Premier Dwight Ball and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard are sending a signal that the Labrador Trough is open for business for the mining industry.
The provinces entered an agreement on Thursday to send a signal that they aim to work together on jurisdictional and geological information. One of the goals is to eliminate jurisdictional squabbles over the Labrador-Quebec border that could delay mining the area.
“Both our jurisdictions are recognized as an attractive place to do business. What we want to do is make sure that we do a better job of sharing information,” Ball said.
It’s the jurisdictional questions that are prominent in the talks. Should a new railway need to be installed to help accommodate a new mine, cost-sharing between the provinces will be important. Ball says the provinces want to prevent disputes.
“That is really the reason why we’re at the table,” he said.
For example, one railway near the Shefferville mine has a railway that crosses between the two provinces. Power is generated on the Labrador side, then used on the Quebec side for the mine. Ball says those confusing questions will be sorted out through the agreement.
“Companies really want to know that if they sit down with one government, they’ll have a similar conversation at other tables,” he said.
“They want to know what the political climate would be, or if there’s a barrier in one province, is there a similar barrier in another province.”
The Labrador Trough, known as the New Quebec Orogen in Quebec, is a 1,600-kilometre ancient mountain range that straddles the border between the provinces. Southern portions of the trough are already mined near Wabush, Labrador City and Shefferville, Que., but large swaths of the mineral formation see little or no activity from the mining industry.
Ball says there are no questions about the actual border with Quebec — both governments recognize the border established in 1927.
Another aspect of the agreement is road infrastructure, which is closely tied to Wednesday’s discussion surrounding a fixed link connecting the island portion of the province to Labrador.
Quebec will spend over $230 million on upgrades to Route 138, a highway on the southern coast of Quebec, in 2018.
Balls says upgrading roadways — including Route 510, the Trans-Labrador Highway — will be a big part of an eventual fixed link.
While details are scarce, both governments committed to continuing roadwork surrounding the potential fixed link.
Hydro not part of talks
Ball says future hydroelectric developments are not part of the discussions with Quebec right now.
“The only thing around electricity that we’re talking about at all is the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, which is a commitment we made almost a year ago,” he said.
“There’s no discussion on Gull Island.”
Equalization a federal question
Ball says the conversations about the Atlantic Accord have begun with the federal government, including talks about whether or not Newfoundland and Labrador is getting its fair share of equalization dollars.
“What we want to figure out first and foremost is, is Newfoundland and Labrador the primary beneficiary of our offshore resources?” he said.
Representatives from the province and Ottawa are going through documents to seek inequities in benefits the province sees from its offshore sector — though Ball says it’s too early to say what specific inequities are being identified as part of the review.
On equalization, Ball says that discussion is open with the federal government.
“We have every right to ask questions: are we the primary beneficiary and where do we fit with equalization?” he said.
“For us, is there another way for the federal government to support Newfoundland and Labrador given the situation we’re in?”