Mayor Valérie Plante has changed her mind in 10 days about the Caisse de dépôt et placement's (CDPQ) eastern REM and torpedoed the project, CDPQ president Charles Émond suggested Tuesday.

In parliamentary committee, he reported that she was delighted with the project a month ago, but then rejected it.

The government doesn't even know yet who it will award the next project to, but it could cost less than the one developed by the Caisse, suggested Finance Minister Eric Girard.

The Caisse's head honcho was speaking for the first time since the official rejection announced Monday of its private light rail project to serve Montreal's east end.

The Legault government had given the CDPQ this mandate several years ago, but in the face of controversy and discontent over the project for a high-level rail line on pilings in the downtown area, it is taking it back.

"There is no sense of disaffection," said Charles Émond.

He said he met with Mayor Plante a month ago to agree that the Caisse would handle the transportation side of the project, while the city would handle the development.

"She was thrilled with the proposal, and about 10 days later she called the government to say she wanted another project. The government told me they didn't think the Fund was going to get on board. They talked to us about it, he (the government) told me: this puts an end to the Eastern REM," Émond said. 

He assured that the Caisse would not suffer internationally if the project was abandoned.

According to him, it will not be more difficult for the Caisse to present its private turnkey transit model to other cities around the world.

But it's still "too early to tell" who will be responsible for the next project, said Minister Girard. 

"We're back to conceptualizing the project, not awarding the contract."

Girard also confirmed that the government would have had to pay a royalty to the Caisse to guarantee its return -- in other words, its profits -- on the eastern REM, as it does for the current West Island REM, which is still under construction but is expected to begin operation in part in December.

"The Caisse has a preferential return of 8 per cent in the phase 1 REM (currently under construction) and would have had a preferential return in the REM East, but it is not said that the (future project that will replace the REM East) will be done faster or at the same cost," he said.

"It could cost less, because the downtown section of the eastern REM was dropped from the future project. Because it was in a higher density, it was more expensive," he added.


Émond also confirmed that the government will reimburse $100 million spent on studies by CDPQ to plan the Eastern REM, as reported by La Presse.

"We will reimburse the fact that the government made a mistake for four years" in entrusting the mandate of the Eastern REM to the Caisse,' summarized PQ MP Martin Ouellet in parliamentary committee.

"For Mr. and Mrs. Everyman: my taxes will be used to compensate the Caisse. Explain that to Quebecers," he said to Minister Girard, who justified the compensation paid to the Caisse by saying that the government would be able to recover these studies.

The eastern REM was to have included a line from Robert-Bourassa station in downtown to Pointe-aux-Trembles, with a branch running north to Cégep Marie-Victorin. The downtown portion was abandoned.

The construction site was strongly contested in several eastern neighbourhoods, particularly because it would be a high train on stilts.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 3, 2022.