By Kevin Woodhouse and Beryl Wajsman
During the last provincial election campaign, Philippe Couillard made the Train De L’Ouest an election priority. The commuter rail project, with its own dedicated track lines to run from Vaudreuil into the city of Montreal at regular intervals, also has the backing of West- and Off-island mayors, the Agence métropolitain de transport as well as Minister of Transport Robert Poëti.
But even with all of the support for the project, the government did not have the financial means to set aside the estimated one billion dollar price tag to begin construction or even $100 million for Train De L’Ouest’s first phase, the redesign and renovation of the Montreal West station.
However, last week, the provincial government and La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec announced a partnership to fund major infrastrucutre projects for the province that include Train De L’Ouest and light rail for the new Champlain Bridge.
La Caisse’s expected contribution to the two major projects is $5 billion, representing only 2.5% of CDD total investment fund of $214 billion.
“Today’s agreement will allow us to increase our exposure to infrastructure while concretely putting our expertise to work for Quebec’s economy,” Michael Sabia, Caisse President and CEO, said at last week’s announcement. “These investments will generate returns that help to secure Quebecers’ retirement for the future. It’s a win-win partnership that benefits everyone.”
Sabia also pointed out, in answer to reporters’ questions, that these partnerships in transport infrastructure have worked elsewhere in the world and that, “There is nothing in Quebec’s DNA that would prevent a success here.”
In an exclusive interview with The Suburban, Caisse senior vice-president Christian Dubé said taxpayers should have no concerns over this investment. This is,”an evolution, not a revolution for the Caisse” he said.
Indeed the CDD is no stranger to funding of this type, having worked with the government of Australia to improve Brisbane’s public transit system, and investing in the rail link between Gatwick and Heathrow airports in London.
In fact the Caisse has invested in ten major transport infrastructure projects around the world and all have been successful. It has $10 billion invested in projects around the world worth $90 billion.
Dubé did point out that what is a new departure is that this is the first infrastructure investment for the Caisse in Quebec. But to assure the continuity of its expertise, it will have the assistance of its specialists and managers, particularly from its remarkably successful Canada Line project of light rail transit in Vancouver. This expertise is necessary because the Caisse wants project management control of the Train De L’Ouest. For that, it is awaiting a National Assembly vote to give it that power.
Should the National Assembly move speedily, Dubé envisions a rapid timeline. Eight to eighteen months for planning. One to three months for final decisions. And execution within a 36-to-60-month framework.
For Train De L’Ouest co-founder Clifford Lincoln, the announcement that the Caisse and the provincial government will partnering is good news “because the financing of $5 billion for the two projects and a completion date set for 2020 is now on the record. “This is a very good step as the Caisse is a serious organization that has a proven track record and is well managed,” Lincoln told The Suburban.
The agreement also showed Lincoln that the current provincial Liberal government “meant what they said about the importance of providing better commuter services for West Island residents and have kept their promises.”
What Lincoln hopes will continue as the process moves forward is that the grassroots organization will be kept abreast of all developments as well as finding out exactly what Train De L’Ouest will ultimately become, as a light rail between Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport to Montreal was highlighted in last week’s announcement without further details if the line would extend off island.
“We want to know, on the record, if Train De L’Ouest will be our project or will it become something else?” noted Lincoln.
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