Airport REM link crucial to local economy, says chamber of commerce

From Montreal Gazette – link to source story

The airport REM station was to be funded privately by Aéroports de Montréal, but the ADM has seen its revenues decline by $600 million during the pandemic.

John Meagher  •  Montreal Gazette  •  Nov 25, 2020

The ADM is seeking a government loan to finance the construction of a REM station at the airport in Dorval.

The head of the West Island of Montreal Chamber of Commerce says it is critical for the local economy for an REM station to be built at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport in Dorval.

“It is crucial,” said Joseph Huza, president of WIMCC. “The airport is the biggest employer in the West Island, with 50,000 direct employees. You can imagine how many more there are (indirectly).

“They generate $6 billion in revenues a year. That is huge. They are their own city,” he added. “And the REM will just make it that much more important, not to mention the separate issue of drilling on to the VIA Rail station so they have access to even more traffic.”

However, Huza expressed his concern for the future of the airport REM project after the Quebec government suddenly announced last week it would not contribute financially to its construction.

MONTREAL, QUE.: OCTOBER 31, 2014 --  Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao left, speaks with West Island Chamber of Commerce president Jean-René Paquette centre, and Executive Director Joseph Huza right, before addressing the chamber at the Montreal Airport Marriott  Friday, October 31, 2014. (Peter McCabe / MONTREAL GAZETTE)
West Island Chamber of Commerce’s Joseph Huza says financing for a REM station at the airport is a major concern. PHOTO BY PETER MCCABE /The Gazette

Premier François Legault said last week it was not the provincial government’s responsibility to pay for the station. He said it should be funded by the ADM or the federal government.

“I’m hoping cooler heads prevail,” said Huza, who added it would be a huge mistake to forego an airport station, especially with the REM light-rail network already under construction.

The airport REM station was supposed to be funded privately by the Aéroports de Montréal, but the ADM has seen its revenues decline by a whopping $600 million this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic, the slowdown in airport activities to a standstill and the lack of targeted aid for the airline industry, one of the most affected by the crisis, have had devastating effects on ADM’s financial situation, which anticipates revenue losses of about $ 600 million for 2020 alone,” said ADM spokesperson Anne-Sophie Hamel.

“If it does not get a loan, ADM does not see how it could finance the construction of the REM station at the airport, without deviating from its primary mission as an airport authority.”

The ADM said negotiations for a loan that would finance the construction of the REM station at YUL Montréal-Trudeau International Airport with repayment conditions “adapted to the current situation” have been underway with both provincial and federal governments since the end of June.

“Throughout the summer, a great deal of information and data, including various financial arrangements, were provided to both Transport Canada teams and those from the Quebec Ministry of the Economy and Innovation,” Hamel said. “More discussions are required on our end with the Quebec government for us to better understand this sudden turnover.”

In September, federal Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly said she and federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau discussed financing for the airport REM station with ADM president Philippe Rainville. Last month, Rainville said a solution might be announced by the end of November.

Huza said a train link from downtown Montreal to the airport has been discussed for decades.

“The ADM has always wanted a train link to make them competitive internationally. You go around the world and most international airports have a link to the downtown core. That, in itself, is very important.”

He said the federal government may have to step up to keep the project on track.

“I would think at the end of the day, if Quebec really says ‘we’re not doing this’, even with the tunnel (boring machine) advancing and all that, you’ve got to figure the feds are going to have to try and work out something to help the airport out.

“And you’ve got to figure something will be worked out because it’s in the plans of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. The link to the airport is pretty much a done deal, and now they have to come up with the money for it.”

Huza joked that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may want to salvage a key project at an airport named after his father. “But he may also decide to go the other way,” he said.