June 17, 2011

Quebec premier looks north

Historians tend to associate long-serving Quebec premiers with a certain legacy of their time in office.

Maurice Duplessis (1944-59) is the master of the "great darkness" of autocratic control and, ironically, the brightness brought by the electrification of rural Quebec.

Jean Lesage (1960-67) is the author of the revolution tranquille, which launched Quebec into secular modernity.

Rene Levesque (1976-85) shaped the province's secessionist movement into a powerful political force and staged the first referendum on sovereignty.

Robert Bourassa, although his second stint in office (1985-94) was consumed by constitutional matters, made his mark in his first term (1970-76) as the premier who started harnessing Quebec's immense hydroelectric potential. For this, he was known as Bob le Job for the massive employment that the hydro mega-projects in northern Quebec created.

The current premier, Jean Charest, just celebrated his eighth year in office, with at least another year to go before he calls an election. While he's done a lot of this and that, his rule has lacked a project with a larger vision than holding power for three straight elections.

Enter le plan Nord — or the Northern Plan — which sets out an ambitious goal to "shape and develop" northern Quebec's stupendous resources.

Charest rolled out the plan a month ago with a considerable amount of ceremony and with a lot of emphasis on Quebec's partnership with native communities. This would be a departure from Bourassa's blithe invasion of the mighty rivers of James Bay in the 1970s, which provoked years of native political militancy and litigation.

This time, the politicians from the south think they've done right by the first nations and Inuit communities who are now and will be affected by the sweeping Plan Nord. Indeed, one of the key combatants of rampant hydropower development on Cree territories, Grand Chief Mathew Coon-Come, was a proud signatory to the agreement.

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