On April 7, 2015, 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 mines, hydroelectricity, forestry and roads. 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 with employment, education, health and social services, housing, justice and security.
During the next five years Government will, in consultation with local communities and the private sector, improve telecommunications and access to the Plan Nord territory and work to increase environmental knowledge. To this end Government has earmarked almost $2 billion to be spent during the first five years of Plan Nord 2.0.
Plan Nord 2.0 has been well received by the business community and with cautious optimism by some community and First Nation leaders. Time will tell how well Quebec executes the new Plan Nord.
Three things to keep in mind when looking at Plan Nord 2.0:
- 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 various 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.
- Most importantly, these 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 (Quebec is working on another paper to define what is social acceptability!).
Item 3 above represents an unprecedented departure from Québec’s economic developmental model of the last 50 years, and it is in this respect that The Plan Nord toward 2035, 2015-2020 Action Plan is most innovative. Lets hope it works because sustainable development thrives on prosperity.