Quebec is betting that a once thriving mining industry north of the 49th parallel can be revived with a $2.1B investment over 25 years. To give you some scope on the plan, they are estimating it will generate over $80B in investment revenue over the course of the project, and create or consolidate over 20,000 jobs annually.
The New York Times has a good piece on the project. They indicate that Plan Nord (as it is called) would seek to develop the 297 million acres north of the 49th Parallel in Quebec – the vast majority of the total land mass, an area with just 120,000 people, mostly Aboriginal. According to the Times, the “region is well endowed with mineral resources, woodlands and potential hydroelectric developments, but it lacks the roads, railways, ports, communications links and other infrastructure necessary for their exploitation.” These area’s currently lacking in infrastructure will account for the first phase of the plan.
The Times also equates such a massive development of the north with the other massive northern development project we all know and love – the Oilsands. On the surface, the two projects do share many similarities: both seek to exploit close-to-surface resources, both have the potential to displace/endanger local Aboriginal populations, both projects will produce a valuable commodity to bolster north-south trade with the United States (hence the New York Times writing about it), and both projects will make provincial governments and large multi-national companies a crap-tonne of money dollar bills.
The Times also reports that “several provincial politicians emphasized on Monday that environmental and social concerns, particularly related to native groups, would take precedence over development,” and that every effort would be made to reduce the need and/or impact of attempting to develop on Aboriginal lands.
A big difference between the projects, however, is the importance Charest and Quebec City are placing on environmental and biodiversity protection. According to Plan Nord, the project will “ultimately devote 50% of the territory that the [plan] covers to purposes other than industrial ones, environmental protection, and safeguarding biodiversity. This commitment will be enshrined in legislation.” They will also “complete the network of protected areas such that, by 2015, the network accounts for at least 12% of the area that the Plan Nord covers.”
In other words, roughly 35.6 million acres of land will be set aside as undeveloped park land. Much of this land is critically important boreal forest that is instrumental in absorbing Canada’s GHG emissions. Destroying any large part of this forest to revive a mining industry that extracts rare earth elements would be cutting off our nose to spite our face. No plan should move forward that does not recognize the interconnectedness of natural systems.
There is so much about this plan I am leery of. I am tempted to classify this in the “F*&k Your Jobs!” category and leave it at that, but I will hold off for now. Without wanting to condemn it outright, I want to see how successful Quebec City is in keeping their word about respect for Aboriginal land titles and the environment. But I won’t hold my breath.
Charest claims these protections will be enshrined in the legislation: I hope he is kept to his word.