Que­bec warns of big traf­fic jams

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PHILIP AU­THIER

Say­ing mo­torists could be faced with mon­ster traf­fic jams, the Couil­lard gov­ern­ment is in­creas­ing pres­sure on its 1,400 en­gi­neers to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

But the union in re­turn ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of try­ing to tar­nish en­gi­neers’ im­age to jus­tify pos­si­ble leg­is­la­tion im­pos­ing a deal on them in the com­ing days.

“If the union re­fuses our re­quest (to end pres­sure tac­tics) again, it will mean, as of Thurs­day, that thou­sands of cit­i­zens in the Que­bec and Lévis re­gion will find them­selves in mon­ster traf­fic jams,” Trans­port Min­is­ter An­dré Fortin said at a news con­fer­ence Tues­day.

“And the same sce­nario will re­peat it­self on many of Mon­treal’s ma­jor ar­ter­ies next week.”

The trouble lies in the min­istry’s de­sire to fully in­spect Que­bec’s road and high­way in­fra­struc­tures be­fore the snow flies. Of the 3,800 Trans­port Que­bec in­spec­tions a year, there are 25 left — all ma­jor — to be done.

One of the union’s pres­sure tac­tics is to refuse to work at night, lim­it­ing in­spec­tions to the day­time and cre­at­ing traf­fic chaos.

But Fortin and Trea­sury Board Pres­i­dent Pierre Ar­cand in­di­cated the gov­ern­ment’s pa­tience with the union — l’As­so­ci­a­tion pro­fes­sion­nelle des in­génieurs du gou­verne­ment du Québec — is wear­ing thin.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions have been go­ing on for three years and there is still no agree­ment. The two sides have met 60 times and the union has re­jected eight for­mal of­fers in­clud­ing the last fi­nal of­fer in June, Ar­cand ex­plained.

The union is seek­ing a 20 per cent wage in­crease over seven years, far more than the gov­ern­ment agreed to pay its other em­ploy­ees. Que­bec is of­fer­ing nine per cent for the same pe­riod.

“Ne­go­ti­a­tion im­plies com­pro­mise,” Ar­cand said. “Peo­ple need to un­der­stand ne­go­ti­a­tions can’t go on for­ever, es­pe­cially since it is mo­torists who will pay the price of these pres­sure tac­tics.”

Asked if Que­bec is con­sid­er­ing back-to-work leg­is­la­tion, Ar­cand kept all his op­tions open.

“I am in a ne­go­ti­a­tion process,” Ar­cand said. “We have been talk­ing for 36 months so at some point it has to end. But my mes­sage today is we can­not tol­er­ate this in­def­i­nitely.”

Asked if he’s reached his limit of pa­tience, Ar­cand said: “We aren’t far.” He noted the gov­ern­ment has al­ready set­tled with nearly 510,000 work­ers rep­re­sent­ing 96 per cent of the pub­lic sec­tor.

De­lay­ing such in­spec­tions un­til next sum­mer — as some have sug­gested — is also not an op­tion, Fortin said. On Mon­day, Que­bec’s pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion court, the Tri­bunal ad­min­is­tratif du tra­vail (TAT), re­fused the gov­ern­ment re­quest to deem the in­spec­tions an es­sen­tial ser­vice.

Fortin was, nev­er­the­less, stand­ing his ground. At the same time as say­ing the re­main­ing in­fra­struc­tures are safe, the rou­tine in­spec­tions are nec­es­sary.

Later, union pres­i­dent Mar­cAn­dré Martin de­scribed the gov­ern­ment’s news con­fer­ence as a pub­lic re­la­tions op­er­a­tion.

“We know con­ges­tion is not pop­u­lar and we are try­ing to do ev­ery­thing to avoid it,” Martin said. “What they (the gov­ern­ment) are do­ing is lin­ing up their pawns (on the chess­board) to tar­nish the im­age of their own en­gi­neers to even­tu­ally pass special leg­is­la­tion.”

PIERRE OBEN­DRAUF

At is­sue is the trans­port min­istry’s aim to com­plete road and in­fra­struc­ture in­spec­tions be­fore the snow be­gins to come down.

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