Even in this time of increasingly insignificant Canadian elections, Quebec’s Oct. 3 exercise may seem like a wallow in futility.
With 40% of the decided vote, François Legault’s CAQ is guaranteed a second majority. The most significant outcomes left to decide: the official opposition (likely Eric Duhaime’s Quebec Conservatives) and whether the PQ and Liberals will elect a sufficient number of MNAs to retain party status.
If Quebec was a true participatory democracy, Oct. 3 would be a plebiscite on Bill 96, the CAQ’s language law rewrite and Bill 21, Quebec’s emulation of France’s secular-state edicts. Sadly, the province’s legislators voted otherwise, leaving it to the courts to thrash out the human cost.
So much for principled stands on the sanctity of individual rights.
What I find more surprising is the voting public’s apparent surrender of their collective rights at the outset of this 36-day Marathon of Irrelevance.
I’m referring to the generalized apathy surrounding two files critical to millions — the failing Ile aux Tourtes highway bridge and the substandard emergency care system in southwestern Quebec.
Most Vaudreuil-Soulanges residents find ways to work around the challenges. Rather than risking a multi-hour wait at overwhelmed ERs or packed walk-in clinics, many choose to drive to Ontario ERs. To escape the hell of the daily commute on and off the island, we negotiate flextime, co-working and work-from-home alternatives. Sometimes we joke about it. But why should we accept it?
Begin with the bridge and the lack of public-transit alternatives. When it was inaugurated in 1965, the existing structure had an estimated 50-year lifespan carrying 25,000 vehicles a day. Now it carries 90,000 vehicles a day, a third of them big rigs averaging 50,000 pounds. Decades of deferred maintenance, incompetent modifications and road salt have forced the regular closure of one or more lanes (and once the entire bridge). These closures are increasing in frequency and duration with every passing year.
In 2007, Transport Quebec boasted of keeping the bridge in operation for 70 years. A year ago, the ministry conceded the lane closures would have to continue until a new bridge was opened in 2031.
This past March 10, CAQ transport minister François Bonnardel announced the reopening of the new bridge would be moved forward 18 months, thanks to the government’s fast-tracking legislation for major infrastructure projects. No revised target date was given.
Four years ago, the transport ministry and its CAQ overseers were talking about incorporating an off-island extension to the REM light rail system into the new bridge. Between then and now, the REM extension was dropped. So were dedicated bus lanes. Henceforth, buses could use the outside breakdown lanes, the only safety zones for two kilometres.
The one concession to an eventual REM extension was an imaginary corridor where the existing bridge now stands.
Hard targets remain equally elusive for the Vaudreuil-Soulanges regional hospital originally promised (by the premier himself) by late 2026. A prime contractor for the 404-bed hospital was to have been picked in the spring of 2022. Instead, a June 30 announcement by health minister Christian Dubé said construction will start “au début de l’automne prochain.” Taken literally, one might assume this to mean work will begin next week even though the prime contractor has yet to be named.
It’s hard to digest all this without getting the feeling that Vaudreuil-Soulanges voters don’t matter to the CAQ. The test of any government’s commitment to the democratic princlple is how quickly it abandons its promise to be a government for all citizens, not just those it was elected by. In Quebec’s bad old days, that manifested itself in whose roads were repaved and who got hired to do the job.
Maybe it’s just me, but François Legault’s 2022 Quebec is starting to feel like the 1936 Quebec of Maurice Duplessis, where faut voter à bon bord wasn’t an idle threat. All the more reason to raise our voices on the public forums open to us. Legault’s CAQ will persist in pandering to its base, but we all need to hear dissent and concerns from across the political spectrum.