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Public transit must go electric, Marois says

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois speaks during a business luncheon in Montreal on Friday. Photograph by: Graham Hughes, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec has to kick its dependence on foreign oil and electrify its public transit systems, Premier Pauline Marois said Friday, calling the idea “the project of the 21st century for Quebec.”

It was the same message — and the exact same wording — she gave last Saturday to a large gathering of Parti Québécois faithful in Drummondville.

And her transport minister, Sylvain Gaudreault, reiterated it Monday in a breakfast speech to Transport 2000, a non-profit that lobbies for more public transit.

Friday, the premier brought it up again — at length.

This time, she addressed hundreds of Montreal businesspeople, at a luncheon at the Palais des congrès hosted by Les Affaires newspaper group.

In a 25-minute speech that was a cheerleading cry for the new PQ government’s “very ambitious vision for Quebec,” Marois lingered on the subject of electrified transit.

She spoke on it almost as long as she did on the funding of higher education, a much more newsy subject, coming 10 days before the government’s much-publicized education summit.

Calling it a “great project that will mobilize Quebec for many years to come,” Marois said the electrification of buses and trains and the use of more electric vehicles will mean huge savings.

“We now import $30 million in crude oil every day, most of it for transportation,” the premier said. “This money leaves Quebec instead of being invested here at home.

“Imagine if, instead of using imported oil, our transit systems used a form of energy made right here in Quebec: electricity. It would mean billions of dollars more being invested here every year.

“In the end, for Quebecers, for our businesses, this would bring very important savings, since electricity is much cheaper than gas,” she said.

Electrification would be good for Quebec companies that make trains, métro cars, buses and batteries for electric vehicles, Marois said.

It would also reduce greenhouse gases, improve Quebecers’ quality of life and better put to use Quebec’s surpluses of hydroelectricity, she said.

Electric transit could become as important a sector for Quebec as multimedia and pharmaceuticals, bringing more foreign investment and creating many jobs, according to Marois.

Since it was elected last September, the PQ government has created a $200-million fund for clean transportation, and will hold consultations this spring on the electrification idea.

Marois has got a big chunk of her cabinet involved — her ministers of industrial policy, sustainable development, natural resources, transport, finance, science and technology, and for Montreal.

“In fact, I’m going to mobilize the entire government over the next few months,” Marois told her audience of 600 people, who watched on huge TV monitors suspended in a cavernous conference room at the Palais.

“Instead of importing oil, we can export our savoir-faire, our technology, our materials and components of electric transport. We have the energy, we have the will, we have the vision.

“For my government, it’s clear: The project of the 21st century for Quebec is the electrification of our transit systems.”

One dose of realism, however: “Obviously, this won’t happen overnight,” Marois said.

“Until then, we’ll have to keep using hydrocarbons.”

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