Premier François Legault and the James Bay Cree have signed a $4.7-billion deal that will extend rail networks north, protect new wildlife habitats against development and partner on new infrastructure projects.
The Grand Alliance is a “new chapter” in the relationship between both governments, Legault said Monday. An extended rail network means more minerals can be extracted from mines in the boreal forest and shipped to American and German markets.
By increasing rail capacity, Legault says Quebec will offer North American and European businesses an alternative to Chinese imports.
“It will create well-paying jobs in the Cree community but also foster a new generation of Cree entrepreneurs,” said Legault, who called the deal a model of nation-to-nation governance.
The alliance, he says, balances environmental protections with economic development.
“We, the leaders of the Cree nation, are here today not to make a sacrifice or surrender,” said Abel Bosum, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees. “We’re not forced to make a concession. We have the right to choose. The vision for this program came from us. It represents our vision of sustainable development.”
Lithium from mines in Cree territory takes a meandering route south; one involving trucks that snake on logging roads, offload their cargo onto a train network badly in need of an overhaul.
Legault says the project will have twofold affect in curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. An extended rail network means diesel trucks are virtually taken out of the equation. And the fact that they’re carrying lithium — used in batteries that fuel electric cars — will also have on impact in fighting climate change.
The Cree and Quebec government will split the cost of studying the new railroad — which Legault said will cost “in the tens of millions of dollars.” The plan also includes hundreds of kilometres of power lines and roads linking remote Cree villages to the outside world and the construction of a deep sea port in James Bay.
It is the extension of a series of treaties between Quebec and the Cree — one that began with the 1976 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and extended to the Paix des Braves in 2002.
“This is the return on the investment Quebec made (in the Cree),” said Bosum. “It is a model of nation-to-nation governance.”
ccurtis@postmedia.com