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  • David Boudeweel-Lefebvre

The Québec City-Lévis tunnel saga: A first earthquake for the CAQ

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

The Coalition avenir Québec government's cancellation of a vehicle tunnel between Québec City and Lévis has dominated headlines in recent weeks. The controversial tunnel promise has been a ball and chain for the CAQ since it was first elected to govern in 2018. Though the tunnel was mainly a concern for residents of Québec City and its suburbs, its abandonment could have repercussions beyond the region.

A look back at a controversial flagship promise

While in opposition, Premier François Legault made an ambitious pact with the people of Québec's capital and its suburbs: if elected, he promised to build a third highway between Québec City and the South Shore. The project is popular regionally but unpopular in the rest of Québec. On the surface, it seemed unnecessary for Legault to take such a risk when voters already seemed to be leaning toward the CAQ. But political allegiances in the Québec City region are fickle, and the political party that "wins Québec City" often forms the government.

Six years, many unfavourable studies and delays, and two elections later, the CAQ has officially buried the project, claiming a permanent decline in demand thanks to the rise of teleworking. Such an outcome was inevitable: the project would have cost more than $10 billion, and would have received no funding from an auto-averse Trudeau government.

Anger and disbelief in Québec City

While the cancellation is certainly bad news for the Legault government it is equally a shock for the Québec City region, which feels it has been taken for a ride for the past five years. Elected officials, radio hosts and the local population have unleashed a St. Lawrence of anger at the spectacular turnaround. Normally united behind their party, CAQ legislators and even some ministers have publicly expressed their dismay.

A regional issue, potential wider implications

Beyond local discontent, there may be more fallout on the horizon. First, the controversy is a godsend for Éric Duhaime, who is campaigning for one or more MNAs to defect to his Conservative Party of Québec. This would allow Duhaime to enter the National Assembly with increased visibility and financial resources to shake the CAQ’s dominance in the region. Will a disgruntled elected official from Québec City dare to take the plunge?

The opposition, for its part, will certainly want to dig into when the government knew it could not deliver on this landmark commitment, given that Québec was in the midst of a general election just six months ago.

Pressed for an explanation by the opposition and journalists, Premier Legault maintained that the cancellation was caused by “new data” showing a declining need and increasing costs. While he accepted responsibility for the decision, he declined to apologize. “I understand this disappointment, but my responsibility is to deal with the new data to make the best decision for Québecers. This is what I’m doing, and I won’t apologize for taking the best decision for Québecers.”

Finally, there are other clouds on the horizon: the new CAQ proposal for a line dedicated exclusively to public transit remains vague. Federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who could become Canada's next prime minister, has promised to only finance a project that includes cars. Despite its demise, the Québec City-Lévis tunnel may continue haunting François Legault.


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