Bill 66 : Restarting of the Quebec Economy 2.0
On September 23, 2020, the Quebec Government (the “Government”) tabled Bill 66 – An Act respecting the acceleration of certain infrastructure projects (the “Bill 66”). This Bill seeks to facilitate the development of economic recovery programs to compensate from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through various acceleration measures in terms of public contracts, environment, expropriation and land use planning. The projects that may benefit from the acceleration measures are limited to those listed in Schedule I of Bill 66, which includes seniors’ residences and CHSLDs; schools; road transit projects, and government office renovations.
Bill 66 is a circumscribed version of Bill 61, which was tabled last June and was criticized by certain groups for being far-reaching and detrimental to the protection of the environment and the integrity of the public tendering process. In contrast, the slimmed-down Bill 66 abandons the most controversial elements of Bill 61, including the Government’s power to bypass the provisions of the Act respecting contracting by public bodies and the power to extend the current health state of emergency indefinitely.
Bill 66 also presents itself in a unique context marked by a second wave of COVID-19. This rapid resurgence in cases adds a new element that makes projects aiming to stimulate the economy even more pressing. The Government has expressed a strong will to have Bill 66 approved before the end of the current parliamentary session; it can thus be expected that it will use the necessary measures in order to achieve this.
Also of note, the day after Bill 66 was tabled, the Government of Canada tabled Bill C-4 – An Act relating to economic recovery in response to COVID-19 to provide help directly to individuals. Bill C-4 is intended to create three new temporary recovery benefits for Canadians who are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19. For more information, please consult our article regarding Bill C-4.
Acceleration Measures provided by Bill 66
Pursuant to Bill 66 the projects listed in Schedule I can benefit from the acceleration measures described below. Schedule I lists 181 public infrastructure projects, which includes seniors’ residences and CHSLDs; schools; road transit projects, and government office renovations. Contrary to its predecessor, Bill 66 does not allow for the application of the acceleration measures to projects other than those listed in its Schedule I.
Like its predecessor, Bill 66 still provides for a simplified expropriation procedure that precludes the expropriated party from challenging the right to expropriate. While an expropriated party cannot contest the expropriation itself, it can contest the compensation offered.
- Land Use Planning
Bill 66 limits the types of projects for which the Government bypass provisions of the Act respecting land use planning and development such that that the Government cannot bypass provisions of the Act unless the project is a “Government Intervention” within the meaning of section 149 of the Act.
“Government Interventions” are projects in which the Government carries out work on the soil; builds, demolishes, or enlarges buildings; or changes the boundaries of wildlife preserves, among others, and will thus apply to several projects identified in Schedule I of Bill 66.
- Environment Quality Act
Bill 66 provides that a public body carrying out an infrastructure project listed in Schedule I which requires an authorization from the Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (the “MELCC”), will not have to obtain such authorization as long as certain environmental requirements are met during the work, including notification requirements to the MELCC and other accountability measures. This exclusion does not apply however to certain types of work, such as :
Work carried out in wetlands and bodies of water (unless the project provides for the affected environment to be restored within one year following the end of works);
Work carried out in the presence of threatened or vulnerable species and which requires an authorization;
Construction on a former residual materials elimination site; or
Works involving a water withdrawal.
With respect to infrastructure projects for which an environmental authorization is still required, Bill 66 provides for various acceleration measures including exceptions from the obligation to submit certain environmental documents to the MELCC.
Bill 66 also provides for measures to accelerate the development of projects subject to the environmental impact assessment and review procedure or otherwise requiring the approval of land rehabilitation plans.
Despite these measures, the MELCC will retain its powers in the case where an activity is carried on in contravention of the Environment Quality Act or its regulations.
Increased Oversight of the AMP
Bill 66 confers increased oversight authority to the Autorité des marchés publics (“AMP”) with respect to public contracts and sub-contracts arising from the projects listed in Schedule I.
Measures to Facilitate Payment
Bill 66 provides for the application of the Pilot project to facilitate payment to enterprises that are parties to public construction work contracts and related public subcontracts, to public construction contracts and related subcontracts, provided the same are in respect of those projects listed in Schedule I and result from an infrastructure project of less than $20 million. Contrary to Bill 61 which was open-ended in terms of potential measures that the Government could have implemented with regards to public contracts; the prompt payment measures applicable in the aforementioned circumstances, are the sole measures pertaining to public contracts currently contemplated.
Bill 66 will be studied in a parliamentary committee and is likely to be amended. Those interested can submit their comments regarding Bill 66 can do so via the Assemblée Nationale du Québec’s website. We will continue to update this article as Bill 66 progresses through the stages of consideration.
Companies and associations wanting to comment on Bill 66 should do so as soon as possible in order to inform the Government of their concerns and of measures that would be beneficial to the economic recovery in their sector of activity, while ensuring to comply with the requirements of the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act.
 For more information on Bill 61, please consult our blog post entitled Bill 61: Restart of the Quebec Economy and Mitigation of the Consequences of the Public Health Emergency.