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Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard presents Le Plan Nord, his government's plan for the province's northern development on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 in Montreal.


Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard unveiled a scaled-down version of the Plan Nord to tap into the mineral bounty in the remote northern reaches of the province.

Despite a deep slump in global metal prices, the plan calls for the province to invest about $1.3-billion in infrastructure and other projects over the next 5 years in hopes of attracting $22-billion in private-sector investment.

By 2035, the Liberal government anticipates a total of $50-billion in private and public investments, of which at least $2.5-billion will be public money.

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The previous Plan Nord, announced by then-premier Jean Charest in 2011, projected $80-billion in investments over a 25-year period.

That ambitious project was shelved by the Parti Québécois government in 2012, but revived by the Couillard government when it returned to power last year.

The new version is an improvement on the previous one in that it includes in the decision-making process the native communities of the region, Fasken Martineau associate and mining-law practitioner Jean Masson said.

There is also a strong commitment to improving social conditions and public services for the Cree and Inuit, he said.

The creation of a "one-stop" agency that will untangle permitting requests and other red tape for mining companies is an added plus, said Mr. Masson.

Quebec's huge far north region contains untapped deposits of iron ore, copper, nickel, zinc, gold, uranium, cobalt, diamonds and other minerals.

But the deeply discounted price of iron ore, one of the most heavily mined commodities in the province, makes it very difficult to operate economically these days, Mr. Masson said.

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Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. recently shut down its iron-ore mine at Lake Bloom and other companies in the area have pulled back.

In 2013, Canadian National Railway and partner Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec abandoned plans to build an 800-kilometre, $5-billion rail line because of delayed mining projects.

The railway was to have run south from Schefferville to the port city of Sept-Îles on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The Quebec government says it is investing for the long term and that prices will go up again in the cyclical mining business.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said an abandoned rail plan was to have run north from Schefferville to the port city of Sept-Îles on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In fact, the railway would have run south.

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