Quebec Taps Its Strategic Stockpile - of Maple Syrup

By Daniel McGroarty

Recent news from north of the U.S. border contained a shocking story: A daring Canadian caper in which thieves made off with millions of pounds of premium Quebec maple syrup, spirited somehow out of a storage facility at St. Louis-de-Blandford, 100 miles northeast of Montreal.

The scope is simply incroyable: St. Louis-de-Blandford houses up to 10 million pounds of syrup, about half the total annual U.S. production of a product it, too, calls "maple syrup," in hopes that consumers never encounter the Quebec version.

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Of course, Quebec's gendarmerie are on the case. Here's hoping they soon track down a slow-moving crook leaving sticky footprints, coming down hard from his maple-flavored sugar high. Meanwhile, in my own quasi-Canadian household, our precious cans of Sirop d'Erable No. 1 Light - Quebec even labels the stuff like it's a form of crude oil - have been moved to an undisclosed location.

But the truly shocking part of the story comes from the damage-control efforts of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, which, as one Canadian news outlet reports, "is responsible for the global strategic maple syrup reserve." They have issued a press statement assuring Canadians that the maple syrup reserve remains intact, at 37 million pounds.

Yes, that's right: Canada has a strategic maple syrup reserve.

Which brings us to Quebec's Plan du Nord - the province's plan to develop its vast natural resources in a strategic bid to contribute to the wealth and prominence of the province. Plan Nord encompasses 463,000 square miles above the 49th parallel - an area roughly equal to Texas and California added together, with a population density that makes Alaska look like midtown Manhattan by comparison.

Quebec's government has allocated an $80 billion stimulus package - again, to translate that into "American," with Canada roughly one-tenth the population of the U.S., that's akin to an $800 billion U.S. stimulus - devoted entirely to resource development. Plan Nord's objective: To develop Quebec's considerable energy, mineral, timber and hydro resources - and support eco-tourism, too.

Conservationists will get a Texas-sized wedge of Boreal forest set aside for preservation: this is a big space with big potential to fuel Quebec's economy, and provide the world resources ranging from nickel, cobalt, the platinum group metals, zinc, iron ore, and titanium to gold, lithium, vanadium and rare earths. All told, Plan Nord will offer up a significant swath of the Periodic Table, including metals and minerals essential to modern technology, alternative energy - and the advanced weapons systems Canada and its fellow NATO alliance members rely on.

It's impossible to know now how Plan Nord will fare in the years and decades ahead. But in a province that maintains its own strategic maple syrup reserve, you've got to take their strategic resource plans seriously.

South of the border, where Americans fend for their own syrup and American manufacturers fend for their own tech metals and industrial minerals, it's less clear whether we have a strategic plan to secure our future metals needs - or even a plan to make a plan.

Maybe we should.

After all, it's one thing to be dependent on a foreign entity for syrup supply. But to have resources under your own soil and yet be dependent on foreign sources for the metals and minerals that support a growing economy and strong military - that's a sticky situation of an entirely different sort.

Daniel McGroarty, principal of Carmot Strategic Group, an issues management firm in Washington, D.C., served in senior positions in the White House and at the Department of Defense.
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