Change or the status quo? That’s the choice facing the First Nations communities living in the Ungava district.
While the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) trumpets the promise and potential of the Plan Nord, the Parti Québécois (PQ) and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) are presenting the idea that they can bring positive changes for the communities that will be affected by the province’s northern development plan.
Gerald Lemoyne is running for the PLQ in Ungava, trying to unseat PQ representative Luc Ferland. Lemoyne, the former mayor of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, argues that the Plan Nord was conceived with and for the people it will affect most.
“We worked with the Cree Nation in developing the Plan Nord,” said Lemoyne. “Having been designed with the people living on the territory, the plan will lead to its development, and was constructed, first and foremost, to benefit those very people.”
Lemoyne also spoke of the dangers that come with giving the PQ a chance to run the government. He accused the PQ of trying to obstruct the Société du Plan Nord, the group given the task of overseeing the implementation of the project, from its inception.
For his part, Ferland wants his constituents to know that the Plan Nord, although good in theory, still suffers from major flaws.
“We’ve never been against northern development,” said Ferland. “We adopted a policy of northern development in 2001 under PQ leadership. We’re convinced that we can get more for our resources.
“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the mineral market was weak,” he added. “Right now, we’re in a period where the price of minerals is booming. With only a 16% return, what happens to the Plan Nord if the mineral market softens? The 16% returns on natural resources is utterly insufficient.”
Ferland, as well as CAQ candidate Stéphane Robichaud, also criticized the Plan Nord for focusing solely on the extraction and exportation of raw materials.
“The government has consistently refused to consider the second and third transformation of raw materials,” said Ferland. “We think it’s possible to process these materials right here in Quebec, to create twice the amount of jobs. We’re convinced that the Plan Nord was designed for partisan and political interests.”
Taking a similar tone, Robichaud warned that the current structure of the Plan Nord leaves many northern communities vulnerable to market forces.
“The CAQ has a more integrated approach,” he said. “It’s one that, if the price of minerals changes on the world market, the industry won’t die and we won’t be left with ghost towns.”
In response to these criticisms, Lemoyne has argued that the government is getting the best possible deal with regards to the return on natural resources. Referring to a recent study conducted by strategic management giant KPMG-SECOR, he argues that the current plan has been proven to be the most effective way of attracting investment to the province.
Aside from development strategies, the competing candidates warned that representation and corruption should also be on the minds of voters when heading to the ballot box.
“I’m not from northern Quebec and nobody knows me, but to me that’s an advantage,” said Robichaud. “When nobody knows you, you don’t owe anything to anyone. I don’t have a municipality that I’m forced to please because I used to be the mayor.
“I want to stress the idea of representation,” he added. “This is a huge region with distinct communities and distinct goals. I’m responsible to the entire district.”
Ferland added that giving the PLQ another term in office would be a dangerous situation, especially for the First Nations communities of northern Quebec.
“Like all Quebecers, the Cree population is watching the news,” he said. “The people are aware of all the events that touch on the issue of corruption. This region is about to see a huge amount of construction, in roads and within Cree communities. That comes with a sense of urgency to clean up the government.”
Rounding out the list of candidates is Sylvain Couture with Québec Solidaire and Dominic Hamelin-Johnston with Option Nationale.