodder in the federal election campaign and the subject of intense debate at the Quebec legislature.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in during a Saskatoon campaign stop Wednesday, urging the city to find an alternative plan.

On Tuesday, the federal government urged the city to suspend the planned dump, prompting Mayor Denis Coderre to accuse Ottawa of playing "cheap" politics.

Coderre has said federal officials have known about the plan since September 2014 and he gave Environment Canada until the end of the week to meet with him and city officials.

Coderre said this week he's satisfied the plan is the best option available. 

With additional reporting from the Canadian Press


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