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(Mis-)Reporting on Plan Nord


In a country as geographically expansive as Canada, the media has a difficult task: how can organizations generally based within the sociological, cultural, and political milieu of large cities purport to bear witness to events in rural areas? The Quebec government’s Plan Nord, envisioned by the Liberal Party of Jean Charest, aims to develop 1.2 million square kilometres of land in Quebec’s north by building hydroelectric dams and mining, among other exploitative activities. According to the provincial government, the plan is to be carried out over 25 years, cover 72 per cent of the province’s land mass, and generate $80 billion in public and private investments. Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois government plans to continue with Plan Nord.

The anglophone reporting on Plan Nord has been complicit in overlooking the important issues. Mainstream Canadian news pontificates a truncated reality, resulting in a form of geographic tokenization that skews public opinion. For most, “the North” remains merely an idea, and its inhabitants – who face severe consequences in the face of Plan Nord – are not occupying a main role in the discussion around such a sweeping development plan.

Given the reality that much of Canada’s economy exists in remote locales – the tar sands in Alberta, forestry and fishing industries in British Columbia, and the vast terrain north of the 49th parallel covered by Plan Nord – much of what we know as urbanites depends on the news we receive from far away. The harsh polarization inherent in the rural-urban divide is brought into even stronger focus by the fact that Canadian economic policy (almost exclusively based on natural resources) is determined in capitals, executed in the periphery, and reported on by urbanites.

How do we know how the communities affected by Plan Nord feel about the plan for development in this community? Have we entirely missed out on learning about the resistance to Plan Nord by indigenous activists and their allies? The consequences to indigenous peoples are often sidelined, if not completely absent from updates on the economic plan. As campus community media, this is admittedly very difficult; unless we can interview a wide range of people and avoid generalizations based on preconceived ideas of the place in question, we cannot give the issue due credit.

Mainstream Canadian media cannot claim this same dearth of resources. National news outlets have failed miserably at reporting on the nuance of this development. The geographical distance between areas of exploitation and centres of economic and political power, combined with the injustices inherent in Plan Nord, mean that the onus should be even more heavily on the media.

Good reporting comes from bearing witness, and, thus far, Canadian media has missed the mark.