The evolution of the estimated costs and deadlines of Espaces bleus, a network of “Quebec pride” museums announced in 2021 by the CAQ, is no longer accessible to the public, has ruled the Société québécoise des infrastructures (SQI), responsible for the execution of the works. However, further budget overruns seem inevitable.
The disclosure of this information “could harm the economic interests of the Company because of the contracts to be awarded”, invokes in particular the person in charge of access to information of the government body. The data concerns “opinions made for less than ten years by members of its staff” or “ongoing decision-making processes”, he also pleads.
However, this information was disclosed to the Sun in December 2022, without any of these reasons being invoked at the time. The Quebec daily was then able to reveal that significant cost overruns were to be expected for this infrastructure project valued at 262 million at the time of its announcement. As the SQI now refuses to release its estimates, it is impossible to know how the situation has evolved nearly six months later. La Presse made a freedom of information request for updated data, but in the documents submitted, the figures of interest were redacted.
According to estimates published in December 2022, the four Blue Spaces on the rails already monopolized 153 of the 262 million budgeted by the Legault government. The establishment of the “flagship” of the network, in the Camille-Roy pavilion of the Séminaire de Québec, was for example valued at 60 million, while taxpayers first had to invest 47.25 million there, revealed Le Soleil.
The SQI dashboard also announced cost overruns in Percé, Gaspésie, Amos, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and Baie-Saint-Paul, in Charlevoix. In theory, there was therefore only 109 million left in the envelope reserved for Blue Spaces by the CAQ for the acquisition, upgrading and development of 14 new buildings. This information had important political echoes, until very recently during the study of budget appropriations for culture.
“To continue the entire deployment in all regions of Quebec, it will take us more than 262 million,” admitted the Minister of Culture and Communications, Mathieu Lacombe, in response to a question from his vis-à-vis. Liberal Michelle Setlakwe.
“It’s really against the will of the government,” he said.
For the first time publicly, Mr. Lacombe did not rule out the abandonment of Blue Spaces sites if necessary. “As long as the costs, for an institution, remain reasonable, we stay the course, he said during the study of the credits. If the costs become unreasonable, of course, we will make decisions on a case-by-case basis, but, for the moment, we are staying the course. »
“In order to respect the financial envelope granted to this major project and to offset the increase in costs, the pace of deployment of the Network has been reviewed”, further explains the Ministry of Culture and Communications in an email sent to La Presse. “The exceptional character of requalifying heritage buildings according to the highest standards partly explains the magnitude of the costs related to the project,” he says.
Minister Lacombe, who is to make an announcement related to Blue Spaces in the coming weeks, was not available for an interview. Silence also on the side of the Museum of Civilization, project manager: “For the moment, we are not granting interviews” on the Blue Spaces, said spokesperson Agnès Dufour.
“There is a huge question mark for the future,” laments Ms. Setlakwe, Liberal MP and official opposition spokesperson for culture, in an interview with La Presse. “The other 14 Blue Spaces, I’m in the void, in total blur, to the point where I say to myself: it will not happen. »
Why are SQI updates that were once accessible not available today?
According to the explanations of the person in charge of access to information, the lawyer Simon Bégin, the estimated costs of the projects were provided to the Sun because they were already public, for example through the Dashboard of the projects. Treasury infrastructure. However, this tool has never displayed – and still does not display at the time of publication – the figures revealed by the daily on December 17, 2022.
The question of deadlines remains just as unclear. However, the follow-up table obtained by La Presse shows that the dates for the start of construction and the opening of the Espace bleu in Baie-Saint-Paul, scheduled respectively for May 2023 and June 2025, have been replaced by “at come “.
“It’s unfortunate and concerning,” Michelle Setlakwe comments on the lack of fresh information. Above all, she believes, the Blue Spaces risk jeopardizing the mission of existing regional museums which are already suffering from a lack of funding.
“Transparency and accountability are essential in such circumstances, because the population must be informed of new developments in this file, whether in terms of costs, schedule or consultation procedures. »
If the initial schedule were to be trusted, the capital’s Espace Bleu would welcome its first visitors this month. However, there is a long way to go: the inauguration was postponed for the first time to June 2024, then to May 2025, according to the most recent estimate of the Treasury Board.