Canada's Quebec province opens up north for mining

Quebec"s Premier Jean Charest speaks during the presentation of the Plan Nord The plans to develop Quebec's wilderness will create thousands of jobs, says Jean Charest

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A large area of northern Canada is to be opened up to mining, energy and forestry projects.

The government of Quebec has unveiled a massive plan to develop a largely inhospitable but untouched area in the north of the province.

The "Plan Nord" aims to turn 1.2 million sq km of land into a major area of mining and renewable energy.

The plan also aims to ensure that half of the area will be environmentally protected.

"It is one of the world's last virgin territories," said Quebec's Premier Jean Charest.

"It's also a fragile territory and a territory of great richness and it's also a responsibility."

Huge potential

The area is rich in deposits of nickel, cobalt, platinum, zinc, iron ore and rare earth minerals.

"Northern Quebec has incomparable mining potential," said natural resources minister Sege Simard.

The plan includes 11 new mining projects, the development of renewable energy resources (mainly hydro-electric projects), sustainable forestry and a huge infrastructure programme.

This part of Canada is so remote that new roads, airports, and even a deep sea port will have to built to get the raw materials out to sell them to the outside world.

The government of Quebec said that everyone in the province would benefit.

"(Plan Nord) will create or consolidate 20,000 jobs a year, on average, and generate C$14bn (£8.86bn; $14.5bn) in revenue for the government and Quebec society," said Mr Charest.

With global appetite for raw materials growing, mining companies are likely to keen to invest in the region.

Arcelor Mittal, Xstrata, Tata Steel and Barrick Gold are just some of the companies who are already active there.

According to the plan, mining regulations will be amended to ensure the government obtains what it calls a "fair return" from the development of natural resources.

Sceptical

However, the plan will be scrutinised by environmental groups and indigenous people.

The government says that Plan Nord will mean better jobs, housing and education for the local Inuit people who often live in poor, remote communities.

But CBC reporter Tim de Boyce told the BBC: "All of them are sceptical. They point to past agreements where certain things were promised and feel that they were short-changed by the government in the south."

Announcing the plan, Mr Charest said it was hoped that the project would be "one of the most environmentally sustainable projects for the world".

The goal has been welcomed by environmental groups.

"There are no models for this type of conservation planning on such a grand scale," said Matthew Jacobson of the Pew Environmental Group, but he commended Quebec for not undermining the environment with plans for excessive economic growth.

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