Highway 13: Premier launches inquiry; heads roll

Premier Philippe Couillard is launching an external investigation into Tuesday night's fiasco on Highway 13 that left dozens of cars stranded on the southbound portion of the highway for as many as 12 hours.

Many of the occupants of those cars shivered in their cars for hours before any kind of help arrived; others got out and walked away.

Couillard met the media in Quebec City on Wednesday morning, and apologized to anyone who was inconvenienced by the storm, and especially by the problem on the 13.

He says the more information he got about the lack of communication that made the problem Tuesday night a lot worse than it should have been, the more disappointed he was.

"I'm not happier today. I'm even less happy today," the premier said. "Because I see the serious shortcomings in the processes and how people work, or should have worked together."

Meanwhile, the opposition Parti Québécois placed the blame squarely on the Couillard government — and transport minister Laurent Lessard — for the mess, calling the handling of the snowstorm the "worst crisis management" since the Couillard government came to power.

He suggests former transport minister Robert Poëti, who had been kicked out of the Couillard cabinet, would have been better at handling this particular incident.

"When they had a minister who wanted to fix things, Robert Poeti, they kicked him out," said PQ leader Jean-François-Lisée, who went on to suggest Couillard now has a third opportunity to bring him back into cabinet.

Couillard, meantime, admitted that during two conference calls about the highway closure, no one shared information that hundreds of drivers were stranded.

The first call was at 11:50 p.m. on Tuesday night, nearly six hours after the problem started. Transport ministry officials apparently left the information about stranded drivers out.

Another conference call at 1:40 a.m. did not involve anyone from the ministry at all.

The SQ apparently did not call on the Montreal fire department for help in evacuating people from the highway until 4:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, the SQ also spoke to the media on Wednesday morning. They say the officer in charge of the Highway 13 operation has been reassigned, suggesting the officer was more concerned with reopening the 13 than tending to stranded drivers.

The provincial force also says the problem could have been averted entirely had the drivers of two stalled trucks on highway 13 south had agreed to be towed away, so that traffic could continue to flow.

A spokesperson is also considering the possibility that those two drivers may face charges.