MONTREAL – There were demonstrations Friday and Saturday outside the Palais des Congrès where the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal was hosting a job fair focused on opportunities in Quebec’s natural-resources sector.
The demonstrators were there to protest the Plan Nord, Quebec’s 25-year project for resource development in the province’s northern regions. Violence broke out on both days, and several dozen arrests were made.
Conceived and launched by the previous Liberal government, the plan calls for increased resource extraction in the area above the 49th parallel. It is projected to be carried out over a period of 25 years and expected to generate $80 billion in energy, mining and forestry investment, and create or consolidate 20,000 jobs a year for the duration.
Protests against the Plan Nord have been recurrent, with participants denouncing the presumed environmental damage that the development will entail. Yet, many of these same demonstrators have also active in the fight for a continued freeze on university tuition, if not abolition of tuition altogether, along with improved health care and expanded $7 daycare for all Quebec toddlers.
While it is undeniable that environmental concerns must be seriously taken into account when it comes to resource development, it is equally undeniable that Quebec’s prosperity and ability to provide the services to which its population is accustomed — and to which it widely feels entitled — is heavily reliant on development of its natural resources.
Where Quebec is lacking in this respect is not in resources to develop, but in a comprehensive plan, something the Plan Nord is not quite yet, and a clear set of rules to ensure that development can be at once profitable and sustainable.
The lack of such was recently illustrated in the municipality of Gaspé, where the city council moved to ban exploratory oil drilling within the town’s territorial limit by Petrolia Inc., a Quebec junior exploration company in which the provincial government holds a 10-per-cent stake. The drilling site, where the company believes there is a reservoir of nearly 8 million barrels of oil, is five kilometres from the city centre, but local officials felt the drilling risked polluting groundwater that feeds the town.
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