The Quebec government received a draft of the study that led to the cancellation of the Quebec City-Lévis highway tunnel project at the beginning of the year, but the decision was announced four months later.

Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault revealed that in a parliamentary commission on Tuesday morning.

Opposition parties have accused the Legault government of campaigning under false pretenses, but Guilbault claims the decision was made after careful consideration of the study's six versions between January and April.

At Tuesday morning's meeting, she said she had a version 1 of the study on Jan. 27. However, she announced the decision to abandon the highway project on April 20, with version 6 of the document, to keep only the public transit component of the tunnel. The minister received a 'summary report' on March 17 and a 'final version' on March 31.

"I received information (in January), it was incomplete," the minister said to justify the long delay, speaking to MNA Étienne Grandmont from Québec Solidaire (QS). "That's when we had discussions with the cities, to be able to arrive at the famous document you refer to, all that was evolving. The moment I received something as complete as this, it was not necessarily on Jan. 27."

She said she learned of the cost estimate - which remains redacted - in March, but the estimate was not in the first version of the document, she said.

She said the decision to abandon the highway project was not made until she met with Premier François Legault on April 5.

In that meeting with Legault, Guilbault said there was not even a discussion of the potential cost of the new version of the project, which would be entirely devoted to public transit and without a highway link. The opposition was surprised.

"From memory, I don't think so," said Guilbault. "I couldn't swear to a yes or a no, I don't think so, no."

Only the original cost of the project, $9.5 to $10 billion, including both the highway and public transit, was mentioned, she explained.

The minister again refused to reveal the estimated costs of the various versions of the project, which appear redacted in the final study. At most, she said, the new project would cost less.

"We're going from two tubes to one tube, it's obviously cheaper," Guilbault said.

She repeated the justification already mentioned by the CAQ for not revealing the estimated costs of previous projects: not to prejudice future tenders in the project revised downwards.

"To disclose is not to hide, it is not a scheme or a conspiracy. It would not be responsible at this point to give cost estimates that are subject to change anyway. It affects the bidding process," she said.

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 2, 2023