Northern visions beat nationalist daydreams

Élection Québec - 8 décembre 2008

"Nickel, zinc, copper, platinum, gold, iron titanium, even diamonds!" Pack your bag, the stampede to the north is on!

Premier Jean Charest rolled out a northern vision last weekend, and fired up the troops at a Quebec Liberal Party meeting, speaking in front of huge screens showing a range of northern images - power dams, mines, settlements, noble caribou, leaping salmon ...
It was 50 years ago that John Diefenbaker rolled out a very similar "northern vision," and that optimistic emphasis on growth helped him win a big majority. Dief had a "roads to resources" program, but when commodity prices declined, the north was again largely left to the caribou, except for Distant Early Warning line radar stations. Other politicians, federal and provincial, have over the years also hinted at the wealth waiting for us up north. But this has rarely become meaningful policy.
The obvious exception to that is Robert Bourassa's promise of "power from the north," one of the most visionary and successful notions in Quebec's political and economic history. Our hydro projects have assured us of energy stability, enriched us, and left Quebec greener than any other power source could have done. New dams are being built and more are being planned now, and few oppose that work. The Charest government has been as industrious as any, and better than some, in exploiting this aspect of our geography.
Still, it's not so clear what else can or should be done to open Quebec's north. And in fact Charest's northern notion, which was presented in the context of a paean to Liberal economic stewardship, seemed to be more showmanship than solid planning.
Listing the precious and the merely valuable metals to be found in Quebec's vast north (as quoted above), Charest touched all the bases: We'll do this in full respect for the environment. We'll do it in co-operation with the natives who live there.
Oh, and we're still claiming those bits of Labrador. Everything a Quebec government does, it seems, must be relentlessly nationalistic.
There was more of that yesterday, as Charest jumped into the federal campaign with a shopping list of demands old and new. All this figured only slightly in the weekend party convention but that didn't stop Charest from calling for a Quebec seat on the CRTC, among other new powers.
We can't imagine what federal party would agree with that one, except perhaps those which can pander with no fear of ever getting elected and having to deliver. Quebecers have more to gain by concentrating on the north.

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