The business community — both inside and outside Quebec — breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday night when Philippe Couillard's Liberals won a formidable majority government.
But for the resource sector, the defeat of the Parti Quebecois means more than just the removal of the risk of a separation referendum. It means the imminent acceleration of a massive mining development plan that will see an area in northern Quebec twice the size of France — a full 72 per cent of Quebec’s land — transformed over the next quarter century.
It’s called Plan Nord, and it was initially introduced in 2011 by the previous Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest, whose successor, Pauline Marois, scuttled the project when the PQ came to power.
Now the plan is back. Couillard made a slightly revised version of the plan a central part of his electoral platform.
“We’re putting most of it back as it was, because it was an excellent plan of sustainable development for Quebec,” he said, as quoted at Forbes.
“Unfortunately the Parti Quebecois basically killed it when they came into office. They have a hostile attitude towards the mining industry, and private activity in general, so it wasn’t long before the signal was sent that this was over.”
The original plan called for $80 billion in investment over 25 years, including $47 billion towards renewable energy and $33 billion towards mining and infrastructure. The Liberals forecast it would create some 20,000 jobs over that period.
“The Quebec government’s Plan Nord could result in a huge transformation of Northern Quebec in what’s, in reality, a relatively short amount of time, given its ambitious objectives,” consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said in a report.
The report identified 11 new projects that could be launched inside the 1.2-million square kilometre area covered by Plan Nord in the coming years, mining for everything from gold and platinum to uranium and diamonds.
Couillard has made two significant changes to the plan, one being revenue-sharing with the regions, the other a $1-billion investment in Quebec contractors to ensure they can build the equipment for miners. The goal is to “build a complete mining industry,” he said.
The plan has raised concerns with environmentalists. Though it calls for 50 per cent of the designated area to be set aside for conservation by 2035, activists say the number is arbitrary, and the plan doesn’t identify specific areas to be protected.
First Nations groups are ambivalent. The regional chief of Quebec’s First Nations, Ghislain Picard, told the McGill Daily in 2011 that while the plans “offers great perspectives in terms of employment,” the government had not satisfied First Nations' fears about environmental degradation.
“The biggest question that comes after [jobs] is what becomes of the other 50 per cent?” he asked. “Is it all wide open for development? If that’s the case, then we’re not in favour of that.”
Couillard made it clear during the campaign he means to move ahead with Plan Nord quickly.
“As soon as we’re elected, we’re going to go out on an international mission to the mining industry to essentially tell them the simple message that (the mining sector in) Quebec is back in business and we’re open to investors, we want investors,” he said.