The weekend of November 14 to 17 saw activists from the United States and Canada arrive inMontreal to gear up for another battle against mega-corp Hydro-Quebec. It was seen as a chance toinclude everyone south and north of the U.S.-Canada border for activists to heal the woundsbetween the two. Quebec activists were upset when in the first fight for Great Whale, Greenpeaceand others brought a full-page ad in The New York Times denouncing Hydro-Quebec.

The meeting was also seen as a chance to come up with a defining statement that all environmentalparties could agree upon. There were more than the usual people you have seen in the pastgathering to talk. Some participants had surprising affiliations.

A member of the Parti Québécois was on hand. President Gilles Lavoie, of the PQ’s Comité nationalsur l’ecologie et l’environnement, had a rather spirited discussion with another Quebecer,possibly a federalist, talking about sovereignty and referendums.

And let us not forget the two unannounced HQ external communications workers. When it was discovered that they were in the conference, people reacted as though there were spies discovered in our midst. Someone to focus on. Albeit, they not very good at undercover work, if that was what it was, as their presence was announced to one and all at the final strategy and planning session. Tooker Goomberg, M.C., pointed them out to the visible horror of some activists.

The Hydro-Quebec employees seemed nervous when I took their pictures. I hastened to reassure our “guests,” explaining I was with The Nation and how much I would appreciate an interview with them. Though they initially agreed, I received a phone call from Steve Flanagan, Hydro-Quebec spokesman, who said they weren’t available to comment.

Flanagan also said Hydro-Quebec would not be sharing any internal analysis of the conference that the two lads may give to their bosses. I was supposed to interview Flanagen later but could only his voice mail. Fortunately, I managed to get hold of another Hydro-Quebec spokesperson, Guy Litalien, but he wasn’t even sure that HQ had anyone at the conference.

Litalien, though, hastened to assure me that the last thing Hydro-Quebec is looking for is apublic-relations battle. “It has been mentioned many times what we are looking for in terms ofprojects. They must be economically profitable, it must be in harmony with the environment and itmust be socially acceptable to thecommunity. These are the three conditions and this is why it is important to talk to thecommunity. The last condition is the most important,” said Litalien.

Given the differing conditions and projects throughout the province, Litalien said it would bedifficult to say what procedures a community would follow to say yes or no to a given project. Itdepends on the conditions of the analysis and discussions a community and Hydro-Quebec develop, he said.

When Great Whale was brought up as a specific case, where the community of Whapmagoostui already had a referendum, band resolution and Grand Council resolution, Litalien said he could not comment on the political situation, as he wasn’t a politician.

He said Hydro-Quebec would have to look at the feasibility and only then would they meet with the community to discuss the options.

Litalien did not answer whether or not activists would be invited to internal strategy meetings in HQ, but did say the environment is a number-one priority for the utility. He said it is given the same consideration as the engineering plans.

Litalien didn’t know if HQ would be sending people unannounced to meetings and conferences heldby activists, but said HQ would be pleased to attend any they were invited to to talk aboutenvironment or electricity. “Discussions are one of the main things in the energy field. I thinkit’s important,” he said.

Free speech curtailed: Innu

Back to the meeting. It was two days of workshops and the end result would be that a statement would be agreed upon and issued by both American and Quebec activists. It would be in French and English. Everyone would work towards that. It would be a time for everyone to make connections and continue the long work of fighting the damage that some multi-nationals do in their pursuits of money.

The Innu have been in the spotlight more and more these days. They are coming into their own concerning public relations. In fact they had a heavier contingent than the Crees. The Innu brought up the fact that the freedom of expression had been curtailed in Innu territory, with many supporters barred from protesting development under the law. In fact, an Innu Band Council by-law prohibits protesting against band-approved projects, according to the Innu presenters.

The Innu say they are looking at the completion of Ste. Marguerite III dam and reservoir, at least four diversions in Nitassinan and proposed diversions to the Moisie River.

On Sunday, environmental activists from both sides of the border finally found common ground. They finished a resolution on energy in Montreal on November 16. Part of the resolution call for a public debate as well as the use of conservation, energy efficiency and demand-side management before any new projects are even contemplated.

It also calls for the “elimination of waste, reductions in use and conversions to more efficient and benign technologies.” The joint submission also says: “Economic policies should as a priority encourage investment in energy conservation and energy efficiency, followed by renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.”

The resolution also condemns damming and diverting rivers completely. “Free-flowing rivers, rapids and falls should remain free flowing. Any exception would require a prior open public debate,” said the resolution. The resolution also calls for the phasing out of coal, oil and nuclear power options.

Native participants, though heartened by the support shown, were a little disappointed on the weak stand on Aboriginal rights. Though the U.S. environmentalists supported a strong stance protecting Aboriginal rights and their recognition, Quebec activists had another story.

One, a member of the PQ, would not at first accept any wording concerning Native interests unless it was included that Crees and other Natives in Quebec were Québécois first. Other Quebec activists warned that strong wording supporting Aboriginal positions would tear apart the Quebec coalition. After debating the issues amongst themselves a compromise was reached: Wording would be included to involve the Indigenous peoples.

“We believe that human activity in the energy sector should be

governed by the principles of environmental sustainability and social justice and respect for the rights of all peoples, including indigenous peoples, not to be deprived of their natural heritage,” read the resolution’s only reference to Native peoples.

On Monday, activists gathered at Hydro-Quebec’s head offices at noon. After various speeches it was time to give Hydro-Quebec’s President Andre Caille his gifts. The gifts included a chalking gun, energy efficient lightbulb and a solar panel. The major hitch came when Hydro-Quebec security blocked the doors refusing to allow activists to enter the building. Fortunately for the demonstrators another door was unguarded and they made it inside. Unfortunately for Hydro-Quebec, news cameras caught the whole fiasco. You could see anger, confusion and disbelief on the faces of Hydro employees as the activists began chanting inside the front lobby.

Hydro-Quebec security wouldn’t let the activists up to see Hydro top gun but did acceptthe gifts. Tooker Gomberg asked for a receipt.