Couillard uses Arctic Circle forum to tout Quebec’s northern ambitions – by Jim Bell (Nunatsiaq News – December 15, 2016)

“To make sure Quebec is recognized as a Nordic nation”

QUEBEC CITY—At the Arctic Circle forum held in Quebec City earlier this week, Quebec Premier Phillipe Couillard put on his salesman act, using the event to brag about his government’s renewed Plan Nord and to pitch the potential of Quebec’s northern regions to global investors.

With his “good friend,” Iceland’s ex-premier, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, sitting just a few feet away, Couillard promised he’ll use Plan Nord to promote Quebec wherever he goes. “We will take advantage of all forums to make sure Quebec is recognized as a Nordic nation,” Couillard said in a speech that opened the day’s plenary session Dec. 12.

In it, Couillard bragged that his government’s re-worked version of Plan Nord, introduced in April 2015, offers a good balance between environmental protection, social wellbeing and economic development.

And that matches the theme of this week’s Arctic Circle Quebec forum: the idea that you can extract natural resources, protect the environment and bring benefits to Indigenous people all at once.

“Quebec has developed a clear vision,” Couillard said. Under the latest Plan Nord, Quebec promises to spend $1.3 billion on roads, ports, rail links and telecom connections over five years, hoping to unlock $22 billion in private sector investment that could create up to 10,000 jobs primarily in mining, forestry and tourism.

The policy covers more than 70 per cent of Quebec’s land mass north of the 49th parallel, about 1.2 million square kilometres populated by about 120,000 people, one-third of whom are Indigenous.

Couillard’s version of Plan Nord claims to put more emphasis on environmental protection and Indigenous rights than the earlier version of the scheme that former Liberal premier Jean Charest unveiled in 2011.

For example, the Couillard government promised to set aside 20 per cent of the land in Quebec’s northern regions as protected areas by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2035.

As part of his marketing pitch, Couillard reminded his Quebec City audience of Joseph Bernier, the Québécois sea captain who led numerous expeditions to the eastern Arctic in the early 20th century, and Louis-Edmond Hamelin, the Québecois geographer who created the idea of “nordicity” and how to measure it.

“Quebec is a northern nation,” Couillard said.

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