Quebec infrastructure strategy | Put an end to the “lead screed”

With his infrastructure strategy, Minister Jonatan Julien wishes to lift the “lead cover” which weighs down relations between the government and companies in the construction sector, which were increasingly turning their backs on government contracts despite a major increase in costs. public investments. In Quebec, no consortium wanted to carry out the tram project, for example. Its objective: to build faster and faster. The status quo was untenable, observers say.

Better planning

Quebec wants to better plan its work in each region, to avoid overheating. “Innovative approaches will be used, such as management by programs and project portfolios, the digital shift in the construction sector as well as the use of more prefabrication,” specifies the document tabled by the Minister responsible for Infrastructure, Jonatan Julien.

Read the article “17 targeted projects, tens billions to find”

“If Bernard Drainville decides to build two secondary schools in a region, Christian (Dubé) arrives with a hospital center and Geneviève (Guilbault) with a major road infrastructure project, we must be able to have the capacity (for all achieve),” he explained at a press conference, referring to his colleagues from Education, Health and Transport.

Collaborative approach

This is the crux of government strategy. With his bill, Mr. Julien wants to encourage on a large scale the use of the collaborative approach, which allows entrepreneurs to participate in the development of public projects. The old way of doing things is too rigid, said the minister: “We put a fixed idea in the hands of the market, we put them in a leaden screed. »

Between 2008 and 2024, the number of articles, legislative provisions and regulations to govern the award of public contracts has “quadrupled,” notes Nicholas Jobidon, professor of public law at the National School of Public Administration. This supervision, necessary to protect public funds, can be burdensome for major projects.


The Minister responsible for Infrastructure, Jonatan Julien

The bill adds a pathway more suited to high-profile projects. Because the same rules apply for a $250,000 snow removal contract and for the Quebec tramway.

Jonatan Julien, Minister responsible for Infrastructure

The selection committee will have much more freedom to choose who wins the bid. Quebec is even breaking with a “taboo”: the client will be able to have a “dialogue” with the bidders to “help them define their needs”, indicates Mr. Jobidon.

Concrete example: a contractor can immediately tell a client that a landing stage “six inches too wide” will require custom garage doors, with an additional cost of $200,000, explains Guillaume Houle, of the Quebec Construction Association.

Risk sharing

But the big change is the sharing of risk between the State and the entrepreneur that comes with this approach. “What we see today is the death (of projects) where we transfer 100% of the risk to the private sector, in exchange for profits. The private sector is no longer able to absorb this risk, because it is too great and it leads to the abortion of projects,” notes Pierre Barrieau, lecturer at the faculty of planning at the University of Montreal. . “The Quebec tramway was the big revealer of the situation,” underlines Christian Savard, of Vivre en Ville. No company wanted to bid for this project.

And in cases where a project goes ahead, “entrepreneurs add up the contingencies, and we pay for all of the risks, even those that do not materialize,” said Minister Jonatan Julien.

More competition

With the collaborative approach, which simplifies conflict resolution and allows faster payments to entrepreneurs, the Quebec state will become more “sexy”, Mr. Julien has often repeated. Caroline Amireault, general director of the Quebec Association of Infrastructure Entrepreneurs, confirms that there was a “disinterest” from entrepreneurs. “But the market will come back, there will be more competition,” she rejoices. For her, this reform is a “victory”. However, she emphasizes that the government will have to quickly change the Cities and Towns Actbecause municipalities will not have this flexibility, and they will be “disadvantaged”.

Less bureaucracy

The Legault government wants to revise the Directive on the management of major public infrastructure projects, which more strictly regulates larger projects. The first modification aims to “increase the compliance thresholds” which force a project to go through this “more rigorous” process, indicated the minister responsible, to adapt to the increase in construction costs.

Pilot projects

Based on pilot projects carried out by the Société québécoise des infrastructures for the construction of schools “for which certain initiatives included in the Strategy were applied”, the measures deployed should make it possible to reduce costs by up to 15% and delays up to 25%. However, it is difficult to know whether these gains will translate into much more complex projects, such as bridges or public transportation infrastructure. “The government had no choice to act. In 15 years, when we have built 150 kilometers of tramway, I will be able to confirm if the figures work,” says Pierre Barrieau.

In numbers

Quebec public infrastructure park

  • Total replacement value of more than 650 billion
  • Nearly 12,800 buildings, including schools and hospitals
  • 31,100 kilometers of roads and 9,900 bridges, tunnels and retaining walls
  • More than 100,000 kilometers of drinking water, rainwater and wastewater pipes
  • More than 500 kilometers of networks for reserved lanes, commuter trains and the Montreal metro


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