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'Historic' agreement with Quebec met with skepticism in Pessamet

'Historic' agreement with Quebec met with skepticism in Pessamet

Hydro-Québec's top boss, Michael Sabia, acknowledged Thursday that the government company has not acted appropriately in the past by launching projects that have left profound impacts on the Bessamite community. He had just signed a “historic” framework agreement that could lead to the establishment of a 1,000 MW wind power project in Eno region.

“No,” Mr. Sabya does not apologise, this is what the latter explained in an interview with journalists. “But it's about recognizing and understanding the impact of some of our projects that were built in the past. »Does this mean that Hydro-Quebec has not acted adequately in the past? “From the perspective of 2024, I think I would say yes,” agreed the president and CEO of Crown.

Mr. Sabia, along with Bissamet President Marielle Vachon and Quebec Premier François Legault, had just signed a framework agreement worth $45 million over six years. In particular, this aims to create an “equal partnership” with Hydro-Québec in the Inoue region, whose operating capacity ranges “between 400 and 1,000 megawatts and more,” according to documents submitted by the band council. In 2022, Mr. Legault said he wants to build wind farms with a total capacity of 3,000 megawatts.

Pesamet and Hydro Quebec are entering a “new era,” the prime minister rejoiced. The two sides agreed to a two-year truce. Quebec pledges not to raise the level of the Manicougan reservoir during negotiations. The community is suspending the series of legal actions it has brought against Quebec.

“We get rich off our backs”

Any agreement reached at the end of the negotiations will be subject to consultation with Bessamite residents. And for good reason: The residents of this town of 2,400, located halfway between Forestville and Baie-Comeau, were waiting for representatives of Hydro-Québec and the government resolutely.

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Pesamet has 13 hydroelectric plants and 16 dams on its territory, which were built without consultation with the Ainu people. But today, “it doesn't work like it used to,” Christine Valle, a Pesamet consultant, told Mr. Sabia, the company she works for.

“For 70 years, they've gotten rich off our backs. For 70 years, they've been in Nitasinan, which is the territory of all the Ainu people. They make electricity work with all our resources. There's something wrong with that,” she said. duty. Chef Vachon stressed that through the framework agreement, “we gain a lot.” “The government is listening to us, whereas that was not the case before. […] They know what to expect now. “I never make threats, but I know how to stand up to governments and to Hydro Quebec,” she said.

The flooding of the Bessamette area by Hydro-Quebec, especially its cemetery, left profound scars on the community. “It has been several years since there were any negotiations, conflicts or quarrels,” Prime Minister Legault emphasized. ” [Ici]In Bessamite, negotiations had not begun for ten years, and before that they had failed. No one thought it would be easy. »

In the room, Elder Jean-Marie Bacon illustrated this with an eloquent example. He said that the last time he saw a prime minister visit his community was in 1957. The head of government was named Maurice Duplessis.

Model of reproduction

The presence of government and Hydro-Québec representatives has opened scars in the community, agreed the minister responsible for relations with First Nations and Inuit, Ian Lafreniere. “People were afraid. It is a reaction that must be understood.” He himself has been working on this file since the summer. “The first times I came here, there, with the chef, it was not easy. “To be clear, I didn’t think we would reach an agreement.”

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Residents concerned about the agreement were invited to an information meeting in the evening, a few hours after the ceremony in which dignitaries participated. They sued the band council, which did not show them the agreement before signing it. “What worries me is that we have no say in the matter,” resident Malcolm Riverin explained. A woman was also applauded after she pleaded into the microphone for the rights of Ainu ancestors to be preserved. “There is no transfer of rights,” Chef Vachon also confirmed to the media a while ago.

In 2018, the CAQ leader said he wanted to conclude agreements like the Peace of the Brave with every Indigenous nation in Quebec. He reiterated this commitment on Thursday. “What we want is reconciliation and reaching agreements where we will together implement projects on the lands we share. »

On several occasions, Michael Sabia said that he wanted to resolve “the issues of the past”, without wanting to say more. He stressed that “there will be opportunities to work in true partnership with the community.” François Legault explained that the $45 million granted by Quebec is neither “a settlement of old conflicts with Hydro-Québec nor a contribution to a potential partnership.” “It's really helping the community” of Bessamette, which is particularly struggling with a housing shortage.

With Sebastien Tanguay

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