A poll on uranium mining in Quebec confirms support for the Cree Nation’s position

A new poll from Leger Marketing commissioned by the Canadian Boreal Initiative shows widespread opposition to uranium mining – and by association, to the Matoush uranium project – across both Cree and non-Cree communities. Though Cree opposition remains much stronger, in many of the poll questions non-Crees opposed to the project are also now beginning to represent a majority.

The questions relate specifically to the issue of uranium mining, for which Strateco Resources Inc. has not yet been granted a license at the Matoush site. However, many of those opposed to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s (CNSC) decision to grant a license to Strateco for advanced uranium exploration see uranium mining as an inevitable result of allowing this exploration to take place.

The study found that 74% of combined respondents (81% of Crees, 68% of non-Crees) believe they have not been well-enough informed about the “impacts to the environment and human health related to exploitation of a uranium mine.” A total of 80% (74% Cree, 86% non-Cree) believe that “municipalities should have a voice in decisions regarding whether any government project should proceed or not.” Importantly, 76% of those polled believe projects should be cancelled “if a majority of the citizens of a community believe that a particular project poses a potential health hazard.”

The study was undertaken between February 12 and 19 of 300 adults living in northern Quebec; 150 were Cree and 150 were non-Cree.

When asked about supporting a uranium mine in their region specifically, respondents were split: 73% of Crees either “somewhat opposed” (14%) or “totally opposed” (60%) to such a project in their area, while 55% of non-Crees were either “somewhat in favour” (38%) or “totally in favour” (17%). Together, the Cree and non-Cree respondents still added up to a slim majority of 53% in opposition to local uranium mines. A similar number (55%) opposed “the exploitation of a uranium mine in northern Quebec.”

The real change in the poll began when respondents were asked about the exploitation of a uranium mine “upstream on a river flowing through their community”: now 84% of Crees opposed the idea, joined by 67% of non-Crees, for a total of 76%. (The Matoush project is located near the watersheds of the Temiscamie River, which drains into Lake Mistassini and likewise feeds into the region surrounding the community of Chibougamau.)

It is the responses to the survey’s final two questions, however, in which the opinions of Cree and non-Cree populations surveyed are clearest in their agreement.

A strong majority of 86% (90% of Crees, 83% of non-Crees) agree that the Quebec government should undertake “an independent review of the economic, environmental and social impacts of uranium mining before Quebec moves forward with authorizing any uranium projects.”

Perhaps even more importantly to opponents of the Matoush project, however, is the survey’s final question. It asks whether Strateco should “override the concerns of the Cree community and go ahead with the mining project” (a question referring to the company’s court challenge to force the Quebec government to override the Cree veto) or if Strateco should “respect the Cree community and not proceed with the project.”

A full 77% of poll respondents (90% of Crees, 63% of non-Crees) agree that Strateco should “respect the Cree community” and halt its efforts toward uranium mining in the Eeyou Istchee.

In response to the poll results, the Grand Council of the Crees/Cree Regional Authority (GCC/CRA) was quick to call on the Quebec government to heed the wishes of the respondents by “[moving] forward with its plan to convene an independent evaluation of the uranium industry in Quebec,” saying that “a very strong majority of Quebecers are in favour of such an evaluation being held.”

In a press release from the GCC/CRA, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come stated, “The Grand Council of the Crees has previously urged the government to convene a broad, independent and rigorous study of the environmental impacts of uranium mining in Quebec. These poll results confirm that this approach also enjoys overwhelming public support.”

As always, the Grand Council reiterated its support for environmentally secure resource development in the Eeyou Istchee. “The Cree Nation is committed to working with our neighbours to pursue the many opportunities of environmental and socially sustainable development that exist in our territory,” said Coon Come.

However, he underlined, the GCC/CRA position that uranium mining is not an acceptable form of resource development within the territory of the Cree Nation.

“The importance of social acceptability of proposed development projects in Eeyou Istchee is an essential part of the nation-to-nation relationship between the Cree Nation and Quebec. As these poll results show, this principle is also recognized and supported by the population of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory.”

In an unexpected move, the Quebec government has decided to publicly consult if uranium development should be allowed in the province, according to the Montreal Gazette. It could happen faster than you think, as early April is the latest Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet would travel to Chibougamau to see what’s up. This trip could lead to an announcement of a moratorium halting prospecting and exploration projects now underway.

About 70 sites in northern Quebec involve uranium exploration and prospecting activities, but the Matoush project, being developed by Strateco Resources Inc. is the most advanced location.

Currently, Strateco is suing Blanchet, in his role as Quebec’s environment minister, calling on him to make a decision. The Grand Council of Crees (Eeyou Istchee) called for a moratorium on uranium development last August and is part of the court case. Quebec approval is the last stepping stone for Strateco to move ahead with the project.