Quebec to press Trudeau government on border issue; Nunavik yet to weigh in

“We want to have reasonable access to the sea”


Quebec's northernmost border, shared with Nunavut, is indicated by the purple line. (IMAGE COURTESY OF ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES QUEBEC)

Quebec’s northernmost border, shared with Nunavut, is indicated by the purple line. (IMAGE COURTESY OF ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES QUEBEC)

With a new federal government in place, Quebec now hopes to gain the ear of federal officials on its request to extend its northern maritime boundaries.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard first raised the issue in a public letter to federal party leaders during the election campaign last August.

The issue: Quebec’s northernmost border stops at its shoreline, preventing the province from investing in major marine infrastructure projects, which if built today, would fall outside the province’s boundaries.

That has major consequences on the future development of the province, Quebec says.

“It’s a major problem for the province of Quebec, when you have your border so close to the shore that you can’t have a deep sea port,” said Jean Boucher, the member of Quebec’s National Assembly for Ungava, which includes the Nunavik region.

“It’s a file we really want to move on, and we want to see results.”

Quebec has yet to sit down with its new federal counterparts, but its neighbour directly to the north, Nunavut, has already made its position clear.

Premier Peter Taptuna told the legislative assembly last month that the territory has no interest in discussing the issue.

Quebec intends to pursue the matter, regardless, Boucher said.

“We don’t want to steal anything from Nunavut, but we want to have reasonable access to the sea, like every other province in the country,” he said.

The issue dates back to the 1912 Quebec Boundary Extension Act, when what was then the Ungava district was formally transferred from the Northwest Territories to Quebec.

But why the border was fixed along Quebec’s shoreline is a mystery, says Montreal-based lawyer Mathieu Jacques, who has studied the border issue.

“At that time, Quebec made the demand to say the water and the islands should be included,” he said. “The federal government refused… and it’s never been extremely clear why.”

That claim was then forgotten for about 100 years, Jacques said, until Quebec launched its Plan Nord and realized the potential for development.

But Jacques noted that it’s an issue that not only affects Quebec. The borders of Ontario and Manitoba are also fixed along the shoreline, something he considers unique in the world.

“Who would want to build infrastructure in another province?” he said. “It makes no sense.”

Under the original Plan Nord, launched by a previous Liberal government in 2011, Quebec has promised a deep sea port at Kuuujjuaraapik, to the tune of about $32 million.

Under the scaled-back Plan Nord re-launched earlier this year, Boucher is clear that his government has yet to commit to any specific marine infrastructure projects, but rather sees the potential for investment in maritime shipping in the years to come.

While those developments could have positive spin-offs for the region of Nunavik, its leadership has been mostly silent so far on the issue of extending its coastal border.

The Kativik Regional Government has declined to comment on the matter, and Makivik Corp. has not indicated if Nunavik Inuit are in favour of such an extension.

The birthright organization has only stressed the obligation of government to consult Inuit in the region should such a negotiation take place.

Nunavik Inuit have signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement as well as the Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement, treaties protected by Section 35 of the Constitution Act.

A border extension would likely require a constitutional amendment in which the federal government would have to cede territory to Quebec.

“Any effort by Quebec to extend its boundaries beyond the shoreline of Quebec will require major changes to both the JBNQA and NLCA treaties,” Makivik said in a Nov. 4 statement sent to Nunatsiaq News.

“So Quebec cannot extend its boundaries without Nunavik Inuit consent.”

For that reason alone, the issue has potential to become divisive.

Boucher said there’s no question that land claims beneficiaries will be at the table if and when the discussion happens, but he said there should be no doubt that a border extension would be an asset to his constituents.

“For sure, the Cree are more in favour of this,” he said. “On the Inuit side, we haven’t had any discussions yet.

“But I don’t see any reason why they should be against it,” he added. “It’s a plus for the region, a plus for Nunavik and a plus for Quebec.”

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