Quebec announces plans for northern development, assigns $868m

7th May 2013 By: Henry Lazenby - Creamer Media Deputy Editor: North America

TORONTO ( – Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and provincial Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet, on Tuesday outlined the province’s incumbent political party, Parti Québécois’ economic vision for developing the vast north, committing $868-million over the next five years to develop the region.

Marois, during a visit to the mining town of Chibougamau, said the bulk of the money would be spent on infrastructure, through creating the Nordic Development Fund.

"We want to develop the north responsibly to maximise the benefits for local communities and for all Quebecers,” Marois said.

Marois added government was proposing developing a new framework for funding related to infrastructure projects in the north, which would put forward practical and innovative solutions to ensure the wellbeing and the beneficial development of communities in the area, while simultaneously ensuring the harmonious and respectful development of the environment.

Investors were mostly in the dark about the government’s plans for Quebec’s north since Marois’s party defeated Jean Charest’s Liberals toward the end of last year. Marois had indicated she wanted to replace Charest’s Plan Nord project with her own vision for the territory but detail had been scarce until today.

The Nordic Development Fund would finance investments including the construction of roads, social housing, national parks and multipurpose centres for vocational training.

The Quebec government had also pledged to build 226 affordable housing units in Nunavik by 2016, worth $61-million, which was expected to help bridge a housing shortage.

Ouellet added that the secretariat to the Nordic Development Fund had indeed already played a significant role in renegotiating an agreement with diamond-mine developer Stornoway Diamonds and in its construction of Route 167, completed last November, which had demonstrated the government's commitment to equitable financial obligations, saving Quebecers $125-million.

Two significant infrastructure projects for Quebec’s north had recently been shelved as a result of the continued weakness in global iron-ore markets.

Natural gas distributor Gaz Métro in March deferred plans to extend gas pipelines to the north, saying that a minimum level of volume demand from industrial customers for a 450 km natural gas pipeline extension to Baie-Comeau, Port-Cartier and Sept-Iles, did not exist.

Rail operator Canadian National Railway in February suspended the feasibility study for the construction of its proposed C$5-billion rail line and terminal handling facility to serve the Quebec/Labrador iron-ore range, owing to market realities forcing project developers to defer expected project start-ups.

First Nation Rights

Meanwhile, the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee on Tuesday said it supported the sustainable development of the north, reminding government that all development projects in Eeyou Istchee would affect Cree rights and interests, which would, therefore, require sufficient consultation and accommodation of the Cree.

The Cree also reminded government the development plan for the north must respect the nation’s rights, including those provided for in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement Treaty of 1975 and the Paix des Braves, which is the 2002 agreement regarding the ‘new relationship’ between the Cree and Quebec.

The First Nation said any development on its reserve lands would have to comply with its environmental and social protection regime.

But, government would also have to deal with outstanding regulatory issues.

Quebec-based uranium project developer Strateco Resources in April said it had started a series of legal actions against the province’s environmental agency to assert its uranium exploration rights.

Strateco, which owns and was developing the Matoush uranium project located within the James Bay Cree Nation's reserve, said following a moratorium on the issuance of permits for uranium projects announced late in March by the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks (MDDEP) Yves-François Blanchet, it had served the MDDEP with a notice for damages and interest set at an initial amount of $16-million.

This sum represented the loss in the company's market capitalisation since the Minister’s announcement.

Last year, after two years of public hearings, the James Bay Cree Nation enacted a permanent moratorium on uranium exploration, mining, milling and waste emplacement on their territory on the east shore of James Bay, known as Eeyou Istchee.

Despite this moratorium, federal regulators, including the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), allowed Strateco’s Matoush project to proceed within this Cree territory. Nevertheless, before it could proceed, provincial authorisation was also required, for which Strateco had already been waiting for two years.

The company in January filed a court order to force the Quebec government to make a decision on its exploration project in the province’s Otish Mountains.

In October, The CNSC granted an exploration licence to Strateco Resources, allowing the company to do advanced exploration for uranium at the site.

The company in January said the Cree should not have the power to veto the project, and that it was up to the provincial government to make the final decision.