Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard speaking Dec. 12 in Quebec City: “We will take advantage of all forums to make sure Quebec is recognized as a Nordic nation.” (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
QUEBEC CITY—At the Arctic Circle forum held in Quebec City earlier this week, Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard put on his salesman act, using the event to brag about his government’s renewed Plan Nord and to pitch the potential of Quebec’s northern regions to global investors.
With his “good friend,” Iceland’s ex-premier, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, sitting just a few feet away, Couillard promised he’ll use Plan Nord to promote Quebec wherever he goes.
“We will take advantage of all forums to make sure Quebec is recognized as a Nordic nation,” Couillard said in a speech that opened the day’s plenary session Dec. 12.
In it, Couillard bragged that his government’s re-worked version of Plan Nord, introduced in April 2015, offers a good balance between environmental protection, social wellbeing and economic development.
And that matches the theme of this week’s Arctic Circle Quebec forum: the idea that you can extract natural resources, protect the environment and bring benefits to Indigenous people all at once.
“Quebec has developed a clear vision,” Couillard said.
Under the latest Plan Nord, Quebec promises to spend $1.3 billion on roads, ports, rail links and telecom connections over five years, hoping to unlock $22 billion in private sector investment that could create up to 10,000 jobs primarily in mining, forestry and tourism.
The policy covers more than 70 per cent of Quebec’s land mass north of the 49th parallel, about 1.2 million square kilometres populated by about 120,000 people, one-third of whom are Indigenous.
Couillard’s version of Plan Nord claims to put more emphasis on environmental protection and Indigenous rights than the earlier version of the scheme that former Liberal premier Jean Charest unveiled in 2011.
For example, the Couillard government promised to set aside 20 per cent of the land in Quebec’s northern regions as protected areas by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2035.
As part of his marketing pitch, Couillard reminded his Quebec City audience of Joseph Bernier, the Québécois sea captain who led numerous expeditions to the eastern Arctic in the early 20th century, and Louis-Edmond Hamelin, the Québecois geographer who created the idea of “nordicity” and how to measure it.
“Quebec is a northern nation,” Couillard said.
So far, Quebec doesn’t have much to show for its investment in Plan Nord: most of the promised roads, railways, ports and telecom connections have yet to materialize.
For Nunavik, Quebec promised to build 70 social housing units and to subsidize 20 new privately-owned units.
And under Plan Nord, Quebec will pay for a feasibility study that would look at a fibre-optic and satellite telecom network for Nunavik, part of a fibre-based telecommunications “master plan” for all four regions covered by Plan Nord.
But there’s no commitment yet to actually build such a network.
However, one project the Quebec government loves to talk about is the Renard diamond mine, built by the Stornoway Diamond Corp. in James Bay Cree territory north of Mistissini in the Otish region.
“I think the Stornoway mine is a good news story,” the Quebec native affairs minister, Geoff Kelley, said in his own speech to the Quebec Forum, on the afternoon of Dec. 12
Through Plan Nord, Quebec has built a 143-kilometre, two-lane extension of Autoroute 167 from Mistissini. And under a $77-million line of credit offered at an interest rate of 3.35 per cent, the Quebec government has helped Stornoway build an additional 97 km of single-lane road
“A first for diamond mines operating in Canada, year-round road access will allow Renard to be developed and operated with significantly reduced costs and operating risk,” Stornoway said on its website.
Kelley said that under an impact and benefit agreement with the Cree, Cree workers now comprise about 25 per cent of the mine’s workforce.
That IBA was signed in 2012 between Stornoway, the Cree Nation of Mistissini and the Grand Council of the Crees.
“The key element is that we have to work together,” Kelley said.
Another Plan Nord investment is the $175 million that the Quebec government poured into Tata Steel’s Schefferville iron ore project, despite low iron and steel prices.
Kelley also made sure his audience got to hear about a check-list of other “success” stories, including the Wapikoni Mobile film-making project and the Qarmaapik Family House, which opened this past March in Kangiqsualujjuaq,
Jobie Tukkiapik, the president of Makivik Corp., who also spoke Dec. 12, said Plan Nord “has taken a welcome shift.”
And he also announced two ways by which Makivik will prepare for the potential economic opportunities that Plan Nord may offer.
One, he said Makivik wants to restructure itself by creating a standalone, arms-length development corporation to manage Makivik’s subsidiary companies.
Unlike in Nunavut, where separate entities, such as Nunasi Corp., Qikiqtaaluk Corp., Sakku Investments, and Kitikmeot Corp. exist separately from Nunavut Tunngavik and the regional Inuit associations, all of Makivik’s functions, whether it be Inuit rights advocacy or business investments, occur under the same roof right now.
After this restructuring, the development corporation would operate Inuit-owned businesses, while Makivik would continue to work on Inuit wellbeing, Tukkiapik said.
Second, Tukkiapik said Makivik wants to pursue a joint venture with the Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec, or FCNQ, to create a 100-per-cent Inuit-owned company that would invest in green power projects.
“We will be working hard to bring economic development to the region,” he said.
But at the same time, Makivik insists on adding an extra word to the phrase “sustainable development.”
“We call it sustainable and equitable development,” Tukkiapik said.
To that end, Makivik and the Kativik Regional Government in 2015 produced a response to Plan Nord called Parnasimautik, developed following a Nunavik-wide consultation in 2014 and 2015.
In it, Nunavik Inuit say they will support economic development as long as it contributes to healthy communities, if their language and culture are protected, and if the development projects responds to their needs.
But at the same time, he said Inuit workers still face many barriers to employment, including discrimination.
“We are not there yet,” he said.
The Arctic Circle Quebec Forum, an offshoot of the Arctic Circle assemblies held each October in Reykjavik, Iceland, took place Dec. 11 to Dec. 13 in Quebec City.
Jobie Tukkiapik, the president of Makivik Corp., said Dec. 12 that Makivik wants to create an arms-length development corporation to hold its subsidiary companies and also wants to pursue a joint venture with Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec, or FCNQ, to create a 100-per-cent Inuit-owned green energy company. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Quebec´s native affairs minister, Geoff Kelley, said Dec. 12 that Stornoway Diamond Corp.´s Renard mine north of Mistissini, which uses a road transportation link partly funded through Plan Nord, is a "good news story." Cree employment at the mine stands at about 25 per cent, he said. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)