On March 24, 2020, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Québec Government adopted Order 223-2020 requesting that all workplace activities be suspended, with the exception of activities judged to be high priority. This unprecedented situation forced numerous businesses to completely cease their activities, threatening their survival and financial health.
It is in this context that on June 3, 2020, the president of the Conseil du trésor, Christian Dubé, tabled Bill 61: An Act to restart Québec's economy and to mitigate the consequences of the public health emergency declared on 13 March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic at the National Assembly ("Bill 61").
Bill 61's purpose is to restart Québec's economy with the goal of counteracting the paralysis caused by both the COVID-19 pandemic and by the sanitary measures adopted since March 13, 2020. The Government announced its intent to adopt Bill 61 before the end of the current parliamentary session, on June 12, 2020.
According to the current version of Bill 61, 202 projects, mainly infrastructure projects, have already been identified by the Government as eligible to benefit from the relief measures proposed to restart Québec's economy. Bill 61 provides the possibility for the Government to designate additional projects by way of an Order. These projects must however be infrastructure related projects, projects developed by a municipal body or by another public body or projects developed by a citizen if the Government is of the opinion that the project is aimed at increasing Québec's medical or food self‑sufficiency. These acceleration measures will be in effect for two years from the date of assent of Bill 61.
Considering the exceptional nature and their potential impacts on the rights of citizens, Bill 61 and the provisions set forth therein could be challenged legally.
Please find below a summary of the main acceleration measures proposed by Bill 61:
Awarding of public contracts
• Bill 61 extends authorizations to contract issued under the Act respecting contracting by public bodies that were expired as of March 13 2020 or that would expire on or before March 31 2021, by one year.
• The Government has the possibility to determine, by regulation, conditions different from those provided for in the Act respecting contracting by public bodies in the two years following assent of Bill 61.
• It also extends time limits or periods and deadlines applicable to the transmission of annual reports and any other type of account that public bodies must submit or render and certain time limits or periods applicable in fiscal matters are also suspended.
• Streamlined expropriation procedures are applicable for certain projects, inspired by the simplified procedures applicable to the Réseau électrique métropolitain and the Réseau structurant de transport en commun de la Ville de Québec.
Occupation of the domain of the State
• The possibility of commencing work on part of the domain of the State before the required rights are obtained.
• Possibility for the government to exempt, by regulation, a project subject to the application of certain provisions of the Environment Quality Act and thus accelerate and simplify the applicable authorization process allowing it to be streamlined while ensuring adequate protection of the environment; particularly, with respect to provisions that relate to the obligation to obtain a ministerial authorization and those applicable to the environmental impact assessment and review procedure.
• The possibility for the Government to require financial compensation when an activity resulting from a designated project is likely to affect the habitat of a threatened or vulnerable plant species or a wildlife habitat.
• The presumption that a designated project developer who's work that may alter a fish habitat is authorized under the Act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife, if the developer meets the pre-conditions prescribed by Bill 61, including the payment of financial compensation. However, this streamlined procedure does not apply to activities that may alter the habitat of a threatened or vulnerable species.
• The possibility of entrusting the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement ("BAPE") with the mandate to hold the public hearing required by the Parks Act if the Government intends to change the boundaries of a national park for the implementation of a project, as well as combining that hearing with any other mandate entrusted to the BAPE.
Land use planning and development
• The inapplicability of the provisions of the Act respecting land use planning and development relating to government interventions or, as applicable, relaxation of the procedural rules relating to the review of compliance or coming into force of municipal by-laws and derogation from interim control measures.
Centre d'acquisitions gouvernementales and Infrastructures technologiques Québec
• Bill 61 amends the Act mainly to establish the Centre d'acquisitions gouvernementales and Infrastructures technologiques Québec to allow the Government to determine the date of coming into force of its provisions, thereby extending the creation of these two entities to an undetermined date.