Skip to main content

Quebec turns the tables on Ottawa by rejecting infrastructure offer

The Champlain Bridge spans the Saint Lawrence river in Montreal, Friday, March 18, 2011. The bridge is in need of major repair and has become a safety concern to motorists.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ottawa is used to receiving – and rejecting – requests from the Quebec government for more control over federal programs and properties.

This time around, however, it's Ottawa that is trying to unload some assets onto the provincial government, and the Parti Québécois government that is rejecting the offer.

The Conservative Party's Quebec lieutenant and Infrastructure Minister, Denis Lebel, is confirming that Ottawa is willing to unload three federal bridges to the Quebec government for a symbolic amount. The federal government is arguing that its other bridges straddle provincial and national borders, which means that its links over the St. Lawrence, inside the Quebec territory, are expendable.

Story continues below advertisement

As it stands, Ottawa owns the Champlain and Jacques-Cartier bridges in Montreal, and the portion of the nearby Honoré-Mercier Bridge that straddles the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Ottawa is currently busy preparing for the construction of a new Champlain Bridge, as commuters in Montreal worry about the state of the 51-year-old infrastructure that needs the installation of an emergency "super-beam" to remain open to traffic.

Once its replacement is built, in the coming decade, Ottawa will gladly unload all three of its bridges in Quebec.

"As we announced on October 2, we are currently working on an accelerated schedule that will see the new bridge in service as early as is possible," said Marie-Josée Paquette, a spokeswoman for Mr. Lebel. "We are also open to listening to the proposals of the Québec government concerning the transfer of all the federal bridges in the greater Montreal area, once the new bridge is built."

Ottawa made its pitch after Quebec Premier Pauline Marois mused that Ottawa should pay for the new bridge, while leaving control of the project to the Quebec government. At this point, the cost of the massive project is estimated to be as high as $5-billion.

However, Quebec City has rejected the offer for the asset, at least for now. With over 160,000 crossings per day, the Champlain Bridge is one of the busiest bridges in the country.

"Our priority is to have a new bridge. We are not exploring the scenario of recuperating bridges from the federal government," said Yann Langlais-Plante, a spokesman for Quebec Transport Minister Sylvain Gaudreault.

Story continues below advertisement

Before Ottawa and Quebec City decide what to do with the ownership of the new structure, there are a series of other discussions that need to happen. For example, Ottawa is looking to impose tolls on the new bridge, while officials in Quebec City, Montreal and the suburbs on the South Shore argue that there is a need for a much more concerted approach to transport in the area. In addition, Ottawa and Quebec City still need to decide what kind of mass-transit system is put in place on the new Champlain Bridge.

Still, a Conservative official said it is ironic that Ms. Marois' Parti Québécois government was so quick to reject the offer.

"It's bizarre that they don't want to control that particular economic lever," the Conservative official said.

Daniel Leblanc is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter