Apparently very different projects, the university hospitals and the Turcot Complex nevertheless share certain characteristics. They are projects that will be executed in dynamic environments, are subject to numerous changes and adaptations during both design and execution and contain a very high risk of the unexpected.
These characteristics make them incompatible with the PPP approach, which depends on a rigid formula in which all execution details and all risks have been resolved long in advance.
The choice of the PPP formula for such projects is all the more difficult to justify because the economic context no longer works in its favour. The purpose of a PPP is to transfer the maximum financial risk to the private partner. This is no longer possible because the government will probably have to react as it has with the OSM Concert Hall, i.e. provide a large portion of the financing and accordingly share substantially in the financial risks.
In hard times, we expect the government to undertake projects that will help our economy grow. That is not the case with these projects. In their current form, these PPPs, which cost a total of many billions of public dollars, have not been designed to enable Québec to gain the maximum spinoffs, whether in terms of employment, economic activity or technological expertise. In the past, major projects, in particular in hydroelectricity, made it possible to train the next generation and develop an expertise that Québec now exports world-wide.
The Turcot Complex: wrong way!
As the main interchange for highway traffic in the Montréal region, the Turcot Complex must be renovated quickly. This megaproject with its four interchanges and expressways must respond to the needs of highway users and be as well integrated as possible in a severely degraded urban environment.
In Québec, we have all the expertise necessary, whether in design, construction or management, to successfully complete this project. Its execution requires extremely delicate logistics because the new structure has to be built while the current structures are maintained in service and then demolished even as the impacts on highway traffic and the disruptions for nearby residents are minimized. It's a challenge our engineers are up to.
To this must be added the fact that time is short. The current structure is near the end of its useful life. It is being kept in service at great expense, but how long will this be possible? Logic and prudence mean that the design and construction work must be done very soon, something compatible with good management and tight cost controls but impossible in a PPP, where the whole project must be frozen before launching a call for tenders from private partners who will finalize the design, organize the financing and propose a concept before they start building. All that could take years.
PPP hospital projects: let's refocus while there is still time
The more time passes, the more we realize that projects like the CHUM and CUSM hospitals must be flexible enough to respond in real time to rapid changes in advanced medicine that will come in the next few decades, along with the changing needs of the population.
For the CHUM in particular, there is the additional complexity of working on the existing hospital, with all the unexpected problems they may contain, to the extent that the CHUM team would clearly prefer to demolish Hôpital Saint-Luc and start over from scratch!
Let's face facts
Both the Turcot Complex and the university hospitals are projects that require too much flexibility and adaptation to be executed as PPPs. It is time for Québec to face facts and return to conventional methods for the execution of these projects, so that they fully benefit Québec society of today and tomorrow.
About the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec
Founded in 1920, the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec has a membership of more than 60,000 engineering professionals in all fields, except forest engineering.
The mission of the OIQ is to ensure the protection of the public by supervising the practice of the profession within the framework of its constituent laws and ensure that the profession serves the public interest.