Building a new empire in the North – Québec’s plan nord

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Source: GLOBE Foundation

Described as the single largest land conservation plan in history, it is nothing short of building a new empire in the Americas.

Plan Nord - a 25-year northern development vision released in May 2011 by Québec Premier Jean Charest - will set aside over half of the province's territory above the 49th parallel from all industrial activity, and will apply sustainable development standards to the remainder, respecting existing rights and treaties with the region's aboriginal communities.

Northern Québec covers a vast, rich and ecologically diversified area of over one million square kilometers, roughly twice the size of France or six times the size of all the New England states, but home to only 120,000 people.

Last week the Québec government released a consultation document with details on proposed mechanisms to protect the natural and cultural values of its northern boreal region and to apply sustainable practices in the development of the area's natural resources.

The government has committed to bringing forward legislation in the coming year to put in place the regulatory regime to make Plan Nord a reality.

Concrete Results Planned

A number of firm conservation commitments were tabled with the release of the consultation document.

  • By 2015, a network of protected areas covering at least 12% of the territory under the Plan will be set aside;
  • By 2020, an additional 5% of the northern territory to be set aside for conservation of non-industrial areas purposes (equal to the Convention on Biological Diversity commitments made in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 by 193 countries to reserve 17% of their land areas for conservation);
  • By 2035 the overall goal of protecting 50% of the Northern Territory will be confirmed.

While protection of ecosystems and biodiversity are at the heart of Plan North, industrial development will proceed as well.

Last week Québec Premier Jean Charest unveiled a new $331 million plan to extend route 167 into the Otish Mountains of Northern Quebec leading to the Stornoway Diamond Corp's Renard diamond mine project, which is part of Plan Nord.

Over the next 25 years, a total of 30 million diamond carats are expected to be mined, solidifying Canada's position as the world's third largest diamond producer. The Québec government has a 37% stake in Stornoway.

While route 167 paves the way for Québec 's first diamond mine, it opens the road to other mining projects. Strateco Resources, Abitex, Western Troy Capital Resources Inc.  and Eastmain Resources are all mining companies in the area that will benefit from the governments infrastructure plan.

In total Plan Nord will see mining firms and the Québec government invest $88 billion over 25 years to mine gold, diamonds, copper, molybdenum, rare-earths, nickel, lithium and uranium.  The Plan pinpoints 11 new mining projects underway, which alone will bring over $8 billion to the region.

Québec CharestPremier Jean Charest ( pictured left) has taken his Plan Nord message to investors in New York and in Europe, portraying Québec as a stable place to invest. 'Québec has done its homework', he said by creating a longterm development plan that provides business people with 'a stable investment environment' that is predictable and transparent. 'We have every resource imaginable up north,' he told Wall Street investors recently.

The Plan would also embark the province on a new road for clean energy development. Northern Québec produces roughly 75% of the province's electricity, mainly through hydropower.

Three new major hydroelectric projects are planned over the next 25 years - a 920-megawatt Eastmain-Sarcelle-Rupert project on the North Shore; the 1,550-megawatt La Romaine also on the North Shore, and the 1,200-megawatt Petit-Mécatina project. A pilot project is planned to develop a 250-kilowatt capacity underwater generator, which could power small settlements near water.

Sustainable forestry management will be a major component of Plan Nord.  The area is home to a significant portion of the Canadian boreal forest, the Earth's largest intact forest ecosystem and largest storehouse of carbon.

Much of this forest region has never been touched and is virgin territory. Though much or the area is already protected as parkland, plans for logging in the area have been challenged by environmentalists. The real test of Plan Nord's forestry vision is whether the province's Northern Cree would accept it. So far indications are positive.

Manpower training will be an important factor in securing First Nation's support for the plan. Roughly $80 million will be spent on manpower training efforts to ensure that young Northerners will become productive members of Northern Québec 's economy. Much of this will go toward constructing new training facilities and teaching people the skills required to win employment in the growing mining industry.

The plan also allocates $1.2 billion for infrastructure development, including $821 million in road development. Constructing a deep-water port in Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik on the Hudson Bay is also under consideration.

And the world is watching!

'We are thrilled to witness the launch of this historic legislation-one of the largest land conservation commitments in history,' said Suzann Méthot, the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) regional director in Québec. 'We are pleased to see that the Plan Nord's vision of balancing economic development and conservation, with ecological planning and local partnerships is closer to becoming a reality.'

'If Québec stays on this bold course and continues to work in partnership with aboriginal communities, it will position itself as a leader in responsible economic development,' said Mathew Jacobson, manager of the Pew Environment Group's International Boreal Conservation Campaign in Quebec.

'By bringing together businesses, scientists, conservationists, aboriginal leaders and local communities to identify ways to balance environmental and economic interests on a landscape scale, Quebec has created a new global model for sustainable development,' Jacobson added.

What's in Plan Nord?

The territory covered under Plan Nord:

  • Encompasses all of Québec's territory north of the 49th parallel and north of the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence;
  • Covers nearly 1.2 million km2 and accounts for 72% of Québec's geographic area;
  • Has one of the world's biggest fresh water reserves;
  • Accounts over three-quarters of Québec's installed hydroelectric power generation capacity and the potential of its untapped water, wind and photovoltaic1 resources is at least just as considerable;
  • Encompasses over 200 000 km2 of Québec's commercial forests;
  • Has outstanding wildlife resources, including internationally renowned salmon rivers;
  • Offers, among vast intact natural territories in the world, some of the last potential for preservation;
  • Comprises 63 towns, villages and communities linked to the rest of Québec by road, rail, maritime or air transportation infrastructure.
  • Is governed, by and large, by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and the Northeastern Quebec Agreement.
  • Produces all of Québec's nickel, cobalt, platinum group metals, zinc, iron ore and limonite, and accounts for a significant portion of gold production.
  • Contains significant deposits of lithium, vanadium and rare-earth metals.

Public consultations on Plan Nord will take place until October 12. Following this, Québec's Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, Pierre Arcand, intends to submit a bill that will oversee the implementation of the government's commitment and ensure ongoing sustainable development.

This new law will consider all applicable laws, regulations, conventions and agreements currently in force and already governing territorial organization, the environmental protection and preservation of biodiversity at the 49th parallel.

A strategy for implementation, taking into account all comments received will be developed within three months of its adoption

In order to verify progress towards the Plan's main objective in 2035, two major milestone events will be held in 2020 and 2030 to assess progress, identify new targets and set deadlines to meet conservation objectives in the future.

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