The Crees of eastern James Bay may be entering into a new relationship with Quebec but there are storm clouds on the horizon. Gary Cooper says he hasn’t seen any evidence of this new relationship that the Crees are supposed to be enjoying with the rest of Quebec. Cooper says his company, Linda and Gary’s Trucking, has been systematically excluded, and finally ignored, by Domtar, a forestry company, who is majority-owned by the Quebec government. At the heart of the problem is a wood chip hauling contract and Domtar’s insistance that dealing with one general contractor is the right way of doing business for them.
Cooper says he’s been polite and reasonable but feels that Domtar may have a racist attitude when they refuse to award contracts to Cree companies like his. “They insisted that I sub-contact through their primary supplier. You can’t take that to a bank and expect a loan if you need one,” said Cooper. Cooper feels drastic measures may be needed if Domtar is to respect the new relationship. A roadblock on Domtar vehicles and their suppliers may be the only thing they understand, he said. “They are in the Cree territory utilizing resources on our land and benefiting from that without allowing us to benefit and this is wrong,” said Cooper.
Cooper is still willing to try less drastic measures, but he said he is getting tired after sending numerous letters and getting no reply. His latest letter was addressed to the Quebec Minister of Native Affairs Michael Letourneau, the deputy for the Ungava region. Cooper said his letter to Letourneau is to request help in supporting the spirit of the recent Peace of the Brave Agreement by helping Cree companies.
After talking with Letourneau, Cooper says he has learnt he is not alone in being disappointed with Domtar. “Other small businesses and people are complaining. The contracts and the jobs are all going to people from Val d’Or, Montreal and places like that.
That’s what I’m hearing,” said Cooper, adding that it is more than natives who are not benefiting from Domtar’s policies.
According to Marianne Trudelle, press attaché for Letourneau, Cooper has been asked to hold off on the road blockade until the Deputy can look into the matter.
Bernard Senegal of Domtar is unsure of what Cooper is asking for. Senegal says chip-hauling for Domtar is something that needs to be covered by only one contractor. “We see it as a matter of efficiency for the company,” said Senegal, “A truck must be full coming and going.” Senegal said this is complex and that’s why Berjean was chosen as a general contractor. “We’ve told Gary to apply to Berjean, who would be glad to have him as one of the fleet working for Berjean.” Senegal says he doesn’t know why Cooper doesn’t want to work for him and says Berjean is willing to have Cooper working for him and has solid contacts with many mills including other companies than Domtar. Senegal said other owner/contractors are happy working with Berjean. He also suggested that Cooper could work for the Waswanipi Mill, where Alan Cooper, Gary Cooper’s dad is the general contractor.
Senegal said he is aware that Cooper may set up a roadblock with the Waswanipi Band’s blessings. “It’s a political issue. We’re not for it or against it. It does not concern our company as we are in the wood business. We will never encourage anyone to do this,” said Senegal. Senegal says they would never ask their employees to block a road, as it is illegal and not the way Domtar does business. “If you do something like this I guess you have to follow your conscience, but a road and a contract have nothing to do with each other. A blockade will not change our relations or contracts. We will not take this into consideration,” said Senegal, “Could you see me blocking a road to get a salary increase? It would never work. If it did work for me, then everyone would be on the road looking for a salary increase.”