François Legault, Valérie Plante talk Pink line, religious symbols at 1st official meeting

Quebec's premier and the mayor of the province's largest city don't see eye to eye on a variety of issues, but have pledged to work together.

Premier, Montreal mayor don't see eye to eye on key issues but have expressed desire to work together

Premier François Legault and Mayor Valérie Plante met in Montreal Friday, first at Café Mercanti on Notre-Dame Street for an informal meeting, then at City Hall. (Radio-Canada)

The Pink line project, cannabis and the CAQ's policy on religious symbols were on the menu during the first official meeting between Premier François Legault and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

The pair met in Montreal Friday, first at Café Mercanti on Notre-Dame Street for an informal meeting, then at City Hall.

Legault and Plante don't exactly see eye to eye on any of those issues, but came out of the meeting pledging to work together.

"You're less new [in your job] than I am," Legault said, smiling at Plante, "but we're learning, both of us together, how to advance the interests of Montreal and Quebec.

"We know Montreal is our metropolis, so if we want a healthy Quebec, we have to have a healthy metropolis," he said.

Pink line

Regarding the Pink line, a project which would connect Montreal's North to Lachine, Legault said his main concern is the price tag attached to the project. The cost has been estimated at $5.9 billion.

Both leaders said they would reconvene once studies by the regional transit authority, looking at the impact and cost of a number of mobility projects in Montreal (the Blue line extension, Pie-IX reserved bus lane, tramway in the Montreal's east end), and a report by the city's own Pink line project office, are done.

"We need to have those studies and those numbers in order to make a rational choice based on the many needs that exist in Montreal," Plante said.

But in an interview on Radio-Canada's Gravel le matin earlier this week, Transport Minister François Bonnardel said the Pink line is not a short- or even a medium-term priority for the government.

Plante ran on the promise to create the Pink line, which would connect some of the city's densest neighbourhoods, during last year's municipal election.

Smoking cannabis in public

The CAQ has said it intends to ban smoking cannabis in all public places like parks and sidewalks. When asked if there could be an exemption in Montreal, Legault said his focus is to make sure children won't be exposed to cannabis smoke in parks.

"Of course, we will need to make sure that there is a place where people can smoke pot."

A man smokes as he waits in line for the opening of an SQDC store in Montreal. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Plante reiterated that she is waiting to see what the province will do, but said that if the ban is enacted, it will present problems for the 60 per cent of Montreal residents who don't own their homes.

Religious symbols in the civil service

Plante said she will let the government create legislation before giving her opinion on its promise to ban the wearing of religious symbols for civil servants in positions of authority — including judges, police officers, prosecutors and even teachers.

But she has said that she's open to allowing Montreal police officers to wear religious headgear such as a turban or hijab while in uniform, which would not be allowed if the Legault government goes through with its plan.

The premier reiterated that his government is working quickly to draft the proposed law. 

Developing the east end

There was one topic the two leaders agreed on — the need to develop the east end of Montreal.

They announced that a joint committee will be created to devise a plan to develop the area — an issue in the CAQ's platform that was also on Plante's list of commitments she wanted from the next provincial government.

The CAQ only won two seats on the island, and one of them went to Chantal Rouleau, the former mayor of the east-end Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles borough.

Plante said previous plans to tap into the neighbourhood's potential were piecemeal and didn't take all the needs into consideration.

It is unclear who will sit on the new joint committee, Legault said, but they will move quickly to get it up and running.

"We both agree that there's too much bureaucracy and the delays are too long. So let's try to be more agile, and try to more forward on these projects faster," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada's Julie Marceau