Q&A: Quebec official discusses Va. trade mission
Delegate general sees wind energy as major trade opportunity
Quebec’s delegate general in New York, Martine Hébert, visited Virginia this week on a trip to strengthen economic relations between her province and the commonwealth.
Appointed in August by Quebec Premier François Legault and based out of New York, Hébert is responsible for promoting the province’s economic interests in the mid-Atlantic region. She previously served as the province’s delegate to Chicago.
Bilateral trade in goods between Quebec and Virginia stands around $1 billion a year, according to Hébert’s office. Quebec companies with a strong presence in Virginia include IT business and consulting service CGI, Intertape Polymer Group Inc., Alimentation Couche-Tard (which owns Couche-Tard, Circle K, Ingo and Kangaroo Express) and professional services firm WSP Global Inc. Virginia companies with significant operations in Quebec include Reston-based contractor General Dynamics Corp., McLean-based Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., McLean-based Capital One Financial Corp. and Henrico-based The Brink’s Co.
During her three-day trade mission, which took her to Richmond and Norfolk between Dec. 14 and Dec. 16, Hébert met with representatives from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Port of Virginia, the Virginia Department of Energy, the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, Dominion Energy Inc. and other Virginia stakeholders.
Hébert spoke with Virginia Business on Thursday at the close of her trade trip. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Virginia Business: What are some similarities you’ve seen between Virginia and Quebec?
Martine Hébert: The province of Quebec is almost the same size as Virginia in terms of population. We have many similarities with Virginia, such as a strong primary sector: mining and agriculture. . We have a lot of agriculture also, which is also the case in Virginia. Both regions have high tech industries such as aerospace and IT, as well as highly strategic energy, logistics and infrastructure sectors. And both have strong commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I think that we can build on those similarities, and relationships that we already have and encourage the development of mutually beneficial partnerships.
VB: What are some similarities that could lead to increased partnerships?
Hébert: Quebec is [one of the largest producers] of hydroelectricity. Almost 99% of our electricity is renewable and clean energy. More than 95% of it is produced with hydroelectricity. … We’ve been partnering with many states in the mid-Atlantic region [already].
I know that Virginia has very ambitious plans … in terms of wind power energy production. It is fantastic to see the projects that are going to come. There are some partnerships also to establish between Quebec and Virginia in that sense.
In terms of renewable energy, the Quebec government has also invested a lot into development and innovation in wind power and solar, so we have very good players in Quebec. Actually, my trip here was the occasion to invite some of the key players in wind power energy in Virginia to our [event dedicated to] wind power … that we will hold in New York in January. [There are] lots of occasions to start the discussion. … How can we contribute and how can we learn from each other and contribute to each other’s success within this [energy] transition?
VB: What other opportunities for trade does Quebec offer for clean energy?
Hébert: Wind power is only one example, but when you talk about wind power, you talk about intermittent energy. Intermittent energy means also that you have to have storage capacity.
In Quebec, we are … very innovative in terms of energy storage. We have companies like EVLO, who are specialized in this, our division of the Hydro-Québec [public electrical utility].
We’re starting the discussion. These are only a couple of examples of change that are possible. We will see how we can make this happen and how we can contribute to each other’s success by maybe digging a little bit more into where are the areas for collaboration and what are the needs for collaboration that we can fill with Quebec expertise.
VB: Are there opportunities to strengthen ties outside of wind?
Hébert: We also have all of the electric transportation field. … We have major key players who are already implemented in the United States and are selling products to the U.S. … You have some Quebec electric buses in many, many states and many big cities around the United States. … We have companies who are into charging stations, specialized vehicles like electric school buses. Of course, all of the vehicles that are produced in Quebec and in the United States by these players, both Lion [Electric Co.] and Nova Bus [owned by Volvo Buses], for example, they have plants and facilities in the United States to produce these vehicles.
The other big opportunity is in defense. As I said earlier, I think that the pandemic also showed us the importance of securing our supply chains. Critical minerals are one of the main concerns of many, many countries. Fortunately, we have a lot of critical minerals in our soil in Quebec. How can we better partner with our U.S. partners to secure the supply of critical minerals and make sure that we have a large American supply chain that is protected in North America? That’s another example.
Also, we have some of the major world players. I’m thinking about CAE [Inc.], which, originally, it was a Quebec company, but you have CAE USA which is now here and is very active in the defense industry, providing, for example, training with flight simulators. … These are also areas where we can certainly continue to contribute together and reinforce via these originally Quebec companies who are now implemented in the U.S.
VB: We hope you’ve enjoyed your trip and had some good hospitality.
Hébert: What I would say as a conclusion of my trip is that I saw everywhere Virginia is for lovers, but I would say Virginia is for Quebecers also. We were so warmly welcomed by all of the people who organized this trip. It’s amazing. We are known in Quebec for our hospitality. I think that we’ve found our match.