April 11, 2014
Title: Regime change could boost Quebec mining
Sub-title: Greg Rickford, the new federal natural resources minister promises cooperation with the recently elected federalist Quebec Liberal government
Quebec’s extraction industries could see renewed vigour following the election of the Philippe Couillard-led Liberal provincial government. So says Greg Rickford, Canada’s recently appointed federal Minister of Natural Resources, who took office in March. “We want to extend our hand to work together,” said Rickford in a mid-April presentation to the Conseil des Relations Internationales de Montréal (CORIM), his first to a Quebec audience.
Rickford cited several areas of potential cooperation during his speech and in a briefing afterwards with reporters. These included a better climate on federal-provincial joint review panels, implementation of the 2011 Canada-Quebec agreement related to the development of hydrocarbons in the Saint Lawrence River, mine safety issues, and building new export markets.
Rickford’s openness coincided with rising natural resource prices, particularly gold, since the start of the year, which have boosted investor interest in Quebec. Harper Government officials say that the province’s previous Parti Québécois government, led by Pauline Marois, hampered mining sector development as federal-provincial discussions were constantly overhung by fears that the sovereignists would create disagreements in order to advance their separatist agenda.
“We always liked the Plan Nord,” said Rickford, referring to the previous Liberal administration’s plan to develop minerals in the province’s northern region. That plan was essentially put on hold by following the Parti Québécois defeat of the Liberal Charest government in 2012. The Parti Québécois regime was widely seen as having also done further damage to Quebec’s mining friendly reputation through its efforts to toughen the existing royalty regime.
Several aspects of Rickford’s biography suggest that he will extend more than just a friendly ear to Quebec mining sector stakeholders. The new minister hails from Northern Ontario’s “ring of fire” mining region, and has a background in dealing with Indian affairs and northern development. Rickford also completed both law school and his MBA in Quebec, and in his first press conference demonstrated a good knowledge of local issues.
Raymond Chretien, CORIM’s chairman, agreed with Rickford’s optimism about the province’s resource extraction sector, saying that the new federalist Couillard regime would bring “four years of stability.” Chretien added that recent challenges with the proposed North Gateway and Keystone pipelines increased the chances of a possible direction flow reversal of Enbridge’s 9B pipeline (that would see shipments of Alberta oil sands production to terminals in Montreal and possibly Quebec City). This change would boost economic development in Quebec and reduce the province’s dependency on foreign energy sources.
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