From the start, the Quebec government’s Plan Nord strategy to develop the resource-rich northern regions of the province has been more about marketing than anything else.
First conceived by then-premier Jean Charest in 2011, it called for $80 billion in public and private investment over 25 years. But critics pointed out that many of the projects would have gone ahead anyway and that the whole operation was a convenient way for Charest to grab some headlines.
Four years later, the current version of the Liberal government has dusted off the Plan Nord and relaunched it. True to form, the announcement Wednesday was a slick marketing presentation with a lot more style than substance.
While details were scarce, the new plan revealed the government is much less optimistic about the amount of investment expected. Instead of $80 billion, we’re talking $50 billion by 2035, said Premier Philippe Couillard.
Some $20 billion will come from Hydro-Québec in the form of new projects and $2 billion will be spent on public infrastructure like roads and airports.
The remaining $28 billion is expected in the form of private-sector investment, largely in the mining sector. That’s a fairly conservative average of $1.4 billion a year over the 20-year period.
To put that into context, the province’s mining industry was expected to invest $2.9 billion in 2014, according to the Institut de la Statistique du Québec — down from $4.6 billion in 2013 and $5.1 billion in 2012.
What’s happened in the meantime is a drop in the price of many metals and minerals. Couillard acknowledged that the industry is “cyclical” and that private investors have been shying away from new commitments while prices remain low. However, some new projects are expected to be announced Thursday.
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