Plan Nord Versus Grow North: Quebec’s Northern Policy Trumps Ontario’s – by Livio Di Matteo

Livio Di Matteo is Professor of Economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Visit his new Economics Blog “Northern Economist” at http://ldimatte.shawwebspace.ca/

May 9, 2011

Quebec has just announced its own northern growth plan and it appears to be more focused and concrete in resource allocation terms than the recently released Ontario Northern Growth Plan.   Ontario’s Northern Growth Plan was “a call to action and a roadmap for change” organized to provide policy direction for growth around six principles: (1) a globally competitive economy, (2) education and skllls for a knowledge economy, (3) aboriginal partnership, (4) networks of social, transport and communications infrastructure, (5) sustainable environment and (6) innovative partnerships to maximize resource potential.

The plan had detailed checklist for short, medium and long-term actions that required implementation and of course more planning including regional plans within the region.  Indeed, if one could summarize the Ontario plan, it is simply a plan to rule all plans and the planning is not over yet.  The major resource announcements that accompanied it were five million dollars for a policy institute (on which little has been said since) and a few million dollars to begin integrated transport planning.

Contrast this to Quebec’s vision for its own north, which is being touted as “The Project of a Generation”.  According to Premier Charest “The Plan Nord is ambitious. Its implementation will necessitate essential investments to facilitate access to the territory and enhance the quality of life of its inhabitants.  The new business model developed in respect of projects under the Plan Nord has unquestionably altered the manner in which Québec will fund infrastructure and public services. Starting today, construction and maintenance costs will be shared throughout the infrastructure’s useful life by businesses, the communities concerned, the gouvernement du Québec and other users.”

Indeed, the Quebec government is establishing a crown corporation – the Societe du Plan –to carry out projects and coordinate all of the investments. The government corporation will oversee the public investments in the social and transportation infrastructure sectors. The first action plan under the Plan Nord covers the period 2011-2016, during which the gouvernement du Québec will implement measures totaling $2.1 billion. Of this amount, nearly $1.2 billion will be earmarked for infrastructure development and $382 million for social measures related to housing, health, the reduction of transportation costs, and education.

In addition, Investissement Québec will manage a special $500-million allocation to enable Quebecers to acquire equity participations in investment projects in the North.  This phase is apparently only the beginning.  The Plan Nord will be carried out over 25 years and lead to 80 billion dollars in investment and create on average 20,000 jobs per year in energy, mining, forestry, transportation and infrastructure to develop Quebec’s vast northern region.  The mining portion alone of this plan is being touted as the largest natural resource project in Quebec since the hydroelectric development of the 1970s. Plan Nord may be part hype and the future implementation remains to be seen but it seems a lot more focused than the vapid prognostications set out in Ontario’s plan. 

The tone of the entire plan is dynamic.  The Plan Nord is “The Project of a Generation” that sets forth a new investment frontier while Ontario’s Grow North Plan is to quote:” in part an economic development plan, an infrastructure investment plan, a labour market plan and a land-use plan. It is a plan that recognizes the interconnected contribution of people, communities, infrastructure and the environment to a successful and sustainable economy. It is a plan that recognizes and builds upon the unique characteristics of Northern Ontario, including a bilingual workforce in many communities.” 

No doubt, the Quebec government at minimum has access to better marketing consultants than the Ontario government. Quebec’s Northern Policy seems to trump Ontario’s in both tone and content.  Quebec has said oui a un Nord qui ose!  Ontario is still planning to plan.

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