03/07/2014 11:02 EST | Updated 05/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Liberal maritime strategy eyes free trade with Europe

Quebec's Liberal Party is promising to invest billions in ports, shipyards and other maritime infrastructure along the St. Lawrence River in order to position the province as the primary point of entry for goods coming to Canada under a future free trade agreement with the European Union.

Liberal leader Philippe Couillard announced his party’s new maritime strategy at a press conference in Lévis, home of the Davie shipyard.

The Liberal’s strategy would see $3-billion in public investments and $4-billion in private investments pumped into Quebec’s maritime infrastructure in order to modernize and improve its ports, shipyards and related industries.

"There's a unique competitive advantage that Quebec has to seize," Couillard said, pointing to the proximity of Quebec's ports to those of Europe.

"Quebec is the most direct, inexpensive way to trade with Europe."

Couillard said the strategy also recognizes the importance of the St. Lawrence River to Quebec's many coastal communities, from the Magdalen Islands and Gaspé to Sept-Îles and the Montérégie.

"We've got the St. Lawrence in our veins, our families are full of stories of the St. Lawrence," Couillard told reporters. 

The plan, Couillard said, would produce 30,000 new jobs between 2015 and 2030 and generate an estimated $3.5 billion in tax revenues for both the provincial and federal governments.

"We aren't pulling these numbers out of the air. They've been discussed for years, the data exists," Couillard said.

Developing Quebec's maritime infrastructure is essential if the province is to reap the benefits for Canada's proposed free trade deal with the European Union and the expansion of the Panama Canal, which promises to increase the flow of goods between Asia and North America's Eastern ports.

The Liberals say the plan would also bring improvements to ferry service and increase cruise ship traffic on the St. Lawrence, both of which would bring associated economic benefits for Quebec's coastal communities.

All of this investment would be made with an eye on sustainability and ecological impact, said Couillard. 

Couillard said his party's maritime strategy will complement the existing Plan Nord strategy for the development of Quebec's north.