Quebec's Route 138 Blockade Ends, Still Work to Do: Native Affairs Minister Kelley

MONTREAL(Kitco News) - Editor's Note: As part of a new series, reporter, Alex Létourneau will be tracking Quebec' s new $80-billlion Plan Nord Project. For the mining industry, Plan Nord is big news. Commodities currently mined in the region include nickel, cobalt, platinum group metals, zinc, iron ore, and ilmenite, as well as gold. Also present in the region are lithium, vanadium, and rare-earth metals, not to mention a potential for uranium and diamonds. Currently, at least 11 new projects could be launched.

An agreement was reached late Sunday evening between Pessimit Chief Raphael Picard and Quebec Premier Jean Charest to put an end to any further blockades of traffic on Route 138.

The route is a major highway in Quebec and its extension was included in Plan Nord, an initiative announced last month by mining firms and the provincial government to develop gold and other mining projects in northern Quebec. Extension of the highway was one of the major infrastructure projects planned between 2011 and 2016. The Quebec government pledged $1.193 billion in infrastructure investments over that five-year period.

Chief Picard and the Pessimit community felt that the Plan Nord did not honor previous obligations made by the Quebec government and that the economic development stipulated in the Plan Nord would not benefit the community. In protest, the Pessimit community blocked traffic on Route 138 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on May 9, and there were possibilities for future such blockades.

However, in a French press release, Chief Picard stated his satisfaction with the direction of the negotiations.

"We asked for concrete results and we have received them," Chief Picard said. "The prime minister proved he is willing to listen and I believe that is a step in the right direction."

Native Affairs Minister Geoffrey Kelley is optimistic about the opportunity to sit down and work out any issues.

"I've always been someone who worked on dialogue and if we can get people around the table, we can work on solutions, and I'm optimistic about that," Kelley said. "We need to come up with a process that will allow us to tackle several of the key issues and hope to come up with an agreement before the 31st of October."

Kelley maintained that when the Plan Nord was announced, the rights and obligations to the First Nations of Quebec were respected.

"There was a signing of a declaration on the day we launched the Plan Nord which said quite clearly that nothing here calls into question the rights and the obligations that the government of Quebec has towards the First Nations of Quebec," Kelley said.

Kelley added that current construction on Route 138 East of Natashquan includes 20 Innu training and working on the highway as a part of the Quebec's government pledge toward economic development within the province.

"The extension of Route 138 East of Natashquan currently has 45 kilometers under construction between Natashquan and Kegaska," Kelly said. "We've used it to create a training ground and 20 young Innu from Natashquan are currently working.

"It's an economic development and training possibility for that project," Kelley said. "These are the kinds of things that can be done on other projects that come out of the Plan Nord."

The Plan Nord project, announced May 9, calls mining firms and the Quebec government to invest $80 billion over 25 years to mine gold, diamonds, copper, molybdenum, rare-earths, nickel and uranium in northern Quebec, as well as stimulate economic development.

By Alex Létourneau of Kitco News

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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