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The departure of a top privatization promoter in Quebec signals the government’s retreat from P3s.

According to media reports, Quebec P3 agency president Pierre Lefebvre will step down today. Half the agency’s board has left in recent months without being replaced – a sign the agency could be destined for the scrap heap, along with several major projects.

As one analyst says, the Charest government will cloak its next steps as ‘reflecting on the future’ of the P3 formula, but what’s unfolding is a “first class funeral” for P3s in the province.

Anti-P3 momentum has been building in the province for months, and several key government ministers have backed away from previous support for the schemes.

Health minister Yves Bolduc recently said he was reconsidering the privatization of Montreal’s CHUM megahospital. In a reversal of his government’s previous single-minded promotion of privatization, Bolduc said that “P3s were not a religion” for his party.
Treasury board president Monique Gagnon-Tremblay has stated publicly she doesn’t see P3s as a cure-all for the province’s infrastructure needs.

And transport minister Julie Boulet has signaled clearly that the reconstruction of Montreal’s Turcot interchange will likely go ahead as a public project, ending P3 plans.

Liberal support for P3s has imploded since the resignation in April of the province’s finance minister and P3 champion at the cabinet table, Monique Jérôme-Forget. Defending P3s in the wake of the financial crisis was becoming increasingly difficult for Jérôme-Forget.

A glimpse of the future came in May, when the province’s municipal affairs minister blocked a P3 arena project in Gatineau.

Just last week critics pointed out that a major Montreal hospital project could already be underway if it weren’t for all the P3 delays, adding to the news that it would cost far more as a private project. 

The government’s climb-down calls into question both the Montreal mega-hospital project, and another P3 plan in Quebec City. CUPE has been campaigning for more than a year about skyrocketing costs and delays in the privatized renovation of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Québec (CHUQ)’s Hotel Dieu site.

Public opposition broadened with the launch of a new anti-P3 hospital coalition. Engineers, doctors, architects and the construction industry joined their voices with workers and other citizens opposing privatization. A recent poll shows Quebec economists are also questioning the value of  P3s.

Speaking at public hearings about the Turcot interchange, Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay said a P3 won’t provide the “time, latitude or flexibility”  it takes to meet the needs of a sensitive project.

Tremblay told the provincial environmental agency assessing the Turcot interchange project that P3s were a “straight jacket”.

Even the right-leaning mayor of Quebec City recently said that forcing all major projects into the P3 mold was “unrealistic”. The mayor has apparently seen the light since scrapping plans to privatize an arena – plans that would have cost the city more than a public project.

Without a provincial agency or cabinet champion to drive the P3 agenda, the future of municipal P3s in communities like Beloeil et Châteauguay –  or of campus privatization schemes   –  is uncertain at best.