All of Hydro-Quebec’s maintenance slashing contracts in James Bay have been awarded to non-Cree businesses in the South this year.

“To our great surprise and astonishment, no work will be available in region 10 (James Bay) for the Crees of Mistissini, while the work will be performed by contractors from down south on Cree land,” said Norman Petawabano, director-general of Mistco Ventures, in a letter to Natural Resources Minister Guy Chevrette.

Petawabano wrote that he felt “great regret” and “bewilderment” upon learning that Crees didn’t get any of the Hydro contracts and said he “vehemently” disagreed with Hydro-Quebec’s decision.

The letter, dated May 13, asks Chevrette to put in place a moratorium on all new slashing contracts until a review is conducted into Hydro-Quebec procedures.

Petawabano called for Hydro policies to be brought into line with the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which promises Crees priority for Hydro contracts in the North.

Mistissini-owned Mistco putin ajointbid for $300,000 worth of slashing work along with the Coopérative Forestière Chibougamau-Chapais.

The contract would have created 30 jobs for a three-month period, according to Petawabano.

As it turned out, Mistco lost out to a Lac-St-Jean company whose bid was $2,000 lower. Mistco’s bid was the second-lowest.

Petawabano said Hydro-Quebec could have contacted Mistco and given it a chance to change its original bid. He pointed out that the difference between the two bids was less than 1 per cent of the value of the work.

“The fact that it was in Cree Territory should have woken up someone over there,” Petawabano said in an interview with The Nation.

“I wouldn’t mind if our price was way above the other price or the area to be slashed was way out of our territory. But it was not. We were very competitive and in my backyard is where it is being done.”

After Petawabano mailed off his letter, the Lac-St-Jean company tried to make peace with Mistco by offering to subcontract out the work to the Crees. Discussions are now under way.

A Hydro-Quebec spokesman said the utility had no comment on the letter. “I don’t think we’ll make a comment before the minister does,” said Steve Flanagan.

A spokeswoman for Guy Chevrette said she had Petawabano’s letter in her hand, but did not have an official response in time for this issue.