Will bickering by Ottawa and Quebec sink Autoroute 19 project?
Federal Infrastructure Minister Champagne (centre) is seen here with (from the left) from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin MP Yves Robillard, Rivière-des-Mille-Îles MP Linda Lapointe, Thérèse-De Blainville MP Ramez Ayoub, current Bois-des-Filion mayor Gilles Blanchette and former mayor Paul Larocque during last Monday’s announcement.
Martin C. Barry

Since Bois-des-Filion town hall has been the setting for so many announcements about finishing Autoroute 19 that almost nobody can remember exactly how many, a big question remained following yet another orchestrated press conference last week. Would this be another one?

In the aftermath, there’s not a good deal of reason to believe things could shape up any differently – especially considering the political dynamics involved in these months leading towards the next federal election.

Deploying a ‘big gun’

For whatever it’s worth, federal Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne – a Big Gun if ever there was one, since he oversees a 12-year $180 billion national infrastructure plan – was mobilized from Ottawa and deployed to the North Shore for the big announcement.

He was welcomed in Bois-des-Filion last Monday morning for what ordinarily would have been a big do. This followed some hints made in recent years and months by local Liberal MPs Linda Lapointe (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles) and Ramez Ayoub (Thérèse-De Blainville), who complained to local media that Quebec wasn’t availing itself of federal money set aside for the A-19 project.

A much-delayed project

Effectively, the Liberal government in Ottawa has now stated its willingness to open its purse in order to release as much as $345 million for Quebec’s CAQ government to spend on the agonizingly long-awaited A-19 completion project whose history dates back to the quasi-prehistoric 1970s.

And while politicians of all sorts from all over the North Shore were on hand for what was supposed to be an historical announcement, the proverbial elephant – in this case the pachyderm not in the room – was somebody – anybody – who might have been there from the CAQ government. If you can imagine, the CAQ was a no-show at a party where they would have been the recipient of this massive gift from Ottawa.

Will bickering by Ottawa and Quebec sink Autoroute 19 project?
In Bois-des-Filion, they’ve been waiting for generations for the A-19 to be completed.

Shows and no-shows

Who was there? From Quebec City you could count the Liberals, since several Grit MNAs from nearby ridings (who now sit in opposition) stand to gain from the project. From Ottawa, several MPs, including Angelo Iacono from Alfred-Pellan and Yves Robillard from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin in Laval, also with vested interests. And, of course, lots of mayors, from the City of Deux-Montagnes’ Denis Martin to Boisbriand’s Marlene Cordato.

Notably absent? CAQ Groulx MNA Éric Girard. Quite a glaring omission that, considering he’s not only a provincial representative from the North Shore, but also Quebec’s finance minister. More to the point, François Bonnardel, the CAQ Minister of Transport who is normally expected to be present for major announcements like these, wasn’t there. Considering that the ridings of Deux-Montagnes, Blainville and Mirabel are also all CAQ territory, something obviously wasn’t right.

Liberal/CAQ tension

So just what was the problem? It’s no secret that relations between Premier François Legault’s CAQ government in Quebec City and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in Ottawa haven’t been good. Especially since Trudeau voiced concerns over CAQ legislation such as the controversial Bill 21 that would curtail the display of religious symbols by public employees and officials.

While spokespersons for the CAQ government have suggested the provincial government’s conspicuous absence from last Monday’s announcement was simply due to the fact they’re not yet ready to proceed with the A-19 project, federal Infrastructure Minister Champagne found himself between a rock and hard place trying to keep a straight face while explaining to reporters what was otherwise obvious.

Will bickering by Ottawa and Quebec sink Autoroute 19 project?
Federal Infrastructure Minister Champagne was unable to fully explain the Quebec government’s absence from his announcement about money for the A-19 completion project.

Waiting for Quebec

“All that’s remaining is our partners in Quebec to move forward,” he told journalists. “From what I understand, all that’s left is a few technical details to finalize before moving forward.” When a TV reporter got straight to the point that the CAQ transport minister was “shining in his absence,” Champagne could only restate the Liberal government’s commitment.

At one point, it became evident that Champagne hadn’t perhaps fully seized the magnitude of the foot-dragging that has surrounded the A-19 project up to now.

“I’m told there have been 20 announcements before,” he acknowledged. “But this is my first, and to my knowledge the first made by the federal government for this project. And what we’re announcing today isn’t just an intention: it’s a confirmation of the commitment of the Treasury Board to move forward.”

Some background

The A-19 extension project, which would extend the autoroute from the A-440 to the A-640, has been in the planning stages for nearly five decades.

During that time, it has become a very convenient political football tossed back and forth between parties from election to election – without very much decisive action ever being taken.

In the meantime, the greater Montreal region’s urban sprawl has steadily crept northward, while the resulting traffic on the highway grid leading north is now reaching crisis proportions.