With recently unveiled plans for the extension of the Montreal metro’s blue line, the PQ seems to be distracting the electorate yet again in the same vein as the proposed Charter of Values, or even Pastagate. While residents on the East end would benefit by gaining additional metro access, those residing in the West (delineated as east of Decarie including the West Island) feel as though they have been overlooked yet again. Mere hours after the announcement, exclusionary accusations were directed towards the PQ government for their plans to extend public transportation to a predominately Francophone sector of the city over an Anglophone West. The thinning of public services to the western portion of the city has created the sense that the area is being rendered a biased disservice. However, the language debate and favoured PQ wedge politics aside, one can assume the plans for the blue line’s extension are a clear foreshadowing of a rumoured upcoming election.
The proposal for the extension of the blue line must be understood to be exactly that, a proposal. Construction will not commence this year; rather, the PQ is estimating its completion for the early 2020s. The first step will be the creation of a two-year planning committee at the cost of $38.8 million. Approximately five additional stations are projected, heading eastbound from current end-of-line Saint-Michel station into the neighbourhoods of Saint-Leonard and Anjou. The PQ is estimating an overall project cost of $1.8 billion, which translates to a $250-300 million per kilometre extension.
The budgetary figures have left critics perplexed, referencing the Laval metro extension completed a mere 6 years ago, at the cost of $150 million per kilometre. Inflation cannot account for the project budget’s approximate 200% increase given the time frame. Disapproval is similarly directed at the necessity of a two-year planning committee at such a high cost. Although the addition of the Blue line is expected to ease traffic on the Metropolitan Expressway, the extension would service roughly 120,000 people. With the lowest ridership of all metro lines, how is a budget of $1.8 billion justifiable when twenty-six stations were built at a cost of $1.5 billion (in today’s dollars) in the 1960s?
Beyond the evident budgetary issues, it is the plight of the West in relation to this announcement that drew primarily negative attention to the exclusionary PQ. Numerous plans have been suggested for public transportation extensions in the West; however these have repeatedly been ignored. Recent and projected exit closures on the highways, as well as unreliable train and bus service, have left the residents of the West with a looming sense that their neighbourhoods are being ghettoized from the downtown core. Due to the English majority of the region, the language debate is often cited as the cause at the centre of this conflict. However, public transportation plans signal that this announcement stems from a deeper issue, rather than exclusionary tactics.
Similar plans were announced during the Charest government. However these included additions to the orange, yellow, as well as blue lines, yet still nothing for the West Island. Although a lack of services in the West may be rooted in an absence of budgetary allocations, the lack of future transit plans in the area indicates that the PQ is catering to its audience. The predominantly English region has historically voted Liberal, and not only on the provincial level. The extension of the blue line is at its core a basic political promise. As the West is a dedicated Liberal stronghold, this announcement can be construed as a vote-buying tactic of the less ardently Liberal North and East sectors of Montreal. This indicates that the PQ is attempting to create potential for a future majority government by making promises to swing ridings. Such declarations impart an air of truth to the rumours of a December provincial election called by Marois herself. While to some this may appear to be a continuation of the English versus French divide, in reality this is nothing new; money continues to follow the votes.