Potential fast-track of infrastructure projects in Québec

On September 15, 2020, the Québec Government (the “Government”) will resume its efforts to pass a bill that would help accelerate the implementation of a designated list of major construction and infrastructure projects in the province.

The Government tabled Bill 61, An Act to restart Québec’s economy and to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency declared on 13 March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic (the “Bill”), in June 2020. The Bill was met with opposition and was not passed before the Québec legislative session adjourned for the summer. While the Bill in its current form is subject to further discussion and may still undergo amendments, the following provides a general outline of key takeaways that will be of interest for those operating in the infrastructure sector in Québec, should it be adopted in its current form.  

What is the purpose of the Bill?

  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to mitigate its consequences, the Bill aims to restart Québec’s economy through various mechanisms intended to last for a limited period following its assent. Such measures are mainly geared towards streamlining procedures for major infrastructure projects. In particular, it would arm the Government with the powers and tools it deems necessary for taking such temporary measures.

Which infrastructure projects can benefit from the acceleration measures?

  • The Bill establishes a list of 202 projects that can benefit from such measures. Such projects range from the construction of public transportation systems, highways and bridges, long-term care facilities, hospitals and schools. The complete list can be found under Schedule 1 of the Bill.
  • The Government may also designate other projects by decree, after consultation with the Quebec National Assembly, which could include certain public infrastructure projects, projects developed by a municipal body, or private projects aimed at increasing Québec’s medical capacity or food self-sufficiency, which may also benefit from acceleration measures.

What are some of the proposed acceleration measures?

The Bill would allow the Government to bypass some of the previously required authorization processes for infrastructure projects, all in the aim of launching construction more expeditiously.

  • Expropriation: The Bill provides for a streamlined expropriation procedure patterned on that applicable to the Réseau électrique métropolitain. Among other things, the Minister of Transport can acquire property under an accelerated procedure and the expropriating party’s right to expropriate may not be challenged.
  • Work on public land: The Bill enables the Minister having authority over a part of the domain of the State to temporarily allow the work to be carried out before the necessary land rights to begin the project are obtained.
  • Environment: Subject to certain requirements, the Bill would allow the Government to decide that certain provisions of the Environment Quality Act (the “EQA”) are not applicable and provide for replacement provisions that apply with respect to a given infrastructure project.
    • Note that the EQA remains applicable to projects involving any work that may have permanent adverse effects on wetlands and bodies of water; any construction on a former residual materials elimination site; as well as subsequent operations stemming from the projects covered by the Bill.
  • Land use planning: The Bill provides for the non-application of the Act respecting land use planning and development for projects in certain circumstances.
  • Public contracts: The Government may determine the conditions applicable to a contract entered into by a municipal body in connection with an infrastructure project designated by the Bill.

Notably, the Government also proposes to suspend the expiry of authorizations to contract issued under the Act respecting contracting by public bodies that would otherwise end during the period March 13, 2020 to March 31, 2021, extending it by one year. Additionally, time limits or periods and deadlines applicable to any annual reporting or any other type of account that public bodies must submit or render would be postponed, as well as certain time limits or periods in applicable fiscal matters.

As mentioned above, the Bill in its current form may still be subject to further modifications, and accompanying regulations have yet to be published. However, the Government’s aim to launch infrastructure projects as expeditiously as possible to support the economic recovery should result in increased opportunity for the sector.

For more information about the impacts of COVID-19 on the construction industry, please see the following article.