The provincial government has tabled a bill that will force the STM to buy metro cars from Bombardier-Alstom, without going through the tender process.

The Charest Liberals say Bill 116 is necessary because the tender process has been going on for four years, and the cars need to be replaced, however STM officials have said that there is no rush.

Two competing companies, Spain-based Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles , or CAF, and Chinese firm Zhuzhou, are considering lawsuits to stop the bill in its tracks or to force an open tender process.

"The Quebec government changed all the rules at the last minute, so it's very discouraging," said CAF spokesperson Philippe Roy.

"Our lawyers right now are looking at it and well decide at the next step in the next days."

Both firms had been invited to submit tenders for the metro car contract earlier this year by the STM, and were prepared to make their submissions last week when Transportation Minister Sam Hamad put a sudden halt to the bidding process.

The bill, however, includes a clause saying the STM cannot be sued because of the new legislation.

The CAF argues that the clause smacks of protectionism.

"I think it sends a very, very bad message to the international community that we're not open for business," said Roy.

Opposition parties need convincing

The government has tapped former premier Lucien Bouchard to convince the ADQ and PQ to vote for the bill.

Both parties are in agreement that the contract should create employment in Quebec, but the ADQ is calling for a provincial committee to analyze the other bids.

"We think that it's quite important to hear the principle actors of this action," said ADQ leader Gerald Deltell.

The first meeting is set for Thursday morning, but the ADQ said it refuses to be rushed and wants the train manufacturers to explain their bids to the National Assembly in Quebec City.

CAF says it can build metro cars for much less than the price quoted by Bombardier Alstom, pointing to its recent contract to build trains for Madrid.

Those train cars were built for approximately $1.2 million each, while Bombardier-Alstom is reportedly offering to build cars for the Montreal metro at a cost of $2.6 million per vehicle.

The ADQ said it is concerned that the contract could put free-trade negotiations between Canada and Europe in jeopardy.

"The Spanish government will shut the door for our businesses, but we dont know. We have to clear the air," said Deltell.

Contract history

The STM first put out a call for tenders in 2006, asking for 340 rubber-wheeled metro cars with an option for 130 more.

At the time the transit agency selected Bombardier as supplier, arguing the Quebec-based company was the only firm capable of meeting its needs.

French train-builder Alstom disagreed and took the STM to court in June 2006, finally winning the case in 2008, however before the STM was forced to re-open the tender process, Bombardier agreed to work hand-in-hand with Alstom.The STM then changed the details of the contract, specifying the replacement of more than 600 cars with an option for an additional 300.

CAF and Zhuzhou then expressed interest in the new, revised demand, and earlier this year the STM said it would issue an international call for bids on the project.

La Pocatiere

In June Bombardier announced it would lay off 180 employees at its plant in La Pocatiere as construction on 183 trains for the AMT and another project for Toronto's subway system near completion.

With the new government-ordered contract, those employees will return to work, and Bombardier-Alstom says it will add an additional 750 jobs, mostly in La Pocatiere.

Zhuzhou has said if it was awarded the contract it would open a factory in Quebec to build the metro cars.

Francoise David of Quebec Solidaire said the decision to award the contract to Bombardier-Alstom was a political maneuvre to win votes for a by-election in the riding of Kamouraska-Temiscouata.

"Because of the death of Claude Bechard, we will have an election in that part of Quebec," said David.