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NEWS: Charest’s controversial Plan Nord

The Globe and Mail reported on May 9 that, “Premier Jean Charest has unveiled an ambitious multibillion-dollar plan to develop Quebec’s remote northern region… The economic proposal, Plan Nord, involves a (1.2 million square kilometre) region north of the 49th parallel that is twice the size of France and covers more than 70 per cent of the province’s territory. The proposal involves $80-billion in public and private investment over the next 25 years, Mr. Charest said. In return, he said, it will generate an estimated $14-billion in revenue over the same period and contribute $162-billion to the province’s gross domestic product.”

The Montreal Gazette adds, “Already, 11 mining projects are planned… The region contains deposits of nickel, cobalt, platinum, zinc, iron ore, lignite, gold, lithium, vanadium and rare earths. …Forestry development in the plan would create about 15,000 jobs… In energy development, the Plan Nord calls for developing 3,500 megawatts more in hydroelectric projects (including the 920-megawatt Eastmain-Sarcelle-Rupert dam on the North Shore; the 1,550-megawatt La Romaine dam on the North Shore; and the 1,200-megawatt Petit-Mécatina dam, also on the North Shore)…”

REACTION FROM POLITICAL PARTIES

The Gazette reports, “Quebec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir called the approach taken in the Plan Nord, using public money to build roads, airports and infrastructure, then allowing private-sector mining companies to reap the wealth of Quebec’s North, a ’19th-century colonial’ attitude. He noted that mining companies, seeking a return as high as 30 per cent, would extract the mineral resources of Quebec’s North as quickly as possible, in as short a time-frame as 15 years, and based on past performance would pay little in royalties to Quebecers, the owners of the resources. …Khadir said even with a nominal royalty rate of 12 per cent of profits in Quebec, in the 2002-09 period, the effective royalties paid by mining companies in Quebec were 1.5 per cent, thanks to cost writeoffs and loopholes. …Khadir is proposing the public sector develop Quebec’s mineral wealth and do so using technology that is less environmentally intrusive than open-pit mining.”

The Gazette also notes, “Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois said a PQ government would go ahead with the proposed Plan Nord to develop mining and other resources in northern Quebec, but with changes. …The PQ would propose variable royalty rates up to 18 per cent. …Quebec’s 12-per-cent mining royalties are rising to 16 per cent in 2012. However, with writeoffs and other deductions, mining companies in Quebec have been paying 1.5 per cent while the official royalty rate was 12 per cent, the PQ has said.”

FIRST NATIONS

The Globe and Mail article notes, “The Northern Quebec Crees applauded the initiative. ‘Gone are the days when projects were announced by the government of Quebec without involving the first nations, without involving the communities directly affected. This is a new era,’ said Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come. …But not all native groups agreed. Some refused to participate, saying the consultation process failed to take into account their needs. ‘How can the government launch its Plan Nord without obtaining consent of all first nations. The process is incomplete and very disappointing,’ said Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.” The Gazette reports, “Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois said the division the Plan Nord revealed in Quebec’s Innu First Nation, with some Innu communities signing on to the Plan Nord and others excluded, must be resolved.” For instance, the Innu of Uashat Mani-Utenam have been fighting against four dams to be built on the Romaine River for several years now. And APTN notes, “Charest’s Plan Nord is getting a lukewarm reception in some Aboriginal communities in the province. …Some Aboriginal communities feel that plans for the development of their traditional lands pose some political problems.”

ENVIRONMENTALISTS

The Montreal Gazette also reports opposition from environmentalists. “‘The plan has set the bar still far too low for the conservation of intact forests, which are among the most precious forests in the province,’ said Nicolas Mainville, who heads Greenpeace’s forest-preservation campaign.” Le Croix adds, “Mainville of Greenpeace Quebec deplored a ‘vision of the twentieth century. We will do the traditional development, large scale, without our reformed mining law, and no real energy strategy.'” The Canadian Press reports, “Christian Simard, a spokesman for the Nature Quebec environmentalist group, feared there is no plan to spread the economic benefits to the region itself. ‘These companies will come in, exploit the wealth and exit quickly,’ he said. (But) Mathew Jacobson, manager of the Pew Environment Group’s International Boreal Conservation Campaign in Quebec, praised Charest and said he had announced ‘the largest land conservation policy in history. It seeks to balance conservation with development in a region that is home to some of the world’s largest remaining intact landscapes,” Jacobson said in a statement.'”