Quebec Premier floats idea of tax credits to attract Plan Nord mining investment – by Sophie Cousineau (Globe and Mail – October 18, 2012)

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Paris — During Quebec’s electoral campaign, Pauline Marois criticized the Plan Nord, intimately associated with her Liberal predecessor Jean Charest, for its generosity towards private companies. But now that the Parti Québécois Premier is courting French investors in Paris, helping out mining companies no longer looks like such a bad idea.

The PQ government is thinking of introducing new tax credits to attract mining projects to the Plan Nord territory, which encompasses all of Quebec north of the 49th parallel. “This is an avenue we could choose,” Ms. Marois said during the news conference that ended her three-day mission in France.

But there is a catch. To be eligible for these tax credits, companies would have to transform the metals and minerals extracted locally. “It is an exchange of friendly services,” said Ms. Marois, who wishes to put the PQ’s imprint on the Liberal program.

“But we are pressing on with the North’s development,” she said. The new tax credits would be similar to the ones that Quebec used to create a multimedia and video game hub in Montreal, Ms. Marois explained. They translated into a fixed amount of money per employee hired on an annual basis.

These tax credits bear the signature of Bernard Landry, a former PQ premier who was finance minister at the time. And his current successor, Nicolas Marceau, has long said he considers them an astute way of creating skilled jobs and boosting the economy.

Introduced by Mr. Charest in 2011 as a grand social and economic plan for the province’s North and harness its abundant resources, the Plan Nord forecasts $80-billion in private and public investments over the next 25 years. These investments would create or maintain 20,000 jobs per year, according to government estimates.

But the election of Ms. Marois cast some doubts on the deployment of these investments. During the electoral campaign, the PQ promised to change the mining regime, making royalties more onerous to companies. The PQ also wants to make public investments in roads or other infrastructure needed for industrial projects contingent on Quebec obtaining some form of equity in return.

Ms. Marois, who has gone out of her way not to say “Plan Nord” since she got elected, used the politically coloured name twice in front of journalists in Paris. But she downplayed the change in vocabulary. “It never was taboo,” she said.

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