On April 7, 2015, Québec Premier Philippe Couillard and Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Pierre Arcand unveiled The Plan Nord toward 2035, 2015-2020 Action Plan.
This Plan Nord 2.0 is an updated and more sober version of the Plan Nord announced with considerable fanfare by Premier Jean Charest in 2012. Mr. Charest’s plan was long on promise, short on detail and studiously ignored during Ms. Pauline Marois 19-month premiership (2012-2014).
Like Mr. Charest’s version, Plan Nord 2.0 deals with the economic development of Quebec’s vast territory north of the 49th parallel (1.2 million km2), the need for rational infrastructure development and the desire to protect not less than 50% of the Plan Nord territory from industrial purposes.
But Plan Nord 2.0 is not just about economic development. Government has been listening and Plan Nord 2.0 places considerable emphasis on how infrastructure and economic development must benefit and meaningfully involve local populations.
The Plan Nord territory is home to 120,000 inhabitants, one-third being members of four First Nations (Cree, Inuit, Innu and Naskapi). Plan Nord 2.0 will focus on living conditions in the territory and address the specific needs of local communities and First Nation populations in connection withemployment, education, health and social services, housing, justice and security.
Under Plan Nord 2.0, the Government’s first priority in the next five years will be to improve access to the Plan Nord territory, improve telecommunications within said territory and work to increase environmental knowledge. To this end Government has earmarked almost $2 billion. It is the intention of Government to plan such expeditures so that they benefit communities, First Nations and mining and forestry companies.
Five things to keep in mind when looking at Plan Nord 2.0 and mining:
- It is but one of several plans, strategies and policies to be unveiled before 2016. For example, Government unveiled its Maritime Strategy in 2014 and expects to announce its Energy Policy 2016-2025 later this year.
- These plans, strategies and policies are meant to dovetail with each other and provide a coherent framework for the economic development of Québec. Interestingly, considerable care has been given to ensuring that there is plenty of English material available and that such material appear written by native English speakers.
- The plans, strategies and policies are meant to confirm that: (i) economic activity in Québec is to be led by the private sector, (ii) Government’s main role is to provide the necessary framework, infrastructure and regulatory supervision, and (iii) natural resources in Quebec should be exploited if this can be done in an environmentally and socially acceptable manner. Since its election in April 2014 Government has stressed that Quebec is open to natural resource development and it appears that the message is being heard; Quebec has risen to sixth place in the world in the Fraser Institute Survey of Mining Companies 2014.
- In addition to Plan Nord infrastructure and other support, Quebec has created two investment funds dedicated to investments in mining companies. Resource Quebec, a subsidiary of state-owned Investissement Québec, has a $480 million fund for equity and debt investments in mining companies. Resource Quebec also manages an additional $750 million mining investment fund on behalf of the Québec Government.
- Finally, the Quebec government has recently taken a number of measures to reduce governmental fees paid by exploration companies in Quebec.
In the words of Government, Quebec wants to “re-establish a context conducive to mineral development based on a wide range of resources.”