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Quebec Premier Jean Charest speaks about Plan Nord, a northern Quebec development plan, Wednesday in Quebec City.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec's Plan Nord strategy of opening up the province's northern regions to mining, energy, forestry and infrastructure development can also help boost Canada's territorial and sovereignty claims in the Arctic, says Premier Jean Charest.

Citing studies that show sea passage across the top of Canada becoming increasingly navigable as the planet heats up, Mr. Charest said establishing a clear presence in the North through such activities as mining and infrastructure projects is becoming crucial.

"Occupation of the territory is extremely important to assert one's sovereignty and the Northwest Passage will be a very, very important issue in the future. And that passage will open up," Mr. Charest said after making a presentation on the merits of the Plan Nord to a business luncheon audience.

Quebec's Plan Nord is an $80-billion, 25-year plan for a co-ordinated, orderly development of the province's north that pays heed to environmental concerns as well as the needs of the indigenous peoples.

Beyond the question of rights over the Northwest Passage, there is "another very obvious issue: the whole matter of ownership of resources in a corner of the planet that are very important. It's better to deal with this right now and to ... occupy that territory in a way that is done correctly," he said.

Mr. Charest said studies indicate there will be a "new maritime corridor" north of Canada that will shave three days off the travel time between Europe and Asia.

It's critical that Canada back its sovereignty claims by staking out its presence on the economic development front, he said.

Several countries, notably China, are taking a close look at the potential of not only the sea passage for commercial shipping but also the possibility of a bonanza of mineral and energy riches locked beneath the Arctic.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear last summer that Canada is not about to relinquish its sovereignty over the part of the Arctic that lies within its jurisdiction.

While asserting its sovereignty, Canada also wants to work with other nations on co-operative activity, peaceful transit and peaceful development, Mr. Harper said.

More than half of the money attributed to Plan Nord is in the form of already planned or proposed Hydro-Québec projects.

There are also several major mining projects, including Stornoway Diamond Corp. 's diamond mine – Quebec's first – at the Renard property in the James Bay area.