Bill 66: Québec revamps its infrastructure bill
On September 23, 2020, the Québec government (the “Government”) tabled Bill 66, An Act respecting the acceleration of certain infrastructure projects (the “Bill”). The Bill replaces Bill 61, An Act to restart Québec’s economy and to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency, which had encountered significant criticism after its tabling in June 2020. Similar to its predecessor, Bill 66 seeks the acceleration of major infrastructure projects in Québec to help the economy benefit more quickly from the resulting infrastructure and to compensate for the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit in a more circumscribed way than its previous iteration.
This article pinpoints the main differences between Bill 66 and Bill 61, the latter of which was examined in a previous blog post.
Infrastructure projects that can benefit from the acceleration measures:
- The Bill trims down the former list of 202 infrastructure projects to 181 projects. According to the Government, the other 21 projects experienced a change in status which justified their removal from the scope of the Bill. Certain large-scale projects are listed at the end of this blog post, while the complete list of the 181 projects can be found under Schedule 1 of the Bill.
- Unlike Bill 61, the list of 181 projects is a closed list and the Government no longer has the option to designate other projects by decree.
- Expropriation: While landowners are still precluded from contesting expropriations under the streamlined expropriation procedure, the Bill allows them to challenge the amount of compensation offered.
- Environment: Rather than allowing the Government to dictate that certain provisions of the Environmental Quality Act are inapplicable, as was the case under Bill 61, the Bill takes a more circumscribed approach: it provides exemptions for public bodies from the obligation to obtain an authorization if certain conditions are met. A public body seeking an exemption must send the Minister a project declaration attesting to certain information. However, an authorization is still required in the following cases:
- any work carried out in wetlands and bodies of water if the project does not provide for the environment to be restored within the year following the end of the work;
- any work carried out in the presence of a threatened or vulnerable species;
- any construction on a former residual materials elimination site;
- any work involving a regulated water withdrawal.
- Land use planning and municipal authorizations: The streamlining measures in respect of land use planning are narrower in scope and more precise than in Bill 61. The Government can only bypass the Act respecting land use planning and development if an infrastructure project is a “Government Intervention” within the meaning of that Act, whereas Bill 61 also contained measures for projects that did not qualify as such. A Government Intervention occurs when the Government or its representatives perform certain prescribed acts, such as building infrastructure, carrying out work on the soil, or modifying the boundaries of a wildlife preserve – as a result, many of the projects listed in Schedule 1 may indeed qualify as Government Interventions. Further, rather than simply being able to bypass land use planning rules and municipal authorization requirements, the Bill instead sets out a simplified procedure for infrastructure projects that require a municipal authorization.
- Public contracts: This aspect of Bill 61 had been particularly criticized, with opposition groups citing the possibility of collusion that could arise with allowing the Government to bypass conditions prescribed in the Act respecting contracting by public bodies.
As a result, the Bill no longer empowers the Government to circumvent the law on public contracts. The Autorité des marchés publics (AMP) has been granted oversight functions in relation to the awarding of public contracts in order to ensure the integrity of the tendering process. For example, the AMP can conduct investigations, order corrective measures and terminate contracts where it deems appropriate.
The acceleration of large infrastructure projects will present interesting opportunities for the private sector. Of note, some of the large-scale projects targeted by this Bill include the following:
- The extension of the blue line of the Montreal metro
- The development of a tramway between Gatineau and Ottawa
- The reconstruction of the Mercier bridge
- Light-rail project between the Eastern portion of the Island of Montreal and downtown Montreal
- Light-rail project on the South-Shore of Montréal
- The extension of highway 35 to the U.S. border
- The extension of highway 19 to Bois-des-Filion
- The extension of the REM light rail project in Laval
- The reconstruction of the Gaspé railway line
- The reconstruction of the Orléans Island bridge
- The redevelopment of the site of the former Royal-Victoria hospital
- Numerous seniors residences and long term care homes
- The renovation and expansion of the Lachine, Verdun, Santa Cabrini, Fleury and St. Mary hospitals in Montreal, as well as the Saint-Eustache, Arthabaska, La Malbaie and Amos hospitals.
While the Bill maintains similar acceleration measures for infrastructure projects, it abandons some of the more controversial aspects of its previous version. As it will be subject to further scrutiny this fall, it may still undergo amendments. Those operating in the infrastructure sector in Québec should continue to keep a close eye on any further developments.