Hearings virtual to the BAPE on the tramway in Quebec?

Des audiences virtuelles pour le BAPE sur le tramway de Québec?

Image: Quebec City
The tramway project of the City of Quebec is estimated at $ 3.3 billion, and its commissioning is scheduled for 2026.

The minister of the Environment Benoit Charette has mandated the BAPE to the outfit, this summer, a public hearing on the proposed tramway to Quebec. In the context of the pandemic, the agency considers, however, that it is “hardly feasible” to hold in-person hearings, as this is usually done. The exercise should, therefore, take place only on the web, as this will be the case for other future mandates.

In the mandate letter sent to the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), Benoit Charette invite the agency to ” implement the adaptations it considers necessary to its practices “, and this, in order to comply with the measures put in place to fight against the COVID-19.

Is it that the BAPE will hold public hearings in person, as this is normally done to allow citizens to present their point of view or their submission to the commission of inquiry ? “It is not totally excluded. But in the present state of things, it is hardly possible, ” says spokesperson of the organization, Pierre Turgeon, to the Duty.

According to the president of the BAPE, Philippe Bourke, the current context, therefore, represents “a stimulating challenge” to the body, which will produce a report and recommendations to the government about this major project of public transport. The tramway project of the City of Quebec would have a length of 23 km, including a section underground for 2.6 km under the hill, and would include 35 stations in total. It raises, however, some controversy in Quebec city, between supporters and opponents of this network. The project is estimated at $ 3.3 billion, and its commissioning is scheduled for 2026.

Hearings online

By way of a press release, Mr. Bourke has also promised that the BAPE will offer ” conditions of participation that, in spite of the context, will allow the greatest number of citizens to obtain information and express their opinions on this project.”

Of the “arrangements for the exceptional” will be announced in anticipation of the mandate, which begins on 6 July. But in reality, all indications are that the hearings should be held only on the web, a procedure for the least exceptional for the BAPE.

In the context of the rules to counter the spread of coronavirus, this should also be preferred for other mandates to come in the next few months. This is particularly the case for public hearings scheduled for the interconnection line of the Appalachian mountains-Maine, led by Hydro-Québec. The mandate of the BAPE for a period of 4 months will commence on July 20, 2020

The organization of environmental assessment has also already planned to make a virtual for the term “targeted consultation” on a proposed expansion of a major storage site of contaminated soils, located in Mascouche, or the promoter wants to bury 2.5 million cubic metres of contaminated soil. “All of these sessions will take place via the web and / or by phone. They will be web streamed live on our website and available offline “, has already been said on this subject the spokesman for the BAPE, Pierre Turgeon.

Interestingly, when the minister of the Environment grants a mandate, the BAPE has the duty to fulfill its mandate. The organization could not refuse to hold public hearings, and, even if the rules of the public health to prohibit any gathering in a closed place. In the case of the BAPE on the LNG project Quebec, the minister withdrew the mandate at the beginning of the crisis, in march.

The minister, Benoit Charette has confidence in the process, despite the current crisis. “The government aims at a gradual recovery of economic activities without compromising the health and safety of people. The public consultation process will be adapted to comply with the rules of social distancing, without, however, compromising the quality and rigour of the process of public participation, ” explained his press secretary, Louis-Julien Dufresne, by e-mail.

Accessibility issues

The decision to conduct online consultations and in the middle of national health crisis raises questions, according to the general director of the quebec Centre of environmental law, Genevieve, Paul. “It is important to consider, in the current context, the various obstacles which interested persons may face. Particular attention should therefore be paid to ensure that the people most likely to be impacted by the health crisis, or the people less connected because of their socio-economic situation may also have the capacity to participate fully. “

Ms. Paul also believes that ” when the health situation so permits and in compliance with the guidelines issued by the directorate of public health to ensure the safety of all, the consultations physical should be preferred, particularly for projects that are the subject of controversy.”

A professor in the Department of legal sciences at UQAM and a specialist in environmental law, Jean Barrel, it is possible for the BAPE to ” put in place new technological uses “, which will hold hearings. “If, as a citizen, I have online access prior to any documentation and if I can intervene, ask questions to the various experts and then present and submit my memory, to the same extent as previously, I do not see how the principles of participation and consultation of the public would automatically be violated by the use of new technologies,” he argues.

Similar to Quebec, the federal government has not suspended the public consultation process or environmental assessments of industrial projects-controversial, in the context of the pandemic.

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