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Investment needed to ensure returns on Quebec's Plan Nord

Eira Thomas, Executive Chairman and Director of Stornoway Diamond Corporation, discusses a project with Nick Thomas, manager of investor relations, in their offices located in North Vancouver.

LAURA LEYSHON/laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

Companies stand to benefit from the anticipated mining boom in northern Quebec, but they need to start building the right infrastructure projects now to capitalize on the opportunity.

The Quebec government's ambitious $80-billion, 25-year plan to open up the vast, remote northern region of the province requires that they play a much more hands-on role in the critical development of infrastructure.

"It's important for mining companies to be pro-active in the decision-making process because there is a need for good preparation and for clear outline of public sector-private sector responsibilities such as who will be in charge of road maintenance over the long term," said Daniel Roth, Ernst & Young's head of the Montreal-based infrastructure advisory service.

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Infrastructure access has become more of an issue for mining companies around the world in the past year, Ernst & Young says in its annual report on the business risks facing the mining and metals sector.

The report cites the lack of adequate rail networks as the largest current global bottleneck.

Companies need to do more to reduce the risk of capacity constraints due to infrastructure gaps that could mean loss of market share as competitors step in to fill the gap, according to E&Y.

Quebec has so far shown encouraging signs it's committed to playing a major role in the development of much-needed new infrastructure in the remote North, but companies also need to act strategically and in innovative ways to make sure the projects get the attention and financing they need, said Mr. Roth.

A good example is the recent signing of two financing agreements between the provincial government and Stornoway Diamond Corp. for the construction and maintenance costs of an extension of Route 167, in north-central Quebec.

The 243-kilometre extension will lead to the Stornoway's Renard property in the James Bay area, where it is developing Quebec's first diamond mine.

Stornoway will contribute $44-million over a 10-year period to the $331-million extension. Stornoway's share will be financed by a loan from the province.

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In the first phase of the 25-year Plan Nord, Quebec plans to spend $2.1-billion, with $1.2-billion earmarked for infrastructure, $382-million for health, education and housing programs and $500-million in venture capital investments.

Quebec is also studying the possibility of building a deepwater port at Whapmagoostui, on Hudson's Bay.

Northern Quebec is rich in untapped deposits of iron ore, copper, nickel, zinc, gold, uranium, cobalt, diamonds and other metals.

For Rex Loesby, president and chief executive of Toronto-based Western Troy Capital Resources Inc. – which has a copper-molybdenum project at MacLeod Lake about 275 kilometres north of Chibougamau – says a key concern is building infrastructure not only for the short-term life of the mines but for the long-term needs of the First Nations and Inuit communities.

"We're working with the Cree to make sure they're on board. Our project will have a life of 10 to 20 years, but there has to be sustainable development for the long run," he said.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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