Quebec federal candidates dig deep on transportation issues
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Oct 8, 2019
Caitlin Stall-Paquet

Expanding electrification, autonomous vehicles and commercial sector highlight Montreal debate

From left to right: Barthélémy Boisguérin (NDP), Michael Forian (Conservatives), Sarah Houde (CEO of Propulsion Québec), Sandro Cellucci, (Partner, Langlois avocats) Diane Bérard (journalist and moderator), Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay (Bloc québécois) and Jean Désy (Green Party of Canada). Photo: Émilie Pelletier / Propulsion Québec

Expanding electrification, autonomous vehicles and commercial sector highlight Montreal debate

While federal party leader debates are in the headlines, local candidates from across Quebec gathered last week in Montreal for an election debate on mobility policy and the future of electric and autonomous transportation.

The depth and substance of their discussion reflected Quebec’s relatively advanced policy and market positions when it comes to electrification.

Four candidates were present for the early-morning session: NDP’s Barthélémy Boisguérin (Saint-Maurice–Champlain), Jean Désy (Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie) spoke for the Greens, Conservative Michael Forian (Ville-Marie–Le Sud-Ouest–Îles-des-Soeurs) and Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay (Saint-Hyacinthe–Bagot) represented the Bloc Québécois. The Liberal Party was invited but did not participate. (All quotes in story translated from French.)

The electric and smart transportation cluster Propulsion Québec hosted the debate, and CEO Sarah Houde aptly opened with the reminder that “electric vehicle sales are booming and projected to grow 26 times by 2030.”

Electrification’s role

Savard-Tremblay started things off by recognizing that though Quebec “has good policies in place, we can still go further federally by subsidizing electric vehicles and supporting the sector’s infrastructure and small businesses.” Boisguérin added to this point by bringing up the NDP’s goal of electrifying federal government fleets by 2030 and selling only zero-emission vehicles by 2040. He also stated that “recharge networks must be improved nationally to support growing electric vehicle sales.”

Forian reiterated the Conservatives’ plan to “remove taxes on green technologies,” while Désy raised the Greens’ plan to “ban internal combustion vehicles and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030” and spoke of electrifying Quebec’s many factories and shipyards.

Last-kilometre solutions

Addressing “last-kilometre” mobility between homes and transit networks, candidates all agreed to support initiatives to fill the gap. Désy said the Conservatives would look to municipalities for solutions. Forian advocated for a tax credit for daily public transit users and turning to private companies like Uber and Lyft for support.

Boisguérin touted the use of micro-initiatives like electric scooters and light cars, while Savard-Tremblay called for “electrifying school buses, which pushes beyond the individual level.”

Though they were not present, the Liberals have suggested a similar solution for implementing a fund that would get 5,000 electric transit and school buses on the road in the next five years.

Electrification as an economic lever

All four candidates said they recognize the economic importance of electrification and supporting established programs. While Forian stated that “small- and medium-sized businesses working in the sector will have fewer restrictions,” Savard-Tremblay vowed to “modify the criteria for the Automotive Innovation Fund to grant Quebec businesses more financial support.”

Research and development were touted by both Désy and Boisguérin who posited redistributing funds currently allotted to the fossil fuel industry, and the latter vowed to “create a centre of excellence encouraging Canadian electric vehicle manufacturing.”

Transit electrification

Candidates unanimously endorsed further electrification of transit, and Boisguérin highlighted how “moving away from fossil fuels will allow for greater support of EV and AVs.” He also spoke of introducing greater electric capacity into Ontario’s car manufacturing sector, noting that Montreal is “an international AI centre that can help develop AVs, which the NDP will support locally and nationally.” Désy pointed to Quebec’s implemented “plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions that should be exported to other provinces” and Savard reminded that “electrification must also be implemented for industrial sectors.”

Autonomous vehicles

All candidates agreed that autonomous vehicles will play an important role in the future. Forian said the Conservatives will collaborate with provinces to modify infrastructure, while Boisguérin pledged to make Quebec a leader in the field, on a level with California, by working with municipalities to establish test zones. Désy claimed change “will come from the agricultural field first, as it is challenging to convince people of AV safety.”

Quebec funding

Since Quebec distinguishes itself on the electrification front beyond passenger vehicles, there was question of how the federal government will support the province’s innovation in the sector.

Boisguérin highlighted redistributing fossil fuel funds and establishing “the Canadian Climate Bank, which provide investment in various places, including Quebec.”

Savard-Tremblay reiterated the role of the Automotive Innovation Fund for Quebec’s small businesses, while Forian expressed a desire to “abolish innovation silos by creating an online talent network combining private and public sectors.”

Government fleets

On the topic of electrifying government vehicles, Boisguérin claimed that the NDP will achieve federal fleet electrification by 2030. “We reserved $6.5 billion to support urban public transit, work with municipalities for fleet renewal and develop locally manufactured electric bus networks in rural areas,” he said.

Désy spoke of improving Quebec’s existing plan by “focusing on conversion and electrifying current fleets rather than building new vehicles,” while Savard-Tremblay wants to “prioritize Canadian companies during calls for tenders, which would also be greener due to reduced delivery transportation. We can support and encourage local players during this process.”

Forian had no policy position on this issue but said he thought it was a good idea.

Rapid fire

In a yes-or-no question round, every candidate except for Forian said they would consider banishing internal combustion vehicles. All candidates claimed they would invest in developing intercity rail transit and improve the National Research Council’s Automotive and Surface Transportation Research Centre, while supporting the development of lithium battery technology, though Forian had conditions in both cases.

Audience questions

Responses varied when candidates were asked what measures they would adopt for electrifying heavy trucks during their first year in power. Forian stated the need to adopt existing policies, while Savard-Tremblay emphasized that “industrial electrification does not get enough attention. Let’s follow the example of California, where an increasing number of manufactured vehicles must be rechargeable.”

Except for Forian of the Conservatives, who claimed it should remain a provincial decision, candidates agreed that a federal conversation should be had about a zero-emissions vehicle bill, similar to the one adopted in Quebec.

All candidates said they would preserve the federal government’s $5,000 tax credit for purchasing electric vehicles, and Boisguérin added that the NDP would improve it.

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