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.
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”.
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
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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.