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.
Coon-Come's reward for signing on to the Plan Nord was an agreement guaranteeing the Cree of northern Quebec control of some 65,000 square kilometres, or 20 percent of the James Bay territory. There are some 18,000 Cree living in nine villages in Northern Quebec.
Other elements of the Plan Nord agreement with the Cree and other native groups, such as 10,000 Inuit in 14 villages, involve partnerships in the wide range of resource development projects the plan envisions. It's hard to understate the enormity of the resource potential for a region previously known as a vast wasteland of cold and muskeg, which supplies the province and several client provinces and states with hydropower and foreign visitors with caribou, fish and wilderness adventure.
But in recent years, with advances in geological exploration and a mounting global hunger for minerals, Quebec's north is being viewed as a fabulous treasure chest stocked with practically every mineral under the sun from diamonds to rare earths.
The harbinger of the type of resource boom afoot in the province is the spectacular surge in iron-ore production deep in the interior of Quebec's north shore, in places like Fermont and Schefferville, which had been either abandoned or on low-hum for decades. Where once unemployment and despair characterized the north shore, the problems now are labour and housing shortages.
On paper, the Plan Nord calls for some $80 billion in investments, mostly from private capital, over a span of 25 years. Naturally, all this depends on the wiles of the global economy and the willingness of corporations to play by Quebec's rules for development.
In that regard, Charest is hitting the road as No. 1 provincial salesman to stir interest and investment in the Plan Nord. He was in New York City this week to speak to business and political leaders, and then next week he heads to Europe.
While some native groups and environmentalist have vowed to fight certain aspects of the plan — uranium exploration and further hydro projects foremost — polls show Charest has already sold a strong majority of Quebecers on the merits of enlightened development of the province's resources.
And that may mean Charest's legacy is assured as the father of the Plan Nord.
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.