A View From Both Sides

A protestor confronts a conference attendee as he tries to enter the Palais des congrès during Friday’s demonstration. Photo Erin Sparks

The Upside of Plan Nord:
Spokespeople Defend Quebec Mining Industry at Employment Fair

by Michael Wrobel

While protesters rallied passionately outside Montreal’s convention centre in opposition, business leaders inside the Salon des ressources naturelles defended the mining industry’s practices and protocol in northern Quebec.

The convention—held Feb. 8 and Feb. 9 at the Palais des congrès de Montréal—was met with two days of rowdy demonstrations that saw hundreds speak out against Plan Nord.

The View From Inside

“Of course, in Quebec, we have freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and this is an interesting opportunity for those who are concerned about social causes to come out and make their points of view known,” said Jean Carrier, president and CEO of the Institut national des mines, a government agency that oversees mining education and training programs in the province.

“[But] often, the people who are demonstrating against the mining industry or the principle of royalties don’t perhaps have all the information needed to arrive at conclusions that are objective.”

The mining industry has come a long way in terms of environmental restoration and sustainability, according to Guylaine Beaupré, the communications manager at the Comité sectoriel de main-d’oeuvre de l’industrie des mines, an organization that brings together business leaders and workers’ associations.

“Everything has been organized even before the beginning of exploration in terms of what will be done to restore the site,” she said. “It’s not like 40 years ago when we’d leave mines open to the sky and the site would be completely contaminated by chemicals.”

Beaupré says that such negligence is no longer tolerated, and that now, prior to any construction, a restoration plan must already have been drafted.

She said mining companies do a lot to make sure that their projects are socially acceptable to the communities in which they operate.

“The mining companies that have upstart projects do a lot of public consultation,” she said. “They are very implicated on the community level, on the level of their immediate environment.”

A Constructive Collaboration

Beaupré thinks a misunderstanding of work being done is responsible for the negative perception people have of the mining industry.

Beyond restoring the environment and providing funds to community projects, she said, mining companies also provide employment, create wealth and extract the minerals that go into the products we use every day.

For this reason, Beaupré objects to the notion that mining companies are simply “depleting resources” without benefiting local communities.

“[Mining companies] put in hundreds of thousands of dollars in foundations, in the infrastructure of the towns. If we spoke to people in Matagami or in Fermont, these people aren’t opposed to the mines,” she said.

Céliane Dorval, a spokesperson for Xstrata Nickel, said the company’s Raglan mine in northern Quebec has a good relationship with nearby Inuit communities.

Xstrata signed the Raglan Agreement in 1995 in order to guarantee a “close dialogue” with affected nearby communities and to make sure that the mine is a win-win for all involved.

“Among other things, we have a profit-sharing clause, which means that each year we give a percentage of our profits in benefits to the neighbouring Inuit communities and to the Makivik Corporation, which is responsible for the socio-economic development of Nunavik.”

Dorval also says that Xstrata offers a two-year training program and employment opportunities to residents of the Inuit communities of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq.

“Around 18 per cent of our employees are Inuit,” she said. “We’re very proud of that, though we’re always looking to reach the 20 per cent mark.”

Demystifying Mines

Nathalie LeMay, the communications department head at Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium, said increasing the “social acceptability” of a project requires far more than a mere public relations exercise.

“It’s about working collaboratively with the milieu, or of finding ways for both parties to benefit from the development of a new mine—or even from an existing mine,” she said. “If I give the example of our Havre-Saint-Pierre mine, which has been operating for 60 years, we’ve noticed that there are new ways of working with communities that are near the site, to understand their needs, as well as those of the company, and to see how we can work together.”

LeMay said that Rio Tinto tries to put in place structures that ensure communities continue to benefit even after a mine has closed.

As for the protests against the Plan Nord, the provincial government’s plan for northern development, Beaupré said that more could be done to “demystify” the benefits of mining development among the public—but that the protesters’ positions constitute a minority view.

“They’re marginal, the people who protest against [the mining projects],” she said. “I can understand that there are people who will be repulsed, but if tomorrow morning we told them that they no longer had their smart phones and their computers because we can no longer explore the mines—I’m not sure that these people would want it to go down like that.”

According to the Montreal police, a total of 36 arrests were made on Saturday—32 for illegal assembly, three for assaults against an officer, and one arrest for handling of stolen goods.

The Downside of Plan Nord:
Environmental Concerns Plague Northern Quebec Development Project

by Jane Gatensby

On May 9, 2011, then-premier Jean Charest launched the Plan Nord, an ambitious $80 billion development project aiming to build infrastructure in Quebec’s northern regions. Nearly two years later, the project’s still a magnet for controversy.

The plan proposed to find and extract mineral resource deposits, and to develop tourism, energy, forestry, wildlife and bio-food industries north of the 49th parallel.

The Plan Nord promises to generate $14 billion in revenue over the next 25 years, according to government estimates, during which time it will create or consolidate an average of 20,000 jobs a year.

The project has attracted significant backlash since it was announced, however. Last April, a protest at the first Salon du Plan Nord caused general mayhem in and around the Palais des congrès de Montréal, with close to 100 protesters arrested.

Since then, the project has managed to cause outcry among environmentalists and anti-capitalists—and everyone in between.

“Northern Quebec is a fragile place,” said Greenpeace Quebec director Nicolas Mainville in an April 2012 press release.

“Greenpeace has identified two virgin forests, la Vallée de la Broadback and les Montagnes Blanches, as priority areas for protection, but the government is going ahead with plans for mining in these areas.

“The exploitation of natural resources will have irreversible effects on the environment, populations and their way of life,” echoed a May 2011 petition from the group Innu Power.

“The Plan Nord aims to exploit a maximum of resources over the short term, thereby neglecting the respect and rights of future generations.”

Despite widespread outcry and a change in government, the Plan Nord survived Jean Charest’s exit and is now in the hands of the present Parti Québécois government.

In December, Premier Pauline Marois announced her intention to proceed with natural resource negotiations with the Atikamekw First Nation, expecting to come to an agreement by July 2013.

“Hydroelectric development in the Great North should be done with the respect of residents and their environment in mind,” reads the PQ website. “The Charest government, however, didn’t hesitate to announce its ‘plan’ (which wasn’t one) before even having consulted those it affects the most.”

While the Plan Nord has been updated, dissent has held firm.

“The pillagers are gathering,” proclaimed Anti-Capitalist Convergence Montreal on its website, in preparation of the demonstration on Jan. 8.

“Sponsored largely by mining (Osisko) and tar sands (Enbridge), the profiteers are preparing the assimilation of indigenous communities into their industrial framework, and into their large-scale destruction of the wild,” the message continued.

The union federation Confédération des syndicates nationaux has also come out in opposition to the project.

The CSN said that, while northern development is important, it must also “be done in a perspective of sustainable development that assures the respect of aboriginal rights and of local communities, and that protects biodiversity and the exceptional ecosystems found in Northern Quebec.”