Quebec lawyers jump on Plan Nord – Drew Hasselback (National Post – October 5, 2011)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

“Plan Nord is not portrayed as a massive government handout.
Montreal lawyers insist they believe the North will be
developed purely through market forces. They see the plan as
the government living up to its traditional role, which is to
install infrastructure such as roads, ports, power lines and

“Plan Nord is about making sure Quebec has the roads,
electricity supplies, airports and shipping ports in
place to serve future generations.” (Drew Hasselback)

Step inside the office of any law firm in Montreal, and you won’t have to walk too far before you bump into someone who’s been assigned to that firm’s Plan Nord team. That’s because Plan Nord is the biggest source of business for transaction-oriented law firms in Montreal these days.

The plan is well understood within Montreal business circles, and it’s also caught the attention of resource investors from around the world. For lawyers, it pushes a lot of buttons. Plan Nord anticipates $80-billion worth of development in Quebec’s North over the next 25 years.

This involves the development of mining projects, transportation links, power-generation facilities, supporting businesses and other infrastructure investments. Putting the plan into action means business across a broad spectrum of legal specialities.

The Plan Nord concept is straight out of the movie Field of Dreams: Build the infrastructure and the investment will come.

“There’s a whole slew of work that would need to be done,” says Peter Villani, a securities law and M&A practitioner in the Montreal office of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, a national firm that has developed a global reputation for its work on mining matters. “You have the mining, but there are also arrangements with aboriginal communities, securities work, acquisitions, private placements, public financings and contractual matters.”

“Our office has a group that is getting ready to promote all these activities,” adds François Auger, a tax practitioner in the Montreal office of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, which does a lot of work on energy projects and in the venture-capital space. “It’s a great opportunity for us.”

Quebec lawyers, particularly those working in the province’s red-hot mining sector, see the resource-rich province as a choice destination for foreign investment. There is a firm sense that Quebec’s resource base is rich enough that the work would come eventually. Plan Nord, however, seems to be speeding everything up a notch. It might even be overdue.

“Looking at the cycle, it certainly would have been nice to have had five years ago,” says David McAusland, a former Alcan executive who is a senior partner with McCarthy Tétrault LLP. “Plan Nord or no Plan Nord, I think a lot of these projects would go ahead.”

“Part of it is to create a big push to get the world to pay attention to Northern Quebec. Yes, there are resources elsewhere, but there are also resources in Northern Quebec,” says Robert Borduas, Canadian leader of Norton Rose OR LLP’s infrastructure, mining and commodities business.

One of the most interesting aspects of Plan Nord is the degree to which it includes First Nations. Every firm taking on a Plan Nord file has aboriginal law specialists working on negotiations with any First Nations group whose territory is home to a potential resource project. Potential investors from places like China or Australia generally want to know that the road and energy infrastructure is in place. But they are also increasingly aware that projects will not see the light of day unless First Nations groups are brought in as partners through social and economic benefit agreements.

“Foreign investors rely on there being infrastructure and energy,” says Alain Massicotte, a partner in the Montreal office of Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP. “So the government is giving developers and First Nations the tools they need to be in a position to develop and exploit the resources in an economic fashion.”

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