Guest Blogger – PasqualeLM Reviews MTQ Presentation In Saint Henri Monday Night

MTQ presents Turcot to Sud-Ouest in a failed public relations attempt
On Monday night, over 300 citizens from Montréal’s southwest borough packed a St-Henri community center to see what the MTQ, Québec’s provincial transportation department, had to say about its new Turcot project. Work on the $3-billion highway interchange project is expected to be carried out between 2012 and 2018, with preparatory work beginning this spring. The new Turcot will see vehicle capacity increase, from 290,000 to over 300,000 cars per day. So much for Kyoto!
A few dozen protestors greeted visitors outside, only to take their cause indoors while chanting “Turcot, pas d’autos!” Then the MTQ’s show began. A green-washed PowerPoint presentation, deceiving and misleading artist renderings, and an impressive, yet overly-treed model of the future Turcot interchange.

The room was filled with local elected officials: borough mayor Benoit Dorais and all of the borough’s councillors, Richard Bergeron, leader of Project Montréal (until recently, member of Montréal’s Executive Committee in charge of urban planning), and even local Member of Parliament Thierry St-Cyr (who was not invited to the official presentation of the project a few months ago). Not to mention the members from various community, housing, cultural, social, public transit and environmental advocacy groups, including the Conseil régional de l’environnement.

At the front of the room, the MTQ’s regional director, the Turcot project’s director and assistant director, as well as a moderator were grilled all evening long. Two provincial political attachés also showed up, but they hid in the crowd and only revealed their identity when a resident pointed out that no provincial elected officials were present. They remained silent for the rest of the night.

Despite all of the pretty pictures and complex, sometimes technical, rehearsed answers from the MTQ, participants left with more questions than when they arrived. The MTQ’s officials endured over 40 citizens’ questions. Well-prepared, thought out questions ranging from the MP, to the architect, from the seven year old (yes, you read correctly!) to the seventy-something year old.

No mention of concrete steps for improved public transit (despite the PhotoShoped images of tramways and new European-style urban neighbourhoods), nothing on improving air quality, even less on noise pollution during and after construction.

The MTQ presented their project at Mayor Benoit Dorais’ request. And with work slated to start in the coming months and plans nearly finalized, many citizens questioned why the representatives even bothered coming. What impact could citizens have at this point? As for the residents who will soon lose their homes, the MTQ had even fewer answers for them: 106 units on St-Rémi Street and 8 on Selby Street are slated for eviction. Compensation will be three-months rent and paid moving expenses. But the MTQ insisted each evictee will be met individually during confidential negotiations. So much for transparency.

The presentation was a public relations disaster (even their twitter account master can’t give clear answers) and the hired PR firm clearly failed at their mandate. They probably spent all of their budget on graphics design, posters and an expensive promo video (view their pretty pictures at http://www.turcot.gouv.qc.ca and see for yourself).

Southwest residents have been fighting the MTQ for years. They cheered each other on as they each stepped up to give the MTQ a piece of their mind. It was touching to see how residents of an inner-city borough can care so much about their neighbourhood. Residents who don’t want to be evicted from their homes for the sake of urban sprawl, see and hear more traffic run above them, breathe in more polluted air, deal with health issues that don’t exist elsewhere on the Island (just ask Montréal’s public health department), and surrender their quality of life. We may have made some transportation and urban planning mistakes in the past, but with Turcot, it seems we haven’t learned anything from them.

And you can follow @pasqualelm on Twitter

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