Environmental degradation
at Falaise St-Jacques

The MTQ cancels the Bande verte park and bulldozes sensitive wetlands

By Lisa Mintz

On January 14, the Ministère des Transports (MTQ) began cutting between 500 to 700 trees in Montreal’s Falaise St-Jacques and destroying wetland there. These actions are deplorable in themselves, but also symptomatic of much deeper problems at the ministry. The corporate culture there seems to be one of pretending to consult with the public while concealing the truth, and of acting with arrogance.

I founded the environmental group Sauvons la Falaise (SLF) in 2015 after seeing survey ribbons on trees in the Falaise. At the suggestion of city councillor Peter McQueen, I went to the Bon Voisinage meeting on the Turcot project. There, MTQ officials told me that the ribbons were a measure to protect endangered brown snakes and no trees would be cut. Two months later, I saw that two hectares of the Falaise had been clear-cut and bulldozed bare where the ribbons had been.

The corporate culture there [at the MTQ] seems to be one of pretending to consult with the public while concealing the truth, and of acting with arrogance.

When confronted, the MTQ said they misunderstood my earlier question, but others present at the meeting, including McQueen, said my question was very clear.

Soon after this, I stumbled over a reference to the “Dalle-parc,” a bicycle and pedestrian bridge across the Turcot, promised by MTQ minister Sam Hamad in 2010, but then mysteriously dropped from Turcot plans. The $3.7 billion Turcot project is almost entirely for the benefit of motorists who live outside of central Montreal and the Dalle-parc, representing only about 1% of Turcot budget, was essentially the only part of the project to benefit local residents, especially those without cars.

Dalle-parc sketch presented in 2010 – Image: Ministre des transports

Over the next few years, MTQ officials denied that the Dalle-parc was ever part of Turcot plans, but The Gazette headline article of November 2010 shows it included in a map on the front page. Eventually, my allies prompted a debate in the National Assembly and MTQ minister Laurent Lessard agreed to find out what the situation was. Ultimately, the Dalle-parc was promised a second time in 2018, but as an afterthought to the Turcot project.

With members of my group, SLF, I attended some forty Bon Voisinage meetings with MTQ officials over five years. Much of the discussion pertained to how the MTQ should leave the area once the Turcot highway project is completed.

‘MTQ PowerPoint presentations invariably showed an artist’s conception of the future Falaise, complete with walkways, wetlands, and observation towers.’

Bon Voisinage meetings were held in NDG, Westmount and the Sud-Ouest to encourage larger public participation, with hundreds of citizens attending. There were also other public consultations – one for the “bande verte” in 2018 and an Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) hearing for the grand park de l’écoterritoire de la falaise in 2019. We also saw polls conducted on how the public wanted the Falaise park to eventually look like. MTQ PowerPoint presentations invariably showed an artist’s conception of the future Falaise, complete with walkways, wetlands, and observation towers.

Central to all these discussions was a Ministry of environment Décret 890-2010 permitting MTQ to bulldoze the two hectares of the Falaise in 2015 on the condition it gave back 9.7 hectares from the Turcot yards and restored wetlands at the bottom of the Falaise. For five years, consultations were always framed by the context of this decree. These 9.7 hectares were to be a strip along the bottom of the Falaise called the “Bande verte”.

Dalle-parc crossing highway 20

Dalle-Parc, view from south – Image: courtesy of La Dalle-Parc pour tous

At the end of November 2020, the MTQ abruptly declared that problems with the water table necessitated that it abandon previous plans for the Bande verte, bulldoze the wetlands and cut 500+ trees before land-filling parts of the site. The MTQ planned to start almost immediately.

This news was announced, without justifying documents, just before Christmas. It was also in the middle of the pandemic and MTQ officials surely knew that the National Assembly – the only forum where their actions could be questioned – would not reconvene for two months. Indications suggest that the MTQ had known of the water table problem for some two years without mentioning it at any public consultation.

‘Why this elaborate charade with consultations during five years when MTQ had other plans? Are MTQ officials forgetting that they are public servants and their salaries paid by taxpayer dollars?’

When my group asked to see justifying documents, we were told to file an access to information request. Typically, such requests take 22 months before the documents are provided but my lawyer filed a request anyway. The response he received was that the documentation could not be sent within prescribed delays for reasons unclear and no date was given for when he could expect such documents.

On January 14, the MTQ began bulldozing wetlands and cutting trees. Why this elaborate charade with consultations during five years when MTQ had other plans? Are MTQ officials forgetting that they are public servants and their salaries paid by taxpayer dollars?

Because of the MTQ’s lack of transparency, much time and taxpayers’ money has been wasted on public meetings and consultations held in bad faith. No apologies have been issued by anyone at the MTQ for this cavalier disrespect of the public. Nor are there indications that anything might happen differently in the future. It is my great hope that Transport Minister François Bonnardel can address such problems of corporate culture within his ministry. At the very least, I believe that MTQ officials should be honest with the public.

Feature image: courtesy of Lisa Mintz
Bouton S'inscrire à l'infolettre – WestmountMag.ca
Read also: other articles on the environment

Lisa MIntz - WestmountMag.ca


Lisa Mintz sits on the board of the Green Coalition and is the founder of Sauvons la falaise. She is also an experienced community organizer, professional events coordinator and passionate birdwatcher.

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    This is absolutely outrageous. I had watched a video on the Falaise St-Jacques and had wanted to visit the area in the spring, with a friend or two. Now it is too late. The MTQ and other government agencies are doing what they want, in spite of several public consultations, and the deed was done during the pandemic and while the gov’t was not sitting.
    Monika Malecka
    monika.malecka51@gmail.com I do not have my own website

  2. Patricia Dumais

    Well it is obvious that the MTQ does not serve taxpayers. Oh, they are happy to spend our money but certainly not on that we need! As soon as it was announced that the Turcot was to be rebuilt, progressive urban planners asked why? Cities across the world are getting rid of these highly polluting urban highways that cut through and divide neighbourhoods. The area where Highways 15 and 20 converge is one if not the most polluted in Quebec! Citizens and planners proposed electrifying the commuter rail line to the airport and beyond but, no, we got a wider, even more polluting highway. The people at the MTQ are 20th century thinkers and the Ministère de l’environnement has zero clout. Let’s see the Ministère de l’environnement act on this Décret 890-2010!

  3. Cymry Gomery

    Thank you, Lisa Mintz, for steadfastly championing the cause of the Falaise. This absence of good faith that you mention is a serous problem, similar to what has been happening provincially with the GNL gas pipeline project where the public audiences (BAPE) showed a definite thumbs-down but they continue anyway. Or Trudeau with his electoral reform lies and TMX pipeline.

    The photo that you provide of the stripped falaise is in sad contrast to the artists’ drawings… What to do when the elected officials who are supposed to represent us decide to act unilaterally? Should we appeal to the Premier?

  4. Anne Streeter

    Such a sad ongoing commentary – governments and other powers not working for the people. Consultations are meaningless. Decisions are made behind closed doors & projects are essentially a done deal before the public hears about them. Of course the lock down is an added bonus for these people!

    “Green” is uppermost on many people’s minds but my municipality’s idea of green is a green roof! Everything else is getting paved over!

  5. Jozien

    What a terrible situation. The planned conservation area made the whole project more beautiful and balanced out all of the concrete and asphalt. Shame on the elected members of council for not keeping a watchful eye and holding the parties involved responsible.
    Trees take hundreds of years to reach that maturity.

  6. Roger Jochym

    Excellent exposé of the MTQ ‘managing’ concerned citizens who want to move urban planning into the 21st century. The amount of tax dollars spent on experts and bureaucrats attending innumerable meetings, presentations, design sessions with concerned citizens in order to delay and delay and delay forever any tangible results for Nature in the city is ultimately undemocratic and manipulative. The complete loss of the wetland can only be seen as the ‘cheapest’ solution. The reports relative to the loss of the wetland were never made available to the public so that they could be verified by ‘second opinion’ engineers. Many rightly see the MTQ as the covid virus of Nature.

    It should not have been so. In 2010, Environment Minister Line Beauchamp had expressed concern about the future of the Bande Verte and its wetland. She issued a ministerial decree as part of the framework for the Turcot project that required the safeguarding and enhancement of the wetland between the Bande Verte and the Falaise St-Jacques (extrait):

    Décret 890-2010
    Concernant la délivrance d’un certificat d’autorisation au ministre des Transports pour le projet de reconstruction du complexe Turcot sur le territoire des villes de Montréal, de Montréal-Ouest et de Westmount……………….


    Le ministre des Transports doit établir une zone tampon au pied de la falaise Saint-Jacques d’une superficie minimale de 9,7 hectares. La largeur moyenne de cette zone doit être d’au moins 30 mètres.

    Le ministre des Transports doit recréer un milieu humide au pied de la falaise Saint-Jacques, alimenté par les eaux de pluie provenant de la falaise, les eaux souterraines et, si nécessaire, par les eaux pluviales, préalablement traitées, provenant du réseau autoroutier.

    The present Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette did not honor this Décret 890-2010. Thus future generations of young people from NDG and the Sud Ouest will be deprived of the rich environmental experience of being introduced to the great biodiversity of wetlands. All lost for the sake of the ‘cheapest’ solution. This is difficult to accept when one considers that governments are spending $14 billion dollars on infrastructure (REM ouest, new Champlain bridge, Turcot project) to facilitate the growth of suburbs which many new studies are showing produce up to four times of greenhouse gases in comparison to dense urban neighborhoods. It is even more difficult to accept when one realizes that Minister Benoit Charette’s riding has the Oka Parc wetlands on its border, the largest wetland in the Montreal area. Children of his riding are not being deprived.

    Are we surprised at all by this CAQ government and its lack of commitment to fight the climate catastrophe? Premier Legault was the only major political figure missing from Greta Thunberg’s Montreal march of 500,000 young people for the climate. Unfortunately it appears that his government’s infrastructure commitments lack the same foresight as his government’s sending covid patients back to retirement homes from hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic. This government and its MTQ are spending large sums of taxpayers’ monies on transportation infrastructure to spread more citizens out into the suburbs with its unsustainable lifestyle and are ‘managing’ concerned citizens desire for Nature in the city into afterthought ‘cheapest’ solutions. It is as if the Coalition Avenir Québec is longing for the 20th century, Coaltion Passé Québec.

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