Don MacLeod is the Interim president of the Cree Consortium. The Cree Consortium is composed of Cree businesses that want to benefit from the negotiated contracts with Hydro-Quebec’s EM-1 and Rupert River Diversion projects. He was selected by local businessmen in Mistissini to represent them and when he arrived in Val d’Or he was appointed to the position. MacLeod sees the consortium of Cree businesses as something that could prove to be a future economic engine for the Cree communities and people. He envisions a new relationship with non-Natives in the James Bay region where they will work together to ensure that new investment helps northern communities rather than just returning to the south.
MacLeod says all interested people should attend a June 4,5 &6 gathering of the northern businesses. Invitations have been extended by the mayor of Val d’Or and the Cree Grand Chief. Don MacLeod will be a guest speaker. For those who can’t wait here’s the scoop on the Cree Consortium.
How old is the consortium?
It was formed in December when people thought the Agreement between Quebec and the Cree would be signed. We had to have something ready so we could start negotiating with them for the negotiated contracts. People wanted to make sure that all the communities were involved. Billy Diamond was the first one to call the meeting because he was the head negotiator with Hydro-Quebec. He told us that we had to set something up to be able to meet with Hydro and they wanted the business people, who would get the contracts. They wanted everyone to have a chance at the action so on December 7th he called a meeting in Val d’Or and from there the consortium was formed.
Now what kind of businesses are currently in the consortium?
Right now we are currently recruiting people like the construction businesses, air companies, transport and services. There will be services that are needed later on like the catering and janitorial services. When the town is built they’ll need bus services. They’re even talking about having a dépanneur in the town and small shops. There will be spin-offs such as the trailers will probably have cable for example.
This is an opportunity for the Native people to get into these businesses.
Do you see the Crees getting, what was it $982 million in contracts?
That’s if they go into the second phase. The first is $500 million of contracts. That’s the road construction, the slashing, the building of the big camp that’ll hold over 2,000 people and the access roads, the fuel they’ll need for the airplane companies. The Crees have the opportunity to come in on this through the negotiations.
Do you think the Crees will be able to provide $300 million worth of contracts?
The way it works is the first priority is the Native people, then afterwards we will look at joint ventures with the non-Native people in the region. They’ll be brought in too. The way we are trying to do is to work with the northern people too. We want to do things together. We don’t want it to be like before where everyone comes from just down south getting all the contracts and we end up with nothing. The contracts have to be wfth Natives and non-Natives of the northern region.
So are you looking at a new relationship with towns like Chibougamau and Matagami?
Marlene Kitchen and myself went and met with the James Bay consortium, the non-Native consortium in the region in Lebel-Sur-Quevillon. On some things we have to work together. The meeting went well. It was an opening. We basically told them that we are in the same area and like them we are looking for employment for the people in the north. They’re also looking at joint ventures with us.
One of the things we’ll have to work together on is the QCC cards. That’s the card you need to get onto construction jobs. We don’t have a place to get it in the region because we are tied up with the Lac Saint-Jean area. This affects Mistissini, Ouje-Bougoumou, Chibougamau, Waswanipi and Chapais for example. All those permits or cards that are issued are pretty much full. Any new opening that comes up, well, there’s already a list of people waiting for them. So people in this area don’t have much of a chance. That’s the type of things we have to start working on right away if we want to see employment in construction for both our peoples. I’ve mentioned that to Michel Létourneau, the deputy that represents northern Quebec for the PQ. He told me that they are working on it.
Another thing the Crees have done is they wrote a letter to the Grand Chief and said if we don’t get this settled then we are going to get any jobs. We told him it would be a shame if you negotiate all this and find out we can’t do it because we don’t have the papers. This is an issue that have to be dealt with by the governments.
The best would be a new zone where we wouldn’t be attached to Lac Saint Jean region.
Isn’t Lac Saint-Jean a little far from most of the northern towns?
That’s the way the government put it together. That’s where we started to have problems. If you look around Lac Saint-Jean there are some pretty big towns and cities in the area. The way it works is that you have to prove that the labour force is five per cent below what is needed in the region before any new cards are issued. So when you factor in the large population it becomes a problem to get those cards. Where do you think the Crees are on that list? Most likely we are at the bottom.
This is an example of the things the two consortiums can work towards together.
Do you see that the negotiations for the Crees are still ongoing in areas like this?
The way the contracts are to be dealt with is that the consortium would select the companies to look at it and see what type of bid would work best. If you look at slashing, Mistco would be in there. They would take Cree Construction and Waskaganish, Ouje-Bougamou has done slashing for the powerlines. The four of them would get together and look at the contract and put a package together. They would then bring it back to the consortium with their recommendations. If they say this is the price and this is the best way to look at it, the four parties agree to it. They might say certain companies would spearhead it, then that’s how it would be negotiated with the understanding that the Crees are together on this. That way everyone feels they were fairly treated.
That’s the same with road construction or any other contract that comes in.
Has there been any problems with that process so far?
Well, you probably already heard about it.
I was looking for it in your own words.
Okay, there were supposed to be two companies working on it, Mistco and Cree Construction. Mistco has a company called Selecto, which works with Troilus. Mistco holds the contract for catering. It’s a very good deal. The profits are split 50/50 and the hiring policy is minimum 40 per cent Native. Selecto does the training.
So anyhow the catering contract is for the HQ small camp of 250 people. We were supposed to have 20 days to make the bid,
but somebody telephoned Steven Bearskin [the President of Cree Construction). The person told Steve that they were getting calls from Hydro asking for the bid and instead of saying, “no, we have 20 days, that’s it,” they felt pressured and asked to put the bid in. Steve said he tried to contact us and when he couldn’t he told the guy to go ahead. So the whole thing got people upset.
The representatives from eight of the communities said it seemed like Cree Construction was trying to take everything over again. The first meeting we had about this we talked and the second meeting I was given a directive to write a letter.
Plus then the Grand Chief heard about it. He said if this is what is going to be going on then they will step in and take over this. He said they supported the consortium by resolution and if there is going to be problems they will put another team in. You see these are negotiated contracts so why bid against each other.
We have to start trusting each other. The board to show that they are serious about it removed Steve from the executive of the consortium. He is still part of the consortium but he doesn’t sit on the executive or the board of directors.
The board, by the way, is composed of community representatives and the executive is composed of businessmen from different Cree companies. The president is on both.
This way we have people who understand what Hydro wants and people who understand what the communities want.
Do you see this as a good thing that a problem like this was caught early in the game?
Yes, I think it’s a serious move because we are dealing with the Cree communities and the trust has to be there for us to work together. We still have people in all the places saying we should be able to bid on our own. In Mistissini I have people all the time saying that. I have to explain it’s a negotiated contract and we shouldn’t be bidding against each other.
There is going to an opportunity for public bidding and tendering also. That’s where we can bid against each other if we want to but these are negotiated contracts.
The negotiated contracts are for the benefit of everyone. For example, if the catering takes off in a few years it would take 300 people to run the big town.
So there will be plenty of opportunities for everyone?
Yes, because you will need 200 manpower there all the time. There’s cooks, janitors and other services. We have to look at this as a stepping stone. We can’t say when the contracts are finished that everything is over and there is no more work. Once we are trained when a mine opens up or any other development we’ll have the people to put into place for the jobs. We can take the bids to make a future. The last project was 25 years ago and we should have had engineers ready. We lost an opportunity.
This all sounds good, so my next question would be: How do you join the consortium?
Anyone who wants to join can and there is a registration fee of $50 to join. You can contact George Pachanos at Cree Construction in Montreal. Right now I can tell you I don’t think very many people have joined it. When the consortium is fully chartered we will have to have memberships though. We are trying to figure out how to do it. People have looked at charging by how many men you have on the job and others are saying a one per cent of the contract to be charged. This way we will be self-supporting. It will eventually need to be self-financing. Out of the $900 million in contracts there should be something that will keep it going.
The catering contract awarded to Cree Construction will have a percentage and a penalty attached to it. We had to do this because if companies get pressured by Hydro to submit a bid without going through the consortium then it will just split us all apart and nobody will benefit. We’ll probably end up losing most of the contracts in the end. So it’s important that Crees stick together. It’s going to be a hard road.
We have about 100 people who want to come in and start businesses. By this I mean people from outside of the Cree communities. One guy in Mistissini came up to me and showed me a fax. He didn’t even know what it was about. The fax was offering to make him a shareholder in a company. They wanted to use him and he didn’t even know where they got his name. It was an attempt to access the Cree negotiated contracts by non-Natives.
That’s part of what the consortium is there for. We have to watch that. We can’t have these people coming in and the Crees don’t benefit.
Another thing is the consortium has Johnny Saganash. His job will be to see that a percentage of Crees are hired for these contracts. This isn’t in the Hydro Agreement but it is a part of the consortium’s policies.
We want to make sure that Cree students like engineers and that will have jobs up there when it happens.
How are you going to get the skills to the people who don’t have them right now?
There’s money for training. Our next move is to meet with Henry Mianscum and the other schools to see how we set up the type of training for positions that will be required for the future. Don’t forget if in the Agreement it says if you take someone as an apprentice you get money for a portion of their wages. This is an incentive for the companies to train and hire us.
It’s the same with the companies we are talking to. Take Selecto. If they train people they told us it doesn’t matter they will have jobs wherever they want in the world because they have been trained to do that work. The consultant we met started out as a dishwasher when he was young. One of the guys in the company recognized him as a good potential and started training him. Now he’s the chief consultant for them. Joint partnership in this case isn’t for individuals. It’s something that benefits the community in more ways than one. These are the types of considerations that will be more favoured by the Cree.
I feel through this all that the people in the north have to start working together. Native and non-native or we will end up getting nothing out of it. We have to start developing skills and training for our youth too.
We get good experiences now. Take, for example. Mount Cummings that was done just outside of Chibougamau. That contract was awarded to someone outside from Lac Saint-Jean. There’s the town of Chibougamau sitting right there. There was a $24,000 difference between the successful bidder and the bidder from Chibougamau. They could have told the guy that if he was willing to lower his price it could have been good for Chibougamau. I heard the contractor didn’t even finish the job because they ran out of money so the contractor must have gotten more to finish the job. These are things we have to start working on in the north. The Mayor of Chibougamau, Don Bombar is always preaching on that theme that we have to start working together.
Mackenzie Bay is on the verge of opening up. If the town of Chibougamau and other communities in the area take on the challenge then Chibougamau will triple in size because they will put the mill in there. They will produce the liquid for the batteries right there. So that means a lot employment and all the spin-offs that come with the increased economic activity. That’s just the first part of it. There’s 50 years of work right there. Hydro wants to get that for sure since they will be able to store power. There are already buyers for the finished products.
There’s a lot of things happening like the diamond development so I think we can say there are a lot of opportunities opening up for everyone.