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(Bloomberg) -- Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard set out his plan to bolster the ailing finances of the French-speaking Canadian province yesterday as he kicked off a road show in the heart of London’s financial district.
Couillard, 57, is seeking investors for Plan Nord, a project to develop territory north of the 49th parallel measuring 460,000 square miles -- almost five times the size of the U.K. -- with potential in mining, energy, and forestry. Quebec, among Canada’s most indebted regional governments, is working on a long-term strategy that includes cashing in on natural resources such as iron ore to help it pay for social programs and new bridges.
The premier met with several potential investors in London, he said in an interview with Bloomberg News after speaking to a business audience whose guests included executives from global mining giant Rio Tinto Plc and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. His push to attract capital will continue across Europe, with stops in Wales and Belgium before he joins leaders in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum meeting next week.
“We will meet with companies that are already in Quebec and want to maintain or eventually expand their activities, or people who are interested in investing in Quebec” for the first time, he said during the interview at the Drapers’ Hall.
Former Liberal Premier Jean Charest unveiled Plan Nord in 2011 as a 25-year project to attract C$80 billion in investment and create an average of 20,000 jobs a year.
Quebec, the country’s largest province by area and its second-most populous, has grappled with political turmoil including a narrowly defeated 1995 referendum on the issue of separating from Canada.
Couillard vowed to balance Quebec’s budget in the fiscal year that begins April 1, after defeating the separatist Parti Quebecois in elections ten months ago. The government will run a shortfall of about C$2.4 billion ($2 billion) in the current fiscal year, according to a December forecast.
Opportunities for exploiting the province’s commodities, which include iron ore, rare earth, diamonds, nickel and graphite, balance some of the risks associated with the current global slump in resource prices, Couillard said.
“Because the price of some of those commodities is low, it is time now to invest in infrastructure,” he said in the interview. “When the cycle goes up again, which it always does -- then we can immediately start exploiting those resources.
This week Couillard appointed Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec, Canada’s second-largest pension-fund manager, to plan, finance and manage new infrastructure projects.
Couillard wouldn’t speculate on a time-frame for the Energy East pipeline, an alternative to the politically fraught Keystone XL project linking Canadian oil-sands to the US Gulf Coast. Energy East, proposed by TransCanada Corp. pipelines, would have a path of 4,600 kilometers, giving Canada crude a route to the Atlantic.
‘‘In principle we are looking favorably at the project,” Couillard said. “But we still have work to make it acceptable.”
Quebec and Ontario, Canada’s most-populous province, agreed on seven issues, including environmental conditions and safety, that TransCanada must resolve before the pipeline project can go forward, which makes it difficult to estimate a time-line, he said. One such setback was the delay to studies for the Cacouna oil export terminal due to concerns about its endangered beluga whale population.
“If they want it to go forward and for us to look at it favorably they have to meet certain conditions,” he said. “Any sensible person would ask for those things.”
--With assistance from Frederic Tomesco in Montreal and Theophilos Argitis in Ottawa.
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