QUEBEC – Quebec’s Pessamit Innu say they will go to major American and European cities to denounce Premier Jean Charest’s cherished northern development plan.
Raphael Picard, chief of the Pessamit Innu band council, says the Plan Nord violates the rights of aboriginal people and “rapes” their land.
Besides the international protest, the band is ready to go to court to stop the government and has also threatened to block a key highway in the area 400 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.
Picard says his band wants $5 billion in compensation over 50 years for past and future development of the area’s resources.
The provincial government has offered $350 million in compensation paid out over five decades. That amount would come as $113 million from the government and more than $210 million from other economic proceeds.
Picard rejected the compensation flatly, calling it an insult.
“It’s frivolous on the part of the government, it’s disrespectful,” he told a news conference on Monday.
“It’s sad to see them returning to a colonial attitude, (where they) offer us knives and hatchets in return for bundles of furs. They think we’re stupid.”
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Premier Jean Charest said in Montreal he regrets that negotiations have failed but said the door remains open to further talks.
He pointed out the Pessamits are only one community and others support the wide-ranging plan. Plan Nord would increase mining, energy production, transportation and protected land across a huge stretch of land.
“It does not compromise the Plan Nord,” Charest said of the Pessamits opposition, adding the government negotiated in good faith.
Plans for an international awareness campaign are reminiscent of Cree protests in the 1990s against the Great Whale hydroelectric project.
It was eventually cancelled because of public concerns about its impact on aboriginal communities and the environment.
The Cree canoed to New York City from Hudson Bay to lobby potential electricity customers; they also took out newspaper ads denouncing the project.
Picard was scathing in his criticism of Charest, saying he had sold American, European and Japanese companies a load of “false advertising” during trade missions to promote the plan.
The Plan Nord centres around the mining and energy sectors and lays out, for example, 11 new mining projects during the next few years. It is considered a likely legacy item of Charest’s premiership.
Charest has said the Plan Nord could lead to $80 billion in public and private investment over the next 25 years.
The Innu aren’t the only ones with harsh words for the plan.
Former Parti Quebecois premier Jacques Parizeau said in a recent newspaper interview that he felt the government wasn’t getting enough from the private proceeds.
He noted that new infrastructure such as roads would have to be built in the area to accommodate companies’ operations.
Charest didn’t dispute Parizeau’s right to have an opinion but said the government had done its homework and Quebec would be getting a fair deal. He also said Parizeau should refer to previous deals cut by PQ governments in similar circumstances.
(With files from Lia Levesque in Montreal)