Can it get any worse?

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More and more dirt and ridicule – on a daily basis now. You heard it here first, the use of the word fiasco. Now the media are realizing what a mess the Mayor has made.

Why won’t Ste-Anne come clean on overpass fiasco?
Brenda O’Farrell. Source: The Gazette

It’s something when a politician stands up and says: I voted to do something, then admits that, had she known all the facts, she would have done the opposite.

That is what Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue councillor Paola Hawa has done on the issue of the condemned overpasses at Exit 41 on westbound Highway 40. The move forced Transport Quebec to close the exit, leaving motorists who live in Ste-Anne and across Ile-Perrot to detour their way around for more than two years.

The first things that strikes you are the obvious questions: Why didn’t she get the facts first? After all, isn’t that her job?

But there is not much that is obvious when it comes to political situations in Ste-Anne these days.

To better understand how Hawa could go from being the councillor who proposed the motion that closed the overpasses at Exit 41 in March 2011 to the person who is now pointing an accusing finger at the mayor, claiming he duped his council and misplayed his hand in a high-stakes game of bluff with Transport Quebec, I sat down with her last week over coffee.

The devil, as they say, is in the details.

So here is what Hawa had to say:

She explained that the whole sorry scenario goes back to a council resolution that was passed on Jan. 13, 2011. It mandated an expenditure of up to $25,000 for a study to be conducted to update the city on what repairs were needed on the overpasses. This was to update the original engineering study conducted by Genivar in 2009. The idea, Hawa said, was to update the dossier in current dollars. The information was needed to help council establish priorities as it looked to plan budget expenditures. The resolution mandated the mayor or the director-general to proceed with authorizing the study.

The resolution, however, was ignored, Hawa charges. The study was never conducted. The situation was never updated.

Then, in March 2011, council was presented with information from its new municipal engineer. He said he could not guarantee the safety of the overpasses. That was his professional opinion, Hawa explained. There was no update of the situation. Council had to make a decision. So council voted to close the overpasses so that immediate repairs could be done.

But, as we all know, no repairs have ever been executed.

What happened next was a standoff between the town and Transport Quebec over who would pay for the repairs.

The city knew it was financially responsible for the overpasses. This was the result of the tumultuous negotiations that followed the municipal mergers and subsequent de-mergers. It was a situation that was, from all accounts, deemed to be unfair and needed to be re-examined. But it hadn’t got to that point yet. Officially, Ste-Anne was still on the hook for the overpasses.

The move to close the overpasses was a gamble. Pure and simple. The best-case scenario was that it would force Transport Quebec to act. The worst-case scenario, well, that’s what we have.

Hawa claims that when council voted to close the overpasses, it did so believing that they would be closed for about a month, time enough for repairs to be made.

What she believes now, after obtaining documents that include a copy of the original Genivar report and a copy of a letter from the city engineer to the mayor dating back to February 2011, the plan was to close the overpasses merely to put pressure on Transport Quebec. To support her view, she points back to the original resolution from council that mandated the mayor or the director-general to update the repair requirements that still to this day has been ignored.

Asked why she is not releasing copies of these documents, she says she is obliged to keep caucus confidentiality.

OK. But the city could opt to release the report. But it refuses. Mayor Francis Deroo refuses. The Gazette has filed an access-to-information request for the Genivar report. We will keep you posted on that.

And now, I have another question: Mayor Deroo, why was the original council resolution, the one passed in January 2011 asking for a study to update council on the state of the overpasses ignored? You were given a legal mandate to fulfill.

Before ending our interview last week, I asked Hawa one last question: How do you get out of this mess?

Hawa’s answer: “You don’t. Those things will be closed, minimum, till 2014.”