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Quebec, Bombardier founding family plan $1-billion cement project

Quebec's National Assembly building is seen in this file photo.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Bombardier's founding family is partnering with Quebec's government and two provincial agencies to invest $1-billion in a new cement plant in the Gaspe region.

The project is expected to support about 2,300 jobs during the construction phase. In addition, it will support about 400 jobs during operation, about 200 of them direct jobs.

The project is being led by McInnis Cement, a company formed by members of the family that founded Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) and its spinoff, BRP Inc. (TSX:DOO).

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The Quebec government will provide a guaranteed loan worth about $250-million. The province's investment arm will invest $100-million and the Caisse de depot pension management system will invest an additional $100-million.

The location in the community of Port-Daniel-Gascons was selected because of its rich limestone formations and proximity to maritime shipping that will carry 95 per cent of annual production.

The plant is welcome news for an area of Quebec that suffers from high unemployment.

But rivals in the cement industry say government funding will threaten other jobs in the province.

The Canadian Cement Association criticized the government, however, for supporting the project that will add unneeded supply.

Association president Michael McSweeney said the new plant would compete directly with Quebec producers at a time when 60 per cent of their capacity sits idled.

"The government's financial participation in the project jeopardizes jobs and existing plants," he said before the announcement after reports surfaced late last week.

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French-based Lafarge, which is partially owned by Montreal-based Power Corp. (TSX:POW), has said it would be forced to cut jobs at its plant in St-Constant, Que., if it can't maintain its activities because of a further surplus of production capacity.

The idea of a cement plant in the region dates back more than 20 years. Planning for the project began in 1998 but was postponed for a few years due to the lack of financial support.

It got back on track with a more than doubling of output after the Beaudoin family's investment arm, which also partially owns Ski-Doo maker BRP (TSX:DOO).

The cement plant promises to be among the industry's most fuel-efficient and lowest emitters of greenhouse gases on the continent.

It will initially burn petroleum coke, a refinery product and may add biomass from logging and sawmills.

"Ultimately, the production of the project's cement plant will replace that of older plants," said a November report by engineering firm Genivar, now WSP.

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That puts it in direct conflict with Quebec's Desmarais family, whose Power Corp. owns a 21 per cent stake in Lafarge.

Quebec media have labelled the competition a battle between two of Quebec's wealthiest families.

But Power spokesman denies any friction.

"There is no disagreement between the Desmarais and the Beaudoin families. They are in fact very good friends," Stephane Lemay said in an email.

Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin sits on Power's board of directors.

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