A parade of government ministers took turns Thursday issuing sorrowful regrets for breaking a major election promise to build a multi-purpose vehicle tunnel linking Quebec City to its south shore.

Transport Minister Genevieve Guilbault confirmed the tunnel would instead be reserved for public transit only, saying reduced car traffic in the region since the COVID-19 pandemic couldn't justify the project.

"This project was necessary at one time, but the pandemic has changed our lives so much that at the moment there is no need for a highway tunnel," Guilbault told reporters.

The so-called "third link" across the St. Lawrence River -- after the Pierre Laporte Bridge and the Quebec Bridge -- was a key promise of Premier Francois Legault during the 2018 and 2022 election campaigns to woo voters in the capital region.

But new feasibility studies showed that efficient public transit would reduce road traffic -- and make the Quebec City area more competitive, Guilbault said.

"If we want to compete with other big cities, we have to take this step of (having) real, attractive sustainable mobility," the minister said.

Guilbault, however, said she didn't know what kind of public transit would use the proposed tunnel, such as Quebec City's planned tramway. Nor could she say how much a new tunnel would cost; the price of the previous, larger project, she said, was about $10 billion. But a tunnel dedicated to public transit would be eligible to be funded up to 40 per cent by the federal government, she added.

Levis MNA Bernard Drainville

Meanwhile, several high-ranking cabinet ministers elected in the Quebec City area were left to apologize for the government's decision to abandon the project their party had so passionately promoted just a few months ago. All of them said the final studies weren't ready during the campaign; none said they would resign over the broken promise -- even Cybersecurity Minister Eric Caire, who had said he would quit if the multi-purpose vehicle tunnel didn't come to fruition.

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"I am going to meet the citizens and I will explain the decision to them," Caire said. "I trust their judgment … I can understand that people feel betrayed."

Education Minister Bernard Drainville delivered a teary apology in front of reporters for failing to deliver what he had championed ahead of the October election.

"I understand their disappointment and anger," Drainville said. "The commitment I made was sincere. I sincerely believed that the crazy traffic that we had last summer was the new normal."

Quebec MNA Eric Caire

International Relations Minister Martine Biron told reporters she was "hurt" by the decision. "When I entered politics, I knew that there would be days that were more difficult than others. I did not expect it to come so quickly and to be so brutal.

"I didn't have a study in front of me when we defended the third link," Biron, a former political reporter with Radio-Canada, said.

Legault defended his government's decision. "I understand that there are people who are disappointed, because the current infrastructure is not ideal," Legault said. "But I have a responsibility -- I manage the funds of all Quebecers."

MNA Martine Biron

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 20, 2023.