Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Laval Mayor Stéphane Boyer and Longueuil Mayor Catherine Fournier united on a common front Tuesday to denounce what they see as “radio silence” on the Quebec government’s part.
The municipalities have been in ongoing negotiations with the provincial government, asking the province to cover their public transit agencies’ growing deficit.
They say the pandemic and a drastic decrease in ridership have made it impossible for the agencies to keep up — despite measures already taken to optimize their budgets.
Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault presented an offer earlier this month, saying the province could cover 20 per cent of the deficit incurred.
But the municipalities countered, asking for 75 per cent. They say the minister’s initial offer would see the cities pay $1.3 billion — an amount they simply can’t afford.
“It’s not because we don’t manage money well,” Plante told reporters Tuesday. “This is not fair for cities to beg for money from a partner that usually is there to contribute.”
Plante said the mayors sat down with Guilbault last week and have yet to hear back from her. She said the entire process is beginning to feel more like a negotiation and not the discussions she had hoped for.
At the national assembly, Guilbault told reporters she felt she had communicated well with the mayors, and she did not understand how they could refer to a “radio silence” when they’ve been in contact.
Guilbault accused the cities of stalling the negotiations by taking 11 days to respond to her initial offer, and by presenting a counter-offer that isn’t realistic.
“We don’t have that kind of money at the government,” Guilbault said. “We have a lot of expenses to pay for. You see what’s going on with the negotiations of the public sector.”
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But opposition parties did not accept that explanation. Guilbault came under attack during question period at the legislature Tuesday.
“It’s the workers that will have to pay for the rise in ticket prices, cuts to services. It doesn’t make any sense,” Québec Solidaire co-apokesperson Manon Massé said. “It isn’t everyone who has the capacity to pay for a Tesla, nor is that our wish.”
“How come they don’t have money anymore?” interim Quebec Liberal Party leader Marc Tanguay asked reporters earlier in the day. “It’s a question of being able to administer properly public funds.”
Guilbault maintains that her government is the government that has invested most in public transit.
She says she’ll have a new offer for the cities by the end of this week.
The City of Montreal is set to table its budget Nov. 15.
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