Quebec's new Plan Nord will cost the province $2.7 billion over 20 years, the Liberal government announced on Wednesday.
Hydro-Québec will also be investing $20 billion over the same period. At the same time, the government will try to convince members of the private sector to invest an additional $17 billion, to cover the total cost of $50 billion.
Much of Quebec's cabinet, including Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pierre Arcand and Premier Philippe Couillard, came to Montreal to make the announcement.
They said the new natural resources development plan for Quebec's north will create thousands of jobs and hopefully attract $22 billion of investments in the province.
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The Plan Nord will cover 1.2 million square kilometres — nearly three quarters of the province`s land mass. It includes promises to protect half that area.
"Fifty per cent protected is not seen anywhere else on the planet," Couillard said.
This is the second attempt by a Quebec government to create a Plan Nord.
Former premier Jean Charest's government first presented the idea four years ago. At the time, it was hailed by the mining industry as a boon to the economy, but faced resistance from environmentalists, as well as Inuit and Cree groups.
$912M in infrastructure
The province will invest nearly $1 billion in new infrastructure over the next five years. It will focus on hydroelectricity development, which will be expanded under Plan Nord.
Transportation Minister Robert Poëti also announced plans to expand an airport in Nunavik, Que.
The plan also outlines investments in labour force training and education so that local and aboriginal communities can benefit as well.
In his remarks, the Premier said that aboriginal communities have been included and will continue to be consulted as the plan moves forward.
"You are special and essential partners for economic, social and cultural development of Quebec," Couillard said directly to members of the aboriginal communities in the audience.
The plan includes funding for housing, education, social services and culture.
Critics want commitments
People who live in the north say it's an improvement over previous plans.
"This time around, they're more conscious of First Nations and Inuit groups in the North," said Jobie Tukkiapik, president of Makivik Corporation, a social services organization.
Members of the Inuit community said there are still things left to negotiate.
"Inuit are not anti-development but we have to make sure there is a balance. Another thing that came out also is that our language, our identity, our culture is very important going forward."
Environmentalists say they're glad the government is promising to protect half the land, but would like a concrete commitment.
"We heard a lot about a lot of millions for the mining, forestry activities. But still, for the conservation, the envelope is not there. So I would say the main challenge now is to make sure we have the money," said Suzanne Méthot, regional director for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign.
The government said it will release more detailed information in the coming months.