The Quebec government’s “Plan Nord,” Premier Jean Charest’s vaguely defined election promise of multi-billion-dollar resource developments across the Ungava region, encountered some harsh criticism from some Native leaders during the government’s first consultation meeting with northern groups November 6.
“Without us, the Plan Nord is a Plan Mort [a dead plan],” said Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nations Chief for Quebec and Labrador. The AFNQL is particularly troubled by Quebec’s apparent determination to treat First Nations on the same level as northern municipalities.
“Our communities are not municipalities; our relationship must be one of nation to nation, government to government,” said Picard.
Predictably, representatives of non-Native northern towns enthusiastically welcomed the plan. Bernard Généreux, president of the Fédération Québécoise des Municipalités (FQM), called it a “unique chance to clear the table of old development models” and to diversify the economies of towns based on resource extraction.
In a release, Généreux said the FQM had “great hopes for the coordinated plan to occupy all of the territory,” as promised by Quebec’s Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Territory Occupation, Laurent Lessard.
Others are less than thrilled about Quebec’s “occupation” plans. Five Innu communities that would be affected by a planned $6.5 billion hydroelectric development on the Romaine River boycotted the Nov. 6 meeting. The project is the first of $19 billion in new energy projects that are predicted to add 3,500 megawatts to Hydro-Québec’s grid by 2035 – enough to supply power to about 600,000 homes.
For his part, Picard has requested that the federal government intervene to prevent the violation First Nations’ ancestral and modern treaty rights. In a letter sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Picard accused Harper of being an “accomplice” with Quebec in ignoring Supreme Court rulings on First Nations treaty rights and the obligation for consultation and accommodation.
The criticism isn’t unanimous, however. Grand Chief of the Crees Matthew Coon Come used the occasion to call on Charest to “renew the spirit of the Paix des Braves” by working together to develop the northern economy. He said the New Relationship Agreement and the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement already form the basis of a Plan Nord for the Crees.
And Pita Atami, the head of Makivik Corporation, had praise for conference host, Natural Resources Minister Nathalie Normandeau, for not imposing the government’s vision. He said the meeting helped him understand what the Plan Nord is all about.