The Government of Québec confirmed its intention to relaunch the Northern Plan by introducing Bill 11, An Act respecting the Société du Plan Nord, on September 30, 2014. Bill 11 reiterates the majority of the elements included in the former Bill 27, An Act respecting the Société du Plan Nord, introduced in 2011, which was examined by a parliamentary committee. However, Bill 11 contains new elements and incorporates differences when compared to the previous version.
Bill 11 establishes the Société du Plan Nord (the "Company"), whose mission is to contribute to the integrated and coherent development of the area covered by the Northern Plan (located north of the 49th degree of north latitude and north of the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence), in keeping with the principle of sustainable development and in accordance with the policy directions defined by the Government in relation to the Northern Plan. Thus, the current government has decided to replace the five-year action plans contemplated under the initial Northern Plan by policy directions.
Mission and powers
The mission and powers of the Société du Plan Nord provided for in Bill 27 are essentially reintroduced through Bill 11. They are:
- To coordinate, and contribute financially or otherwise to, the implementation of the policy directions;
- To coordinate infrastructure projects and, if applicable, to engage in infrastructure development and operation, alone or in partnership, including as a rail carrier;
- To assist and support local and Native communities in their development projects;
- To advise the Government on any matter the latter submits to it.
However Bill 11 adds the following powers for the Company:
- To carry out or contribute to research and development activities as well as activities to acquire knowledge of the area;
- To contribute to maximizing the economic spinoffs generated by the development of the natural resources in the area covered by the Northern Plan, in accordance with Québec's intergovernmental and international trade commitments.
These additional powers will contribute to further expand the scope of action of the Company.
Bill 11 provides for the establishment of a marketing office whose purpose is to communicate to Québec companies the needs, in terms of supply and equipment, of contractors operating in the area covered by the Northern Plan. The previous bill did not consider establishing a marketing office.
Sharing of private infrastructures
Bill 11 contains another important addition. It states that any person may use a government-designated infrastructure that is fully or partially privately owned, and that is located on public land in the area covered by the Northern Plan. However, only the infrastructure for which construction began after the coming into force of the act will be subject to this provision. Bill 11 provides for dispute resolution mechanisms if the owner and a user of the same infrastructure cannot reach an agreement to share the costs for construction, maintenance and operations.
As previously provided for in Bill 27, the Société du Plan Nord will prepare and submit to the Government for approval, a strategic plan setting out the objectives it is pursuing and the priorities it has established in accordance with the Government's policy directions relating to the Northern Plan.
Organization and Assembly of Partners
Bill 11 also introduces some changes to the bill introduced in 2011 regarding the organization of the Company. For example, it is no longer required that the head office of the Company be located in the area covered by the Northern Plan. It is, however, the creation of the Assembly of Partners that constitutes the main addition to the Société du Plan Nord.
The Assembly of Partners results from the positive experience of the initial implementation of the Northern Plan and demonstrates a concern for the acceptability of the deployment of this plan in the area of the Northern Plan. Its role is to provide its opinion on any matter the Minister or the Company submits to it in relation to the Company's mission or activities. In particular, it is provided that the Assembly will give its opinion on the Strategic Plan of the Company before it is sent to the Minister. The Assembly may also provide advice and recommendations on its own initiative. The members of the Assembly of Partners are appointed by the Company who will ensure that its composition is representative of the relevant local and Native communities, and main sectors of activity. It is to be noted that the opinions of the Assembly of Partners are not binding on the board of directors of the Company.
Financing of the Société du Plan Nord
The Company will finance its activities out of the contributions it receives from the Government, the fees it collects, including the fees collected for the use of an infrastructure under its responsibility and the sums from the Northern Plan Fund. It should be noted that Premier Couillard announced on September 30, 2014, that the Northern Plan Fund's capitalization will be approximately CA$63 million for the current year, and will reach CA$2 billion by 2035. Indeed, the Northern Plan's horizon now stretches over 20 years, rather than the 25-year period contemplated at the time the Northern Plan was initially launched in 2011.
It is expected that the majority of the provisions of Bill 11 will come into force on April 1, 2015, subject to certain provisions which will come into force 30 days after the date of assent of the Bill. The coming into force of some of these provisions is somewhat inconsistent, and this will likely be corrected during the course of enacting the bill. Special consultations will likely be held by a parliamentary committee in the upcoming weeks. Finally, it is to be noted that employees of the Ministère du Conseil exécutif assigned to the Secrétariat au Plan Nord will be transferred to the Company.
As expected, the implementation of the Northern Plan continues. Mr. Couillard's government seems determined to proceed with the implementation of all mechanisms required for the orderly deployment of the Northern Plan while the international business community continues to demonstrate its interest in this major plan.
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