In May 2011, the Quebec Liberal government issued a 172-page promotional document, presenting Quebec’s new 25-year plan for “an exemplary sustainable development project” (Quebec, 2011a, p. 7). The Plan Nord, as it was called under Jean Charest’s governance, is an ambitious plan to develop Quebec’s economic potential; to open the province to the world. It underlines the partnership with and respect of First Nations, Inuit and local communities; an obvious statement since the Plan Nord covers the northern territory of Quebec, above the 49th parallel where potential development would mostly encompass Aboriginal lands (Quebec, 2011b).
Even the 28-page document presenting highlights of the Plan Nord, made the it sound hopeful and promising, inspiring readers with words like: improvement, participation, transparency, sustainable and mutual respect (Quebec, 2011b). Still, I couldn’t help but question the true objectives of this new plan. If I may resume it simply, the plan is mainly about hydropower developments and foreign investments in Quebec’s mineral potential. However, I was curious about other components of this elaborate Plan Nord, like the ones related to environmental protection and the enhancement of Aboriginal living conditions. For instance, the plan states that 50% of the covered territory will be protected from development, promoting, among other things, biodiversity preservation and the increase of protected areas from 9.4% in 2010 to 12% by 2015 (Quebec, 2011a, p.101); less than a 3% increase in 5 years. Would it be cynical to assume that the 50% they will protect from development will apply to territories with no mining or other developmental potential anyway? It would be better than nothing, no doubt.
Moreover, given the complex history and relationship between Aboriginal communities and the government, reactions to the Plan Nord have been unsurprisingly not all positive. With the inclusion of education and housing action plans, integrated transportation and communication network developments as well as the promise of enhancement of health and social services for local and Aboriginal communities, the plan may seem to present positive consequences of development in their territory but these benefits do not necessarily mean as much to these communities. For example, in Mallinder’s (2012) article, she described how the Innu community has been making an effort to return to the traditional ways of hunting and gathering, teaching their children so they can preserve their way of life; they “just want things to stay the same” (para. 13), hence new infrastructures changing their ancestral lands are meaningless if not harmful.
In fact, a number of protests arose as a consequence of the Plan Nord. Last year, a group of Innu women embarked on a near one-month march from Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam close to Sept-Îles to arrive in Montreal on April 22nd, 2012, to join other groups of the “Salon Plan Nord” protesters (Mallinder, 2012). The 2012 convention wreaked havoc in the city and public opinion did not change this year as just last month, demonstrators showed their opposition at the “Salon des ressources naturelles”, the renamed convention under Pauline Marois’ governance, at the Palais des Congrès (The Canadian Press, 2013). In June 2012, Greenpeace demonstrated in a more “peaceful” manner by organising a die-in in Montreal’s Place-des-Arts; the Plan Nord, for many represents the premeditated death of Quebec (Dumont, 2012). It was also referred to as the “Plan Mort” with the change in government last September 4th (German, 2012). The fate of Charest’s plan was uncertain under the Parti Québécois’ rules but after criticizing the Plan Nord, Marois did not bury it and re-baptized it the “Nord pour tous” (Besner, 2013).
Furthermore, did the Plan Nord ever undergo a strategic environmental assessment (SEA), which would have helped Quebec’s campaign for sustainable development? Not yet. In the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment (JBACE) 2011-2012 annual report, they did underline their recommendation to the government to conduct a SEA of the Plan Nord (JBACE, 2012). According the JBACE (2012), a SEA is essential to address major environmental and social issues that can potentially result from the accelerated development of the territory. The annual report also mentioned the meeting between JBACE members and the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, held in June 2011 where they discussed, among other things, their SEA proposal. With the recent change in government, the JBACE may have to make their case once again.
The Plan Nord has a new name, a new leadership and may undergo a few other changes, such as the proposed mining royalty and tax regime review, which has raised concerns among mining stakeholders (Ward et al., 2013) and may somehow appease environmentalists. Nevertheless, no matter how it may be dressed up or down, many will still see the Plan Nord as Quebec’s premeditated death.
Besner, M.-n. (2013, January 21). Le « Nord pour tous » plutôt que le « Plan Nord ». Le Mouton Noir. Retrieved from: http://www.moutonnoir.com/2013/01/le-%C2%AB-nord-pour-tous-%C2%BB-plutot-que-le-%C2%AB-plan-nord-%C2%BB/
Dumont, P. (2012, July 5). Le Plan Nord veut-il notre mort? Greenpeace. Retrieved from: http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/fr/Blog/le-plan-nord-veut-il-notre-mort/blog/41246/
German, A. (2012, November 2). Plan Nord or Plan Mort? Nation magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.nationnews.ca/index.php?option=com_zine&view=article&id=1656:plan-nord-or-plan-mort-
James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment (JBACE) (2012). Annual report 2011-2012. Retrieved from: http://www.ccebj-jbace.ca/english/publications/documents/JBACE_2011_12.pdf
Mallinder, L. (2012, April 13). Innu women march against Hydro-Quebec project. The Star.com. Retrieved from:
Québec (2011a). Plan Nord – Building Northern Québec together – First Action plan. Retrieved from: http://www.plannord.gouv.qc.ca/english/documentation/index.asp
Québec (2011b). Plan Nord – Building Northern Québec together – The Project of a Generation- Highlights. Retrieved from: http://www.plannord.gouv.qc.ca/english/documentation/index.asp
The Canadian Press (2013, February 9). Dozens arrested as protesters target Plan Nord conference in Montreal. Montrealgazette.com. Retrieved from: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Dozens+arrested+protesters+target+Plan+Nord+conference+Montreal/7943300/story.html
Ward, S., Paradis, F, Gagnon, H.-P. (2013, March 13). Plan Nord – Québec Tables a Consultation Paper on its Proposed New Mining Royalty Regime. Osler. Retrieved from: http://www.osler.com/NewsResources/Plan-Nord%E2%80%93Quebec-Tables-a-Consultation-Paper-on-its-Proposed-New-Mining-Royalty-Regime/