Quebec Liberals recycle, relaunch Plan Nord

Budget offers millions for northern tourism, research and education, but few details


Quebec's 2014-15 budget directs $3.2 million into its northern tourism strategy, to attract visitors to regions like Nunavik and hire local operators. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Quebec’s 2014-15 budget directs $3.2 million into its northern tourism strategy, to attract visitors to regions like Nunavik and hire local operators. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

Quebec’s Liberal government delivered its first budget since the April 7 election June 4, outlining plans to slash the province’s $3.1 billion deficit and return to a balanced budget by 2016.

The government plans to do that by making cuts to spending in the public sector and hiking taxes on certain goods, like alcohol and cigarettes.

“We want Québec to create more wealth and our economy to support more jobs,” Quebec’s finance minister, Carlos Leitao, said in his June 4 budget address.

“At the same time, we want to end the structural imbalance in public finances that puts us deeper into debt each year and increasingly limits our freedom of action.”

With spending on hold, the new government — led by Premier Philippe Couillard — says it will focus on specific areas to help grow its economy, including the province’s natural resources sector.

In that vein, the Liberal government revived its Plan Nord, or Northern Plan, a blueprint for development above Quebec’s 49th parallel.

The plan, originally launched in 2011 under then-Premier Jean Charest’s Liberal government, at that time promised $1.2 billion for infrastructure across Quebec’s north, or in Nunavik’s case, studies to determine the feasibility of certain transportation links, such as roads and a deep water port.

But the plan was put on ice with the 2012 election of the Parti Québécois, who re-branded Plan Nord as Le Nord pour Tous (the North for all.)

At $868 million, the PQ plan came in at about $20 million less for infrastructure than its predecessor.

The re-launched Plan Nord will operate with the $63 million invested into a Plan Nord fund for 2014-15.

The new plan calls for the establishment of the Société du Plan Nord, to coordinate development with all of its partners, which the government says will include closer communication with Aboriginal communities.

That entity will spend $3.2 million on implemention of a northern tourism strategy, $3 million for a northern research centre and another $20 million to study a rail link to the mineral and metal-rich Labrador trough, south of Kuujjuaq.

That pledge is similar to one made in the previous Liberal government’s last budget in 2012.

The budget commits Quebec to continue towards its goal of protecting 50 per cent of the area north of the 49th parallel.

In addition to the Plan Nord-funded projects, the government announced a $100 million investment into education facilities across the north.

But the new budget makes little mention of Nunavik and offers nothing specific for the region.

More details about Plan Nord will be made public in the coming months, the budget said.

Other highlights of the 2014-15 budget include:

• $2.3 billion in health and social services;

• $250 million to build 3,000 social housing units across Quebec;

• $90.3 billion on infrastructure over 10 years;

• 6,300 new subsidized childcare spaces and 4,000 every year until the program reaches its goal of 250,000 spaces by 2022;

• the cancellation of the $2 increase planned for Quebec’s $7 a day childcare service proposed by the previous Parti Québécois government. Fees will instead be indexed according to the program’s cost, meaning parents could pay $7.30 a day staring this fall; and,

• and the tax on cigarette cartons (200 cigarettes) will increase by $4 or $0.50 per pack as of June 5.

You can find an English-language version of the budget here.

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