The Downside of Plan Nord: Environmental Concerns Plague Northern Quebec Development Project – by Jane Gatensby (The Link – February 12, 2013)

The Link is Concordia University’s independent newspaper since 1980.

On May 9, 2011, then-premier Jean Charest launched the Plan Nord, an ambitious $80 billion development project aiming to build infrastructure in Quebec’s northern regions. Nearly two years later, the project’s still a magnet for controversy.

The plan proposed to find and extract mineral resource deposits, and to develop tourism, energy, forestry, wildlife and bio-food industries north of the 49th parallel.

The Plan Nord promises to generate $14 billion in revenue over the next 25 years, according to government estimates, during which time it will create or consolidate an average of 20,000 jobs a year.

The project has attracted significant backlash since it was announced, however. Last April, a protest at the first Salon du Plan Nord caused general mayhem in and around the Palais des congrès de Montréal, with close to 100 protesters arrested.

Since then, the project has managed to cause outcry among environmentalists and anti-capitalists—and everyone in between. “Northern Quebec is a fragile place,” said Greenpeace Quebec director Nicolas Mainville in an April 2012 press release.

“Greenpeace has identified two virgin forests, la Vallée de la Broadback and les Montagnes Blanches, as priority areas for protection, but the government is going ahead with plans for mining in these areas.

“The exploitation of natural resources will have irreversible effects on the environment, populations and their way of life,” echoed a May 2011 petition from the group Innu Power.

“The Plan Nord aims to exploit a maximum of resources over the short term, thereby neglecting the respect and rights of future generations.”

Despite widespread outcry and a change in government, the Plan Nord survived Jean Charest’s exit and is now in the hands of the present Parti Québécois government.

In December, Premier Pauline Marois announced her intention to proceed with natural resource negotiations with the Atikamekw First Nation, expecting to come to an agreement by July 2013.

“Hydroelectric development in the Great North should be done with the respect of residents and their environment in mind,” reads the PQ website. “The Charest government, however, didn’t hesitate to announce its ‘plan’ (which wasn’t one) before even having consulted those it affects the most.”

While the Plan Nord has been updated, dissent has held firm.

“The pillagers are gathering,” proclaimed Anti-Capitalist Convergence Montreal on its website, in preparation of the demonstration on Jan. 8.

“Sponsored largely by mining (Osisko) and tar sands (Enbridge), the profiteers are preparing the assimilation of indigenous communities into their industrial framework, and into their large-scale destruction of the wild,” the message continued.

The union federation Confédération des syndicates nationaux has also come out in opposition to the project.

The CSN said that, while northern development is important, it must also “be done in a perspective of sustainable development that assures the respect of aboriginal rights and of local communities, and that protects biodiversity and the exceptional ecosystems found in Northern Quebec.”

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