[Quebec’s Plan Nord] Growth tips shared – Special to The Chronicle-Journal (Thunder Bay Chroncicle-Journal – January 19, 2012)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

Those who helped develop Plan Nord say the next 25 years are going to be exciting for Northern Quebec. Northwestern Ontario would like to share in some of that excitement.

Members of National Public Relations, who helped develop Plan Nord, gave a presentation in Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

The presentation was hosted by the Northwestern Ontario joint task force on regional economic development pilot project, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association.

Plan Nord is an economic development project aimed at Northern Quebec, which over the next 25 years is estimated to generate more $80 billion in investments and create more than 20,000 jobs a year.

JTF chairman Iain Angus said the purpose of the presentation was to learn about and from the project.

Angus said he wants to know if Northern Ontario should be worried about the plan in Northern Quebec: “If they are attracting investment, is that going to take up any investment that might be available for Northwestern Ontario?”

But Angus added that he and other task force members are hoping to learn from what Plan Nord has accomplished and whether or not it can be applied to Northwestern Ontario.

“The reality is that there is insufficient public investment in any of the provinces to develop regional economies the way it needs to be developed,” Angus said.

“We rely heavily on the private sector, whether it’s the mining sector, the research sector, medical commerce, or whether it’s forestry; it’s private-sector dollars that are going to make the difference.
“We need to make sure we remain as attractive as other jurisdictions in Canada,” he said.

Yvan Loubier, a senior consultant and economist with National Public Relations, said he isn’t expecting Northern Ontario to copy the Quebec plan, but to use it as a tool for developing its own plan.

Loubier said that two years ago Northern Quebec was not a priority for the province. But Plan Nord has changed that.

“When there is an announcement in Northern Quebec, the people are very happy,” he said in an interview with The Chronicle-Journal.

“For the first time in 50 years, the priority is there, and not just economic but socially. For many families in Northern Quebec, we could have for the next 25 years children of the families staying in Northern Quebec instead of going to the south,” said Loubier.

He added that Plan Nord goes well beyond economic development, noting that the more than 20,000 jobs created or sustained a year comes mainly from the mining sector, bio-fuel and tourism.

“It is not just a project of economic development, but it’s also a social one,” Loubier said. “A large amount will be allocated for education, training and skills, especially for the First Nations and Inuit peoples. And I think that is very welcome by the First Nations people.”

First Nations played a key role in the development of Plan Nord, Loubier said, a step required when developing an economic and social plan for such a large region.

“At the beginning of the process, there was no consensus between Quebecers and First Nations,” he said.
“But after working very hard, we reached certain consensus and we made the northern plan with the support of that consensus,” he said.

Loubier said communication is a major part of developing a plan like Plan Nord.

So it is up to the people of Northwestern Ontario to make change, he said.

“The following steps will be dictated by people here,” he said.

“I cannot replace the people here. I can provide ideas to explain the process, but after that the people here will decide what to do.”