Sierra Club activists in Canada are savoring a victory that many observers believed
would never come: the death of the $13 billion James Bay -- Great Whale hydroelectric
project in Quebec.
On Nov. 17, a joint panel of federal, provincial and indigenous representatives ordered
the publicly-owned utility, Hydro-Quebec, to rework an environmental study it had prepared
for the project. The next day, Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau announced that the Great
Whale project was no longer a priority of his government and would not be constructed
"I can't tell you how many people said to me over the years, 'You can't stop
Great Whale,'" said Elizabeth May, executive director of Sierra Club of Canada. "But
I never doubted the project would be stopped."
The ill-fated project -- named for one of the rivers that would be affected by it, la
Grande Baleine, or the Great Whale -- was essentially "sucked under by the weight
of the massive economic disaster it would bring to the province of Quebec," said
The project would have dammed and diverted five rivers that flow into Hudson Bay,
flooding over 2,000 square miles in regions across the northern part of the province. It
posed a direct threat to the homeland and livelihood of the Cree Indians. As a result, the
Cree, led by Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, was at the forefront of the fight against
For five years, Sierra Club activists have worked with the Cree in their efforts to
halt the project. Club leaders coordinated public events and rallies across Canada, a
number of which featured speeches by Coon Come. Another Club role was to educate the
public and elected officials throughout the rest of Canada and the United States.
Activists in Maine and Vermont, for example, succeeded in convincing their state
governments to refuse power from the Great Whale project. In March 1992, the New York
Power Authority canceled a $4 billion contract with Hydro-Quebec.
The Sierra Club of Canada was also an intervenor in the multimillion dollar
environmental assessment process that was carried out by Hydro-Quebec. As intervenor, the
Club -- assisted by scientists who volunteered their time -- reviewed the draft
environmental impact statement and pronounced it inadequate.
That position was echoed by indigenous groups and other environmental organizations.The
Great Whale project would have supplied energy to an area already experiencing an energy
glut, said May. In addition, Hydro-Quebec planned to charge energy consumers in the United
States less than it would charge citizens of Quebec.
"Nobody needs this kind of multibillion dollar mega-project geared to
exports," said May. "It just brings everybody into greater levels of
Sierra Club of Canada, through its Citizen Campaign on Climate Change, will continue
its work to replace mega-projects such as Great Whale with energy efficiency and
conservation. In addition, the group recently achieved one of the goals of the Sierra
Club's James Bay Ecoregion campaign: Canadian activists have persuaded the federal
environment minister, Sheila Copps, to agree to implement endangered species legislation
For More Information: Contact Elizabeth May at Sierra Club of Canada,
SOURCE: AMY WILSON, THE PLANET, DEC/JAN '95
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