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Quebec tramway | An unworkable idea

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I hope that the Legault government did not think too much before proposing that the Quebec tramway be done only if at least 50% + 1 of citizens request it.

It would mean that the caquists did not have time to see the pitfalls behind this approach. And so, that they could still adjust.

To be clear, if the population of the Capitale-Nationale massively rejects the project, it would be crazy to shove it down the throat. No government will invest some $2 billion to displease. For now, the tram is far from consensus.

To the question: should we make a tram with or without the support of the population, the answer is obvious. It gets more complicated, however, when the time comes to measure the supports.

No one is against social acceptability. It is a unifying concept. Especially if we manage to define it…

The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan Julien, hinted that the tramway would be conditional on quantified majority support. Here is the problem. This takes him down a slippery slope.

How will support be verified? By a referendum? By a survey? If so, who does it? Who chooses the question? And who can answer it? Will the residents of the suburbs of Quebec also be consulted? How will the perimeter be delimited? Are we going west to Neuville?

And even if a fair mechanism were found, the approach would be worrying for another reason: it creates a strange precedent.

The CAQ government has never proposed a referendum for its criticized infrastructure projects such as the Eastern Metropolitan Express Network (REM) in Montreal or the road tunnel linking Quebec and Lévis.

The tram undergoes a differentiated treatment. In fact, I don’t remember a single infrastructure project that was submitted to a referendum or a public opinion poll.

Ironically, the government announced its intention the same day it announced its regulations to quintuple permitted nickel air emissions. Judging by local reviews, there is no social acceptability.

Another thing happened on Tuesday: Éric Duhaime confirmed that he would run as a candidate in Chauveau, north of Charlesbourg. The Conservative leader will notably campaign against the tramway. Perhaps this is what frightens some local CAQ MPs.

With this poll / referendum / something, the caquistes want to please both opponents and defenders of the tramway. How would they respond to a poll themselves: for or against?

It is true that many citizens of the Capitale-Nationale do not like the planned route. Among these disappointed, we find in particular Anne Guérette, ex-opponent of Régis Labeaume who nevertheless praised the idea a few years ago. The Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement also harshly criticized the project.

Mayor Bruno Marchand was narrowly elected, with 32% of the votes. He had promised to adjust the tramway project. This promise has yet to be fully realized.

That said, the Legault government also has a responsibility.

Social acceptability cannot be verified by a blood test. It depends on the project and the way of presenting it. However, we mainly hear caquists criticize certain sections that will slow down motorists. They rarely talk about the benefits.

By way of comparison, Mr. Legault put a lot of pressure on the mayoress of Montreal, Valérie Plante, to support the REM de l’Est. And he is ready to contradict all the experts to claim that the Quebec-Lévis tunnel would be good for the environment and would reduce urban sprawl.

This enthusiasm does not exist for the tramway. This deficit of social acceptability, the CAQ feeds it as much as it sees it.

In January, a Léger poll reported that 43% of the local population would be “little or not at all familiar” with the tramway project⁠1. These people are sensitive to government discourse.

The citizen consultation continues, and the two camps are mobilizing – a rally in favor of the tramway took place Tuesday evening in Limoilou.

I don’t want to comment on the more technical aspects of the tramway, such as the shared section on René-Lévesque Boulevard. I don’t know if this is the right option. But that seems to me to be primarily the responsibility of Mayor Marchand.

Of course, the CAQ government is paying for the project. He also has his say. But since all the citizens of Quebec finance it, will their opinion be asked during the process that should give a quantified result?

I don’t think that would be a good idea. Truly not. The debate is up to the people of Quebec. I only note that caquiste logic can lead to strange places…

For a year, the tramway has been losing support. In winter 2021, 39% of respondents opposed it. Last January, they were 52%.

The City of Quebec still has work to do to sell its project. It is normal that the CAQ government does not sign a blank check. But if he is really in favor of the tram, the Legault government hides it very well. And if he wants to make it conditional on obtaining quantifiable support, he is entering new territory. And slippery.

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