Most Crees aren’t aware of Hydro-Quebec’s 2-per-cent compensation policy. They assume the large amounts of money Crees spent on negotiations with Hydro-Quebec are in fact getting them a better deal. Sometimes we are even given the impression that we are lucky to receive anything at all. The truth is we have spent a lot of money on legal fees to achieve a level of compensation that Hydro-Quebec has already decided by itself.
Says Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council, “Since the Cree people in the communities are not familiar with the policy, the application of it leaves the false impression that negotiations of great importance and affecting Cree rights took place and that we should be grateful that we at least got some financial compensation in return for the damage caused by a hydro-project.”
“It is the same gratitude that would be expressed by a mother upon receiving her Family Allowance cheque had she not been aware that it is her right to benefit.”
Namagoose said Crees have a right to compensation from damages “as any citizen in Canada or Quebec gets when their property is damaged.”
Hydro nixes profit-sharing
The exact amount of compensation for a hydro-dam is determined through negotiations between the Crees, government and Hydro-Quebec.
According to a copy of Hydro-Quebec’s Integrated Enhancement Policy obtained by The Nation, hydro-projects costing less than $500 million shall have compensation payments of 2-per-cent of capital costs. Compensation for transmission lines is 1-per-cent of their cost. For projects over $500 million, compensation is determined on a case-by-case basis (for examples see Sidebar, this page).
“This policy which is at the discretion of Hydro-Quebec has ramifications on the issue of Cree consent,” said Namagoose. “To date it has been used as a way for Hydro-Quebec to exclude the participation of the First Nations of Quebec in the ongoing benefits to be derived from projects built on their territory which damage their rights and interests.”
But as far as Hydro-Quebec is concerned, Crees are out of luck if they want a cut of revenues from hydroprojects.
“Profit-sharing implies ownership and since Hydro-Quebec is owned by all the people of Quebec [through the government], then they would be the ones to give direction to make these types of changes through the government,” said Hydro spokeswoman Helen Mayer.
“This is the same situation that all the provincial utilities are in, since ownership is public. The benefits of ownership apply to all the public so the benefits of the whole system should be shared by everybody.”
Mayer pointed out that Quebecers have the third-lowest electricity rates in North America.
But tell this to the residents of Great Whale, who pay 26.3 cents per kilowatt-hour. “The benefits are not shared by all the public unless, as usual, Crees are not considered as part of Quebec’s public,” said Chief Matthew Mukash.
Chief Walter Hughboy and Chief Billy Diamond also oppose Hydro’s policy. In meetings with other Cree leaders, they’ve gone on record saying the policy doesn’t take into account savings Hydro-Quebec has realized in Cree Territory. In Waskaganish, for example, the utility saved a lot of money when the community built its own mini-dam, which relieved Hydro of its obligation to build a costly transmission line to that community. The Chiefs also said the 2-per-cent policy is deficient because it doesn’t place enough emphasis on the projects’ severe social impacts.
Negotiations cost millions
The question is, Have the Crees ever gotten better than 2 per cent in our negotiations? It all depends on who you read or talk to. It is true our Cree negotiators have gotten better than 2 percent in some of the deals. But overall, they haven’t broken the 2-per-cent barrier, according to a 1993 report done for the Grand Council by the Goodman Group, a Boston-based energy consulting firm.
This report relies on available information on Hydro’s capital costs (not easily gotten from HQ) and adjusts all amounts for inflation. The report covers five agreements negotiated by the Crees—the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Sakami Eeyou Agreement, Eastmain-Opinaca-La Grande Diversion, Chisasibi, Opimiscow and La Grande agreements.
The report figures out how much Crees got as a percentage of Hydro’s earnings from a certain project over its lifetime (usually 50 years).
Between 1979 and 2042, all five projects are expected to generate $61 billion in 1975 dollars. Crees are getting 0.5 per cent of that as compensation—about $300 million. If you take away the $150 million paid under the JBNQA for settlement of land claims, the compensation figure drops even lower—to only 0.3 per cent of the projects’ revenues.
Overall, it seems Cree negotiators haven’t broken Hydro-Quebec’s 2-percent barrier. Meanwhile, the Grand Council says the negotiations cost Crees about $900,000 for the Opimiscow Agreement, $700,000 for the La Grande Agreement and $1.2 million for the Eastmain negotiations (spent just by the Grand Council; the communities have been picking up the tab since last April). At press time, the cost to Crees for the negotiations on the Sakami Eeyou Agreement and the JBNQA weren’t available.
Hydro’s Compensation Policy
These figures are taken from an internal Hydro document outlining its standard compensation rates for various projects.
A transmission line that costs $400 million (and doesn’t involve natives)
Compensation Hydro would offer: $3 million (or I per cent of cost) Environmental enhancement.
minimum of $900,000 Support for regional development: maximum of $2.1 million
A dam that costs $1 billion
Compensation: $17 million (or 1.7 per cent of project’s cost)
Support for native community’s development: $7 million Available for environmental enhancement and regional development: $10 million Environmental enhancement: minimum of $3 million Support for regional development: maximum of $7 million.