Quebec v. Labrador: natives and the hydropower sweepstakes – by Bill Gallagher (First Perspective – February 6, 2014)

In my book, “Resource Rulers: Fortune and Folly on Canada’s Road to Resources”, I posit that Quebec had already won a 10-year head start over Newfoundland & Labrador in the hydropower race to North American energy markets. Quebec’s strategic power-surge was cemented by the ‘Paix des Braves’ in 2002; universally regarded as a pivotal resource management legal arrangement that fully recognized the Crees as ‘Resource Rulers’ within their vast homeland containing the watersheds.

Conversely, Newfoundland, at the same time, was finally rebounding on its troubled Voisey’s Bay mining project; yet it was soon to find itself back in court fighting the Labrador Metis Nation and losing to them at the appellate level. In fact, the province had earlier lost at the appellate level to the Innu Nation on the Voisey’s Bay project; which loss had instigated a project shut down and stock drop (similar to what is playing out today in the Ring of Fire with Cliffs Natural Resources – in what is fast becoming an almost unbelievable case of history repeats!)

To no-one’s surprise, the announcement of the Muskrat Falls hydropower project in 2011 landed in an unsettled and charged Labrador native empowerment landscape. Both the Labrador Metis Nation (now called NunatuKavut) and the Nunatsiavut Government, launched repeated and sustained press releases and legal maneuvers to persuade the province and its crown utility (Nalcor) to address the pending impacts on their traditional lands. Premier Dunderdale’s entire term as government leader was (month-in / month-out) dogged by strategic machinations of Labrador natives opposed to her pet project and defining political legacy – the Muskrat Falls hydropower project. Of course, her recent resignation from the premiership didn’t mention their role in orchestrating her political demise; yet their strategic moves would certainly have helped undermine public opinion, and as a result, the death-spiral polling that she soon found herself in.

The following headlines, both occurring in a 24-hour time span, offer a completely different take on the real race that the (perhaps unwitting) premier was in; and why today as a result, she’s just another high profile casualty on the “Road to Resources”:

CBC January 21 2014: Eeyou Istchee – James Bay Government Launches in Quebec.
CBC January 22 2014: Kathy Dunderdale Resignation: ‘It is time to step back’

Here was realpolitik at play: Quebec was once again redrawing its watershed map by conceding even more power and jurisdiction to the Crees. The Crees will now co-manage a much larger land base (formerly under the auspices of the Municipalité de la Baie James). Thus now and in the future, resource access to this greatly expanded region will be administered in a power sharing government – with 11 Cree and 11 non-aboriginals making all the key decisions.

So on the same day that the Premier of Newfoundland walked-away from her legacy defining project, here was Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come sworn in as co-chair in the new Cree-Jamesiens regional government (Mayor Manon Cyr of Chibougamau was sworn in as chair). Thus if one were to wager on which jurisdiction will win the hydropower race to markets – Quebec or Newfoundland – better to follow the trail of Resource Rulers.

As a direct result of its sophisticated strategic moves with the Crees, Quebec’s hydropower head-start widens by another five years!

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