Quebec budget to include $1.2 to $1.3B for Montreal LRT, Radio-Canada learns

Quebec is expected to commit between $1.2 billion and $1.3 billion for Montreal's light-rail transit (LRT) project in its March 28 budget, Radio-Canada has learned.

Quebec's pension fund, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, is the project's principle backer, with $3 billion committed towards its completion.

The price tag for the 67-kilometre, 27-station LRT project now stands at $6 billion — up $500-million, following a revised cost estimate announced by the Caisse earlier this week. 

Quebec's expected contribution would leave the federal government to cover the remaining $1.7 billion, but Ottawa has yet to say how much it will contribute to the project.

There was one mention of the LRT project in the 2017 federal budget tabled Wednesday but no dollar figure attached.

At the time, Quebec Treasury Board President Pierre Moreau said the provincial government was "extremely disappointed and concerned" by Ottawa's lack of commitment.

Ottawa will contribute, says Morneau

A motion calling on Ottawa to commit to funding the LRT along with the extension of the Montreal Metro's Blue line and Quebec City's rapid transit system was passed in the National Assembly on Thursday. 

In an interview with Radio-Canada to be aired this weekend, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Quebec can count on Ottawa's participation in all three projects. Morneau did not, however, give any details.

"Partnering with the government of Quebec is important. That's our goal," Morneau said. "We'll be seeing a significant allocation to Quebec. We're starting to work with them now, and it's going to be good." 

The projects could be funded by the new Canada Infrastructure Bank, which was created in November but has yet to get off the ground.

Quebec itself has delayed a decision on funding the Blue line extension and Quebec City's rapid transit system, but that's expected to change in its new budget, according to Radio-Canada. 

The government, however, will not be attaching a dollar amount to its expected commitment to those projects because they are still in the planning stage and the costs are not yet clear, Radio-Canada says.

LRT faces legal challenge

News that the LRT may be one step closer to becoming a reality was counterbalanced Friday by an injunction request to halt the project.

A coalition that includes environmental organizations, the CUPE labour union and citizen groups filed the request in Quebec Superior Court, saying it wants a new environmental review and public consultation process to assess the project.

The coalition issued an earlier appeal for a public inquiry into the LRT project, citing numerous environmental and financial concerns, as well as flaws in the organization of the public consultations held last fall.

"We have asked the court to intervene and to protect the citizens' rights, the plaintiff's rights, to a fair and thorough consultation ... especially when it comes to environmental rights, which are a fundamental right as determined by the Supreme Court," said the group's lawyer, Ricardo Hrtschan.

Quebec's environmental review agency — known by its French acronym, BAPE — issued a 300-page report Jan. 20 that called several aspects of the light-rail project into question.

The BAPE report received a detailed rebuke from CDPQ Infra, the Caisse-led consortium responsible for the LRT project, and its importance was downplayed by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and Premier Philippe Couillard.

The project is proceeding despite BAPE's concerns.

"The members of the National Assembly have their hands tied by a commercial agreement, and that's not our democracy, not our Quebec," Hrtschan said. 

The injunction request calls for a new consultation that is "effective, transparent and respectful of Quebecers."