The Quebec government wants to move ahead with plans to occupy Iiyiyuuschii by doubling the size of Radisson with extra Hydro-Quebec workers.
But HQ and its employees already oppose the plan. The workers don’t want to live in the North and wonder why the idea is being promoted.
“They want to occupy the territory. It’s political,” said Hydro union leader Pierre Hadd, who opposes the plan. Hadd is president of the 400-member HQ blue-collar union, fames Bay local.
Another Hydro worker in James Bay who opposes the plan agreed. “They want whites in the territory of James Bay. If they have no whites there, the government has less power in negotiations over the territory,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
Under the government’s plan, the population of Radisson would increase from 500 residents to nearly 900. A working group that held hearings in Radisson recommended the idea recently.
The working group’s members include Hydro employees, Radisson businesses and local non-Native entities, but no Crees.
A government spokesman said Resources Minister Guy Chevrette agrees with the recommendation. “The minister was favourable to the idea,” said Charles Larochelle.
At present, 915 HQ workers are shuttled into the North for eight-day shifts (10 hours per day), followed by six days off. The working group says Hydro could save money if 380 of them lived full-time in Radisson.
A 1995 report by HQ said Radisson is not viable if it is kept open just to serve Hydro’s needs. Cree officials say Quebec made a verbal commitment to close down Radisson at the time the James Bay Agreement was signed.
“We’ve always said it was a temporary village only to be used when construction was going on,” said Chisasibi Chief Charles Bobbish. He said funds spent on economic development in Radisson would be better spent in the Cree communities.
A member of the working group, Claude Gagne of the Radisson Development Corporation, said Crees will benefit from Hydro’s increased presence in James Bay.
“There is a problem of unemployment in the territory, whether Native or non-Native. Not one Cree chief will deny that.”
But Hydro spokesman Guy Litalien was skeptical about the idea. “You can’t force people to live there. The Crees also, they don’t want too many people in Radisson. You have to take that into account.”
Hadd, the union leader, said the plan won’t save HQ any money and will hurt the utility because highly skilled workers needed to work in the North do not want to live in Radisson full-time.
“You can’t uproot people from their families. You can’t create a village by forcing people to go there. They will never create citizens like this,” said Hadd, an electrician at LG-3.
Why would the government go through with a plan that doesn’t make financial sense? Says the anonymous Hydro worker: “The occupation of a territory has nothing to do with finances.”
Last month, Chevrette set up a committee to implement the recommendations. The committee, which has no Cree members, is now negotiating with HQ and its workers.