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Plan Nord' exploited

Mining, energy Charest would expand Hydro-Québec output

WILLIAM MARSDEN, The Gazette

Published: 14 hours ago

 

Premier Jean Charest ventured into solid Parti Québécois territory yesterday where he announced his government's intention to supercharge Hydro-Québec with $19 billion in new energy projects as part of his plan to open Quebec's north to massive development and resource exploitation and make the province an economic powerhouse.

 

"We are the party that forges Quebec's future," he told an audience of Liberal faithful huddled under a large white tent erected in the rain-soaked Port of Sept Îles.

 

As part of a continued string of staged events where local Liberals pack the crowd, the premier used the opening of new port facilities in Sept Îles, which were actually completed two years ago, to hammer home his vision of turning Quebec's north into an economic powerhouse of mining and energy exploitation. He calls it the "Plan Nord."

 

His said new energy expansion plans that will add 3,500 megawatts to Hydro-Québec's grid by 2035. That's enough power to run about 600,000 homes - or Quebec City.

 

Charest traveled in a chartered plane from Montreal to Sept Îles Thursday with his wife, Michelle, and then flew yesterday to the town of Gaspé to tour a Danish factory called LM Glasfiber that makes windmill blades.

 

From Montreal to the Gaspé, every time he tours a plant, the Liberals make sure workers are lined up to shake his hand for the cameras. The Liberals campaign slogan, "The economy first, yes?" festoons his podiums and he never fails to mention the need for a majority government to navigate the province through the international slowdown.

 

Yet in most of the areas he visits, the economy is doing well. With the exception of forestry, most other resource industries continue to thrive.

 

So Charest warns of an "approaching storm." But it's a hard sell. Unless you are at sea, it's hard to see the hurricane before it hits and Charest finds himself frequently questioned about the embattled health-care system. This problem he blames on Pauline Marois and the PQ when they retired thousands of nurses and doctors in the late 1990s, creating a huge deficit of medical staff.

 

He argues that without wealth generation Quebec cannot maintain its social services. Yet the expansion plans he announced yesterday won't see the light of day until at least 2015. So he tries to appeal to Quebecer's pride.

 

"Quebec's north is mineral resources, it's energy for the future, clean and renewable energy. It's energy that we have developed and it's energy that is in our genes," he told the audience to great applause. "We have to plan for the future, for the future of our children," he said.

 

Hydro-Québec is about to embark on several giant projects that will add another 4,500 megawatts to the grid, increasing its overall capacity of 38,000 megawatts by about 12 per cent. They will exact a high environmental price, environmentalists say.

 

Charest hopes the grandeur of his economic vision will entrance Quebecers to support his Plan Nord strategy.

 

He links it with signing labour mobility agreements with France and Ontario, which he claims will help open new markets for Quebec's resources. But even here it often sounds as though he wants to give jobs to foreigners. Yet it's hard to gage audience reaction, since they are all Liberals.

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