This analysis pertains to the drafted bill, as it was introduced on June 3, 2020 and does not take into consideration any subsequent amendment. A complete analysis will be carried out once the bill is adopted.
On March 13, 2020, the Government of Quebec declared a public health emergency and shortly thereafter, it put Quebec’s economy on hold. As a result, many businesses and organizations have had to slow down or temporarily suspend operations, resulting in high unemployment and an economic slowdown after a decade of steady growth. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global growth will be strongly negative in 2020.1
On Wednesday, June 3, 2020, Treasury Board President Christian Dubé tabled Bill 61: An Act to restart Québec’s economy and to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency declared on March 13, 2020. The main purpose of this bill is to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and quickly restart the Quebec economy. It gives the government the necessary powers to take temporary measures, including measures to accelerate the completion of public works projects.
1. Acceleration measures at a glance
a) Public procurement process
- The legislation empowers the government to determine the terms and conditions of any municipal contract associated with any of the projects targeted by the acceleration measures; thus, it allows municipal bodies to deviate from the contract management rules set out in their governing statutes;
- The government will be able to establish, by regulation, terms and conditions that differ from those set out in the Act respecting contracting by public bodies during the two-year period after the Act is given assent.
It will be interesting to watch subsequent choices by the government once the Act comes into force. These choices can be tailored to the type of contract or level of expenditure, in an overall effort to stimulate economic recovery. It is worth noting that the bill also gives the government the authority to accelerate the adoption of regulatory measures.
- The legislation empowers the government to replace certain provisions of the Environment Quality Act to streamline and expedite the applicable processes (this would include provisions regarding the requirement for ministerial authorization and those relating to environmental impact assessments and reviews);
- It will be possible to provide financial compensation to the Ministry of the Environment and the Fight against Climate Change or the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, depending on the area of jurisdiction, when one of these ministries authorizes activities in environmentally sensitive areas, such as wildlife habitat or the habitat of threatened or vulnerable plant species;
- Projects likely to alter fish habitat will be presumed to have been authorized under the Wildlife Conservation and Development Act if the person responsible for the project meets the conditions described in the bill;
- It will be possible to designate the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) to hold the public hearing required by the Parks Act when the government is considering changing the boundaries of a national park, and to combine that hearing with any other mandate entrusted to the BAPE.
c) Urban planning
- The bill provides for the non-application of the provisions of the Land Use Planning and Development Act that pertain to government interventions; it also provides for the relaxing of procedural rules regarding compliance reviews and the implementation of municipal by-laws, as well as exemptions from interim control measures, where applicable.
- The bill provides for a streamlined expropriation procedure patterned on that applicable to Montréal’s Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM) and Québec City’s Structuring Public Transit Network.
e) Work on public land
- The bill makes it possible to undertake work on a portion of public land before obtaining the required rights.
Finally, the bill allows the government to make adjustments to certain legislative and regulatory provisions as it deems necessary to prevent or mitigate any consequence arising from the COVID-19 pandemic; these adjustments may apply retroactively to March 13, 2020.
2. Projects to be targeted by the acceleration measures
Schedule 1 of the bill contains a list of 202 projects to which the government will be able to apply the acceleration measures listed above.2
For a two-year period after the Act is given assent, the government will be able to extend these mitigation measures to projects not listed in Schedule 1. Thus, projects that do not yet exist at the time the bill is passed or that have not been listed in the bill may be able to benefit from a mitigation measure. However, prior to the adoption of such an order in council, the draft order must be examined by the relevant committee of the National Assembly for a period not exceeding one hour.
3. Authorizations to contract issued by the Autorité des marchés publics (AMP)
The bill extends by one year any authorizations to contract issued under the Act respecting contracting by public bodies that would otherwise expire during the period from March 13, 2020 to March 31, 2021.
4. Centre d’acquisitions gouvernementales and Infrastructures technologiques Québec
The bill amends the Act mainly to establish the Centre d’acquisitions gouvernementales and Infrastructures technologiques Québec, to allow the government to determine the date on which certain provisions come into force. As a result, the inauguration of these two new organizations—initially scheduled forJune 1, 2020—is being postponed sine die.
5. Upcoming passage of the bill and duration of the measures announced
Government House Leader Simon Jolin-Barrette expressed his party’s interest in seeing this bill adopted by the end of the session, i.e. by June 12. At this stage, opposition members have unanimously requested that the associations and groups impacted by the acceleration measures be heard.