Demonstrations were held in front of the Hyatt Regency Montreal last Thursday and Friday in response to Plan Nord conferences taking place inside the building. Another protest also took place on Friday in front of Hydro-Québec’s downtown headquarters.
Thursday’s demonstration began at 11:30 a.m. when roughly 200 protestors – mostly students, locals, and Aboriginal activists – gathered at Square Phillips at the intersection of Ste. Catherine and Union.
An hour later, the protest marched east on René-Lévesque until it reached the Hyatt, where about half of the demonstrators entered the adjacent Complexe Desjardins shopping centre.
Riot police blocked demonstrators as they attempted to climb stairs inside the complex, which connected to the Hyatt. Protesters and police stood in a tense standstill for about 15 minutes before police finally began advancing toward the demonstrators, who immediately retreated outside of the building, booing the police.
The police reported no arrests or injuries and issued no fines.
Plan Nord, the resource extraction and economic development project for northern Quebec initiated by Jean Charest’s Liberal government, was dubbed the “project of a generation” by the party and presented as a way to deal with Quebec’s massive debt.
According to the Liberal government’s calculations, Plan Nord would eventually bring in $14 billion for the province and generate 20,000 jobs every year.
Criticisms of the project have been widespread but scattered: environmental groups have said that the project does not make solid enough promises about conservation; labour unions have pointed out that a project of this scale has been designed with little public consultation; and Aboriginal groups say that the plan reappropriates Aboriginal land without properly compensating their communities.
“It’s easy to think of Plan Nord as an abstract problem…with a wide variety of issues. We’re hoping that we can make the Romaine River project a central issue that people will care about,” Alliance-Romaine spokesperson Christopher Scott told The Daily at Friday’s demonstration.
Alliance-Romaine, who joined forces with Rivières Libres for the protests organized in front of Hydro-Québec’s downtown headquarters, is dedicated to blocking the Romaine hydroelectric project – an $8.5 billion four-dam mega-complex on the Romaine river which would flood 279 square kilometers of territory, dry up salmon beds, and drastically reduce the oxygen content of the water.
While criticisms of Plan Nord were important talking points for the Parti Québécois during their campaign, they generally focused on the weak royalties the Liberal party had planned on charging private mining companies for extracted minerals.
“Since their election, the PQ hasn’t really clarified their position on Plan Nord,” said Scott. “We’re hoping to engage them, and to hear from Martine Ouellet, the Minister for Natural Resources, and Daniel Breton, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, Wildlife and Parks.”
Friday’s demonstration in front of the Hyatt, organized online as “Defending the Land: Indigenous Women’s resistance to Plan Nord and community violence,” featured Élyse Vollant and Denise Jourdain from the North Shore Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-utenam.
Vollant and Jourdain were imprisoned in March for blockading Highway 138 to prevent Hydro-Québec from building a high-power transmission line across their territory. Hydro-Québec offered the community $125 million in compensation, $80 million of which was a cash payment to the 4,000 Innu members to be paid out over fifty years.
According to the Globe and Mail, Hydro-Québec’s initial offer was $2 million. The Innus demanded $300 million.
Speaking at a conference organized by Concordia’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy later that day, Jourdain explained that this compensation package had been subject to two referenda within the community. The first referendum returned a verdict of 59 per cent against, and the second with 54 per cent against. Hydro-Québec ignored the results and continued construction.
Jourdain said of the process, “the justice system is a carousel, and negotiations lead nowhere,” adding that, according to her calculations, Hydro-Québec was paying each member of the community $1.25 a day for the next fifty years to “allow them to destroy our rivers and pollute the air.”
During the conference’s question and answer period, Geneviève Beaudet, a member of Québec Solidaire’s (QS) political commission, asked what actions the two elected members of the QS could undertake at the National Assembly.
Vollant thanked QS for their support in presenting their petition to the National Assembly before moving on to other questions.
In general, the evening did not address concrete political action; rather, it focused on raising awareness about the disparity in rights between Aboriginals and Canadian citizens.