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Quebec plans huge energy and mining developments in North

In December the premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, met with 350 young professionals of the Quebec Association of Consulting Engineers (AICQ) to explain a vast initiative the province has launched to develop its northern territories.


Premier Jean Charest speaks to 350 young professionals at an event in Montreal organized by AICQ.  Photograph by Denis Bernier/AICQ.
Premier Jean Charest speaks to 350 young professionals at an event in Montreal organized by AICQ. Photograph by Denis Bernier/AICQ.

In December the premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, met with 350 young professionals of the Quebec Association of Consulting Engineers (AICQ) to explain a vast initiative the province has launched to develop its northern territories.

Quebec’s “Plan Nord” is an ambitious program to sustainably develop the areas north of the 49th parallel and north of the St. Lawrence, a territory covering nearly 1.2 million square kilometres, amounting to twice the land area of France. The entire area has 63 towns and communities. These are home to 120,000 people (less than 2% of Quebec’s population), of which 33,000 are Aboriginals.

The thrust of the government’s plan is to develop the north’s mining and energy resources, as well as forestry, bio-food and tourism. Just the first action plan covering the period 2011-2016 involves measures of over $1.6 billion, including $1.2 billion in infrastructure developments and $382 million for housing, healthcare and education.

The government insists that it will ensure a sustainable approach, “centred on the essential needs of local and Aboriginal communities, one that respects the environment and biodiversity.”

The plan calls for developing renewable energy projects to the tune of 3,000 MW in hydroelectricity, 300 MW in wind power and 200 MW in other renewable energy sources — at an estimated cost of $25 billion, providing 75,000 jobs in man-years. The energy will be used light up remote communities, but the government also wants to develop hydroelectricity projects at mine sites that are not in its main network “in order to respond specifically to the energy and power needs of such industrial projects.” The province says it will also fund studies to develop underwater generators.

In the mining sector, Northern Quebec’s resources include nickel, cobalt, platinum, zinc, iron ore as well as gold, lithium and rare-earth metals. The Plan Nord website says “there are already at least 11 new projects that could be launched in the coming years.” These projects would amount to $82.4 billion in investments and 11,000 jobs during the construction phase.

Simon Davidson of Roche Limited is the president of AICQ’s young professionals group. When they gathered to hear Mr. Charest it was at the Théâtre du Gésu in downtown Montreal on December 12. This was the seventh cocktail reception and gathering that the young professionals have held.

Davidson thanked the premier for coming to speak to the young consulting engineers and noted that several of their companies were already working on projects related to the Plan Nord.

Johanne Desrochers, president and CEO of AICQ, took the occasion to stress to the premier that consulting engineers contribute great value and expertise to the province and to assure him that the engineering companies would contribute to the success of Plan Nord.

Charest told the engineers the most immediate challenges were accessing workers and providing more housing and infrastructure.

To implement the plan Quebec has established a special fund, and a coordinating body, the “Société du Plan Nord.” The society’s board will have representatives of the regions, the Aboriginal nations, the private sector and the government. It will coordinate projects in the first five-year action plan and negotiate financing packages.

The province is also hoping to attract international investment and international qualified workers. According to a statement by Charest, the plan is to “further broaden Quebec’s approach centred on openness to the world and strategic alliances.”

Premier Jean Charest speaks to 350 young professionals at an event in Montreal organized by AICQ.  Photograph by Denis Bernier/AICQ.