Besieged over its proposed secular values charter, the Parti Quebecois government may be trying to mend fences in culturally diverse Montreal with that tried-and-true tactic, opening the public purse.
The Globe and Mail reports the government has announced it'll ante up at least $1.5 billion to fund an eastward extension of Montreal's Metro subway system, pending a feasibility study.
Montreal has been at the centre of the outrage over the PQ's proposal to legislate a charter of values that includes banning anyone in a government-funded job from displaying "ostentatious" symbols of religious faith, including Sikh turbans, Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and overly large crucifixes and stars of David.
One strong piece of evidence that Friday's announcement of a feasibility study for extending the Metro system's Blue line might be a distraction is the fact that the proposal has been advanced before, several times, without the project going ahead.
[ Related: Montreal Metro's blue line to get major extension ]
CTV News reported that two years ago, Agence metropolitain de transport (AMT) unveiled a $17-billion plan to overhaul the city's entire transit system by 2020, including extensions to Metro lines.
The agency confirmed that extensions to the Blue line alone have been discussed in 110 separate reports, CTV News said.
Transportation Minister Sylvain Gaudreault said Friday the Blue line extension must happen but first the government will set aside $38.8 million to set up an office that would work on the plans.
There's speculation the minority PQ minority government is setting the stage for a late fall election.
Any doubt the PQ is thinking of an early election? Montreal Metro's blue line to get major extension http://t.co/Sw1Pc8lav3
— Norman Spector (@nspector4) September 20, 2013
The values charter has been viewed widely as red meat for its nationalist support base but has alienated many in Montreal, which is home to most of Quebec's immigrant and visible-minority population.
The Globe said Gaudreault didn't bite when asked whether Friday's announcement was an attempt to change the subject or an attempt to position the PQ for an election.
“We’re not here working for the PQ, we’re working for Quebeckers, and in this case, Montrealers. Look at it the opposite way. We are delivering on a promise from the last election,” Gaudreault said.
The minister estimated it will cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion to add six kilometres of line and five stations, with construction beginning in two years.
The announcement included a promise that expansions of the Yellow and Orange lines, which the Globe noted run through ridings the PQ either holds or gets strong results in, are next on the list.
The Globe said the last extension, completed in 2007 after almost a development and construction, cost $748 million.
Transit projects are always fraught with risk for politicians.
Toronto's long promised expansion of rapid transit into suburban Scarborough has been pummelled at the city and provincial level for years.
Mayor Rob Ford pushed through council his preferred option of an underground subway line over the less expensive alternative of surface light-rail transit optimistic that the provincial government would come up with the lion's share of taxpayer dollars fund it.
According to a city staff report tabled in July, a subway line would cost an estimated $2.3 billion (in 2010 dollars), compared with $1.8 billion to rebuild and extend an aging rail transit line for light rail.
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne has appointed a panel to study ways of raising revenue for the province's share, which could include a regional gas tax (similar to what Vancouver-area residents pay for transit), a hike in the HST, higher property taxes and various charges levied on regional businesses, the Toronto Star reported.
On the West Coast, construction of the endlessly promised Evergreen Line extending Metro Vancouver's SkyTrain elevated rapid transit system to the northeastern suburbs is finally underway after more than a decade of abortive announcements it was going ahead.
When Vancouver won the bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the project to build the southern Canada Line south to Richmond with a spur to Vancouver International Airport jumped the cue over Evergreen.
But Ottawa, Victoria and TransLink, the regional transit authority, finally agreed to a cost-sharing arrangement for the $1.4-billion project, which is expected to start operating in 2016.