Alberta, and by extension Canada, is learning a lesson Quebec
learned the hard way 20 years ago.
U.S. opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline has been galvanized
by less than favourable attention on Canada's recent
environmental record and the manner in which Alberta's tar
sands are exploited. The same is somewhat true in British Columbia
and Quebec, where there is opposition to new pipeline routes from
Alberta to the Pacific and the Atlantic, respectively.
If Albertan oil cannot be exported, then it will be stranded and
its price heavily discounted. This will not just affect oil
producers, but also Alberta's finances and the Canadian economy
as a whole.
Electricity generated at Great Whale is to be exported to New
York and New England. In 1988, the New York Power Authority (NYPA)
conditionally signs a 21-year $17 billion power purchase contract
with Hydro-Quebec, Quebec's state-owned power utility.
This contract is essential to make Great Whale feasible, and
it's great news for the Quebec economy.
One major mistake made by the Quebec government was that it
undertook the Great Whale project with little inclination to
consult, and even less to involve, the First Nations most affected
by the projects, Quebec's Cree and Inuit. This led to push back
from First Nations, especially the Cree, resulting in lengthy and
acrimonious lawsuits and public debates that galvanized opposition
to the project.
The Quebec government and Hydro-Quebec were caught flat-footed
The Cree and Inuit advantageously used the courts and media.
First Nations accused Quebec of not only destroying a fragile
environment, but also of committing "cultural genocide"
by flooding large swaths of their ancestral lands.
The high point of the First Nations campaign was the very
telegenic arrival on Earth Day 1990 at New York City of a
Cree/Inuit boat paddling down the Hudson. Advance notice ensured
maximum media coverage. This in turn rallied U.S. NGOs and other
pressure groups behind the cause.
In 1991, NYPA asked Hydro-Quebec for a one-year extension before
confirming the previously signed power contract.
A year later, NYPA decided not to proceed. While economic
factors were the main cause of the cancelation, the environmental
and other social issues raised by the project made the decision
easier to make and defend.
Great Whale was finally shelved by premier Jacques Parizeau in
1994 after a face-saving hiatus.
Quebec learned a valuable lesson from this episode: what happens
at home resonates in export markets.
As a result, Quebec has been mindful in the last 20 years to
repair and improve relations with its First Nations in general, and
the Cree in particular. Several comprehensive agreements have been
concluded, relations normalized and a repeat of the Great Whale
debacle made less likely.
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Canada is a constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary democracy and a federation comprised of ten provinces and three territories. Canada's judiciary is independent of the legislative and executive branches of Government.
The Government of Alberta recently announced a number of policy changes that will impact the Alberta Electricity Market, composed of its generators, transmitters, distributors, retailers, electricity consumers and wholesale electricity market.
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