Quebec's pension fund manager backs tramway for Quebec City

The Caisse proposes a first phase linking the Le Gendre and Charlesbourg hubs, as envisioned by former Mayor Labeaume's administration back in 2018.  (City of Quebec - image credit)
The Caisse proposes a first phase linking the Le Gendre and Charlesbourg hubs, as envisioned by former Mayor Labeaume's administration back in 2018. (City of Quebec - image credit)

Quebec's pension fund manager, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), is recommending a tramway as the best mode of transportation to improve mobility in Quebec's capital.

The report from the Caisse, now in the hands of the Legault government, recommends a three-phase plan and the use of smaller train cars than originally proposed, according to information obtained by Radio-Canada from sources close to the matter.

The Caisse is in favour of the tramway with a first phase linking the Le Gendre and Charlesbourg hubs, as envisioned by Mayor Régis Labeaume's administration back in 2018.

It is also proposing bringing the tramway to D'Estimauville in a second phase and the Lebourgneuf sector in a third phase.

These recommendations were presented to the government on Monday, Radio-Canada reports. The mayors of Quebec City and Lévis, on the south shore, are also due to receive their own presentation on Tuesday.

Some residents in Montcalm are concerned that the tramway will diminish the canopy in their neighbourhood.
Some residents in Montcalm are concerned that the tramway will diminish the canopy in their neighbourhood.

Some residents in Montcalm are concerned that the tramway will diminish the canopy in their neighbourhood. (Radio-Canada)

The Caisse recommends reducing the size of the tramway's train cars in order to reduce project costs as well as downsizing the stations and tunnel connecting Quebec City's upper and lower neighbourhoods.

Smaller cars would also help limit the project's footprint, and possibly save some mature trees along the route — a key concern for some residents in the Montcalm neighbourhood, the report says.

Caisse concludes 3rd link not warranted 

Radio-Canada reports that the decision came after the Caisse's experts looked at half a dozen corridors that could accommodate a new third-link highway, ultimately deciding that the project was not warranted at this time to improve mobility in the region.

In April 2023, the Quebec government scrapped plans to build a third link for vehicles between Quebec City and Lévis. The decision was made after Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault announced that the third link would be reserved for public transportation only and not be open to drivers.

Six months later, following the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)'s defeat in the byelection in Quebec City's riding of Jean-Talon, Legault promised to consult and listen to citizens on the third link, suggesting that the highway project could possibly be revived.

Quebec Premier François Legault at the National Assembly in Quebec City.
Quebec Premier François Legault at the National Assembly in Quebec City.

Premier François Legault promised to consult and listen to citizens on the third link, suggesting that the highway project could possibly be revived. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

Étienne Grandmont, the Québec solidaire (QS) MNA for the Taschereau riding and the party's transportation critic, says the Caisse report seems to support his party's longstanding position that the key to eliminating traffic is public transit.

In an emailed statement, Grandmont said a tramway could solve congestion problems and reduce greenhouse gases.

"It's the science that must be listened to. Our decisions on mobility must be guided by expertise, not by political interests, as the CAQ is doing with the third link, which it turns off and on according to polls and election results," he said.

Monsef Derraji, Quebec Liberal Party critic for transport and sustainable mobility, says the situation has resulted in the CAQ losing credibility when it comes to transportation. He says circling back to the tramway project will also increase costs.

"All Quebecers, and especially the population of Quebec City, they lost six years," said Derraji.

'We thought it was over'

Christian Savard, general manager of Vivre en ville, an organization dedicated to the development of sustainable communities, says it's better late than never.

"Would I have preferred that we did this in 2018 when we first [introduced] a project that seems fairly similar to what we'll probably reconfirm tomorrow? The answer of course is yes," said Savard.

"The best time was 2018, the second best time is now. What's needed is for the government to move forward quickly so as to not lose the expertise of the project."

He says it's important to remember that there has already been $500 million invested in the project, including land that has been bought and paths which have been created.

Christian Savard says he would have prefered for the tramway project to be pursued after it was first introduced in 2018.
Christian Savard says he would have prefered for the tramway project to be pursued after it was first introduced in 2018.

Christian Savard says he would have prefered for the tramway project to be pursued after it was first introduced in 2018. (Vincent Rességuier/Radio-Canada)

Leslie-Ann Hale, who lives just outside Quebec City in Lac-Beauport, Que., says the tramway and third link projects are regular topics of discussion in town. She wouldn't be impacted by the project directly, but she says from what she has seen, the public is sceptical.

"We thought it was over and everything was settled, but no. We would rather discuss other issues in the city," said Hale.

"We should have addressed other issues that we have like our health system, like our schooling system."

Resident Pierre Jarest agrees that time and money has been lost, but thinks the tramway is the best option.

"It's the only intelligent solution. I have visited several cities with tramways and, as far as I'm concerned, it's the ideal form of transportation," he said.

CDPQ Infra as possible manager

How the city will bring the tramway project to life remains unclear.

Radio-Canada reports that CDPQ Infra didn't rule out managing the project, but the terms of a possible partnership with the government would have to be negotiated.

The new bill tabled by the minister responsible for infrastructure, Jonatan Julien, should also make it possible to reissue a call for tenders for the tramway in "collaborative mode," in order to better share the risks.

Quebec City believes it is capable of assuming control of the tramway project through its municipal project office.

In a plea to the government last November, Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand stated that he could deliver the tramway at a cost of $8.4 billion.