MONTREAL - Transport Quebec has rejected a Gazette access-to-information request for a report that led the province to cancel a $45-million contract for Mercier Bridge repairs.
In March, Quebec said the contract was cancelled because the report in question showed the plans submitted by the construction consortium would have significantly inflated the costs.
But a news report has suggested the contract was cancelled because of new deterioration on the bridge, which was partially closed last year over safety concerns.
Quebec Transport Minister Pierre Moreau has promised a new era of openness at Transport Quebec, which has been accused of operating in a culture of secrecy.
In March, Moreau told The Gazette that he would like to release the report, but was concerned its release could compromise the government’s position if any legal action was taken by the construction consortium.
In another recent case, however, the prospect of a court case did not deter Transport Quebec from releasing a report. After last year’s Ville Marie Expressway collapse, Quebec made public a report into the cause despite the fact that it intended to sue engineering companies involved.
On April 18, The Gazette filed a request for the Mercier Bridge report under Quebec’s access-to-information law.
In a letter dated May 3, Transport Quebec lawyer Fernande Rousseau said the request was refused.
“This report is part of an ongoing decision-making process in that it includes advice or recommendations that will contribute to making a final decision by the ministry about the Honoré-Mercier Bridge,” she wrote.
She cited articles 14, 22, 32, 37 and 39 of Quebec’s access-to-information law.
Those articles allow the government to refuse to reveal information in some cases – for example, if the disclosure would “likely hamper negotiations” or “might well affect the outcome of judicial proceedings.”
The Gazette request was sparked by Quebec’s decision to cancel a $45-million contract to develop plans for a new concrete deck for the Mercier Bridge and then carry out the replacement work. The contract had been given to a consortium: Pomerleau/Demathieu & Bard S.E.N.C.
Moreau said it based the cancellation on a report prepared by engineering firm Dessau, which Quebec had hired to review the Pomerleau-led consortium’s plans.
The Gazette is seeking that Dessau report.
Moreau has said the Dessau report found Pomerleau’s plans “were not optimal for the bridge” and would have required extra work, adding up to $24 million to the price tag. The deck proposed was too heavy and “could not be supported by the bridge as it is now,” Moreau said.
The Gazette is appealing Transport Quebec’s refusal.
These articles, from Quebec’s Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies, were cited by Transport Quebec in rejecting The Gazette’s request for the Dessau report on the Mercier Bridge:
14: No public body may deny access to a document for the sole reason that it contains certain information that, according to this Act, it must or may refuse to release.
Where a request pertains to a document containing such information, the public body may deny access thereto where the information forms the substance of the document. In other cases, the public body must give access to the requested document after deleting only the information to which access is not authorized.
22. A public body may refuse to release an industrial secret that it owns.
It may also refuse to release other industrial, financial, commercial, scientific or technical information that it owns if its disclosure would likely hamper negotiations in view of a contract, or result in losses for the body or in considerable profit for another person.
A public body established for industrial, commercial or financial management purposes may also refuse to release such information if its disclosure would likely substantially reduce its competitive margin or reveal a loan, investment, debt management or fund management proposal or a loan, investment, debt management or fund management strategy.
32. A public body may refuse to disclose a study if its disclosure might well affect the outcome of judicial proceedings.
37. A public body may refuse to disclose a recommendation or opinion presented less than 10 years earlier, and obtained from one of its members, a member of its personnel, a member of another public body or a member of the personnel of the other public body, in the discharge of his duties.
A public body may also refuse to disclose a recommendation or opinion presented, at its request, by a consultant or an adviser less than ten years earlier on a matter within its jurisdiction.
39. A public body may refuse to disclose a study prepared in connection with a recommendation made within a decision making process until a decision is made on the recommendation or, if no decision is made, until five years have elapsed from the date the study was made.
The Gazette is awaiting Access to Information Commission hearings of appeals of two other access refusals related to Transport Quebec:
In July 2011, the department refused a Gazette request for a list of the major repair work carried out on the Mercier Bridge between 2006 and 2011.
In its response, Transport Quebec said it would be too time-consuming to provide the information to The Gazette.
Federal documents obtained by the paper via access requests show that five years before Quebec closed part of the Mercier due to dangerously deteriorating steel plates on the span’s provincial side, an inspection found plates on the federal side were corroding and had to be replaced.
The warning about the federal gusset plates was passed on to Quebec but the province did not follow Ottawa’s lead and repair the plates on the bridge’s provincial side.
In November 2011, the Agence métropolitaine de transport, an arm of Transport Quebec, refused a Gazette request for a study it commissioned on the electrification of commuter trains in the Montreal area.
The $1.1-million study was completed in 2010.
The AMT said releasing the study would “hamper negotiations in progress with another public body” and would “have a serious adverse effect on (the AMT’s) economic interests.”
At a public meeting in November, former AMT chief executive Joël Gauthier gave a different reason. He said he could not release the study because he had yet to present the findings to Moreau.
The study shows the cost of electrification, touted by the AMT as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and operating costs. It also details the challenges the AMT would face if it decided to electrify its network