Considered by many to be a legacy issue for Québec Premier Jean Charest, the Plan Nord is an initiative by the incumbent liberal government to develop the rich economic potential of the 1.2 million km2 land mass that makes up the province’s northern territory. Although several aspects of the Plan Nord have already begun, the full implementation of the Plan Nord depends on two main legislative frameworks, namely, An Act Respecting the Société du Plan Nord (Bill 27) and the Act Respecting the Development of Mineral Resources in Keeping with the Principles of Sustainable Development (Bill 14) which, as of the date of this article, have not yet been adopted as Quebec law.
There is a consensus among Québec’s political media that, despite it being a full 14 months before the termination of his term, the Premier will call Québeckers to the polls for a September election. The implications of an election for the Plan Nord are uncertain as the official opposition, Parti Québecois (PQ), recently blocked the passage of both Bill 14 and Bill 27 in the National Assembly, Québec’s provincial legislature, and argued for key amendments to both bills. Other relevant political parties in Québec intend to submit their own suggested amendments.
Québec Liberal Party (FOR the Plan Nord)
The Québec Liberal Party (“QLP”) is Bill 27’s principal advocate: it was Québec Premier Jean Charest who presented the Bill to the National Assembly in 2010. The QLP’s official position is that developing the North will allow Québec to distinguish itself on an international level and will bring economic, social and environmental benefits to Québec as a whole. The QLP wishes to implement the Plan as quickly as possible beginning with the creation of the Société du Plan Nord, the Plan’s implementing bureaucratic body whose purpose and functioning are outlined in Bill 27. The Société du Plan Nord will receive funding through private and public investments made towards the realization of the project. Under the QLP’s vision of the Plan, Québec will be a beneficiary of profits made from resource exploitation via a royalty system that imposes a 16% government levy on mineral extraction payable by mining companies. By implementing the Plan Nord, the government claims the following advantages will result:
- approximately 80 billion dollars in royalties and equity investment and creation of approximately 20,000 jobs;
- improved social conditions for the communities of northern Québec; and
- the environmental protection of fifty percent (50%) of the territory covered by the Plan Nord.
Parti Québécois (PQ) (FOR the Plan Nord, subject to amendments)
Rather than reject the Plan Nord outright, the PQ’s official position is that Québec should obtain a larger economic benefit from the Plan Nord than is allocated by the QLP. The particular points of contention raised by the PQ are as follows:
- The royalty system attached to the Plan must include a minimum amount payable by mining companies to the province. These royalties would be a function of the gross, as opposed to the net, value produced;
- In addition to said royalties, the PQ proposes a tax on “excess profit” as well as direct equity investments by the government in strategic mining projects; and
- with the goal of increasing the job creating effects association with the Plan Nord, the PQ proposes that any mineral transformation be located in Québec.
Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) (FOR the Plan Nord, subject to amendments)
The CAQ remains cautious regarding the potential of the Plan Nord to offer economic benefits to the province of Québec. In particular, the CAQ is in favor of the Plan Nord to the extent that it is consistent with the party’s platform of debt reduction and reduced government spending.
In addition, the CAQ`s stated platform is that the province should diversify its investments to avoid an overdependence on the successful outcome of the Plan Nord.
Despite the recent blocking by the PQ of Bill 14 and Bill 27 in the National Assembly, a total shelving of the Plan Nord as a whole is unlikely when the Québec legislature reopens in the fall. It is critical to note that all of the key political parties in Québec offer their support to the continued implementation of the Plan Nord in one form or another and that the implications of upcoming provincial elections will more likely than not be limited to amendments to the royalty and tax structures to which investors will be subjected.