Economy Minister Jacques Daoust tabled a bill Thursday that would allow the McInnis Cement project in Port-Daniel-Gascons, Que., to proceed without such hearings — a move the governing Liberals hope will neutralize legal challenges by project opponents.
The government has always believed it was on solid legal ground in rejecting the hearings, but Daoust said it chose to go the legislative route to ensure that new jobs in the Gaspe region aren't lost in a court fight.
McInnis Cement was formed by members of the family that founded Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) and its spinoff, Ski-Doo maker BRP Inc. (TSX:DOO).
It has received financial support from successive Parti Quebecois and Liberal provincial governments as well as the Caisse de depot pension fund manager.
Former premier Pauline Marois agreed to provide a guaranteed loan worth about $250 million. The province's investment arm will invest $100 million and the Caisse will also invest $100 million as equity partner in the Beaudier Group, the investment arm of the Beaudoin family.
McInnis said last fall that the project would be at risk if it were forced to suspend work to conduct what it called unnecessary environmental hearings. Supporters claim the project is subject to old environmental rules in place when it was first proposed more than 20 years ago, even though the plant's capacity has more than doubled.
This week, McInnis Cement announced it had reached a truce with environmental groups opposed to the plant, but a lawsuit by rival Lafarge is still scheduled to go ahead in Quebec City in two weeks time.
Two environmental groups had joined Lafarge's challenge last summer but have now agreed to withdraw from the legal action in exchange for entering into mediated talks with McInnis.
The two sides have agreed to form a committee that will address long-term emissions of greenhouse gases and other contaminants as well as protections for marine animals.
Lafarge Canada has said the new cement plant threatens jobs at its plant near Montreal and at other plants across the province.
McInnis has countered that its only aim is to stop new competition from entering the market.