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MONTREAL — Premier Pauline Marois is going to great lengths to put the Parti Québécois’s imprint on the development of Quebec’s North.
Ms. Marois and three of her ministers travelled all the way to Chibougamau on Tuesday to meet the press in the small mining and forestry town that sits north of the 49th parallel, in what used to be Plan Nord territory.
But now it’s out with Plan Nord, Jean Charest’s signature economic project, and in with the “Nord pour tous” – North for everybody – as the PQ’s program is now called.
In a blind taste test, however, you would be hard pressed to tell the two plans apart. The government now says it will invest $868-million in infrastructure and social housing over the next five years, almost exactly what the Liberals had allocated to the roads and parks in the North. The only change is that private developers will have to assume a bigger share of the risk when they are the sole users of roads and railways – a flaw the PQ rightly corrected.
In essence, the Quebec government is barely rebranding a program so tainted in bright Liberal red that Ms. Marois’s eyes would hurt just looking at it. But there are some striking differences between the then and the now.
The PQ’s plan has garnered none of the enthusiasm Plan Nord sparked when Mr. Charest unveiled it almost two years ago to the day alongside native leaders and mining executives. And its new mining regime is now pilloried by both environmentalists and mining companies alike.
In the spring of 2011, there was no end in sight for the mining boom, and talk of the expected $80-billion in investments that would create or maintain 20,000 jobs a year barely raised eyebrows. Now, everyone is wondering if the resource economy will simply carry on at a less hectic pace, or if it will fall more precipitously – as all the recent project cancellations seem to point to. And they’re wondering if the new royalties regime unveiled by Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau could knock Quebec out of the mining race.
You couldn’t find a mining executive anywhere near Mr. Marceau on Monday – nor an environmentalist for that matter. Even Quebec’s Natural Resources Minister, Martine Ouellet, a hardliner on mining companies who was coaxed into attending the press conference, couldn’t bring herself to say anything nice about the new royalties regime when asked by reporters.
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