in it for the Parti Québécois?
has figured out all the ins and outs of the Agreement in Principle signed
between the Cree and the Quebec government last week? If you haven’t
worked out all the angles yet don’t be ashamed, you’re not alone.
There are people out there who will tell you that this deal is a marriage
made in heaven. There are others who will be quick to point out that the
agreement is full of the kind of good intentions that help pave roads to
hell. Somewhere in between lies the truth.
issues are far-reaching and touch on every aspect of Cree life. There are
legal matters, financial considerations, and environmental factors. Though
there are those who seek to push this through in record time, the truth is
that it might take years to truly realize what tangible effects such an
agreement will have upon the James Bay Cree of northern Quebec. It might
help shed light on the agreement to try and understand the motivations of
the Quebec government. Why are they so eager to put $3.5 billion on the
line? What do they gain by suddenly becoming fast friends with the Cree?
It’s kind of like buying a used car. As eager as you might be to get
your hands on the wheel, you have to remember that there must be some
reason why the other guy is so eager to sell.
one thing, Quebec gains recognition as a nation from the Cree. It’s
right there at the top of the agreement in black and white: “Whereas the
parties wish to enter into a nation-to-nation agreement . . .” Should
any doubt linger as to the use of the word ‘nation’, just skip ahead
to the beginning of section one, dealing with context, where it is written
that, “Both the Cree Nation and the Quebec Nation agree to place
emphasis in their relations on those aspects that unite them as well as on
their common desire to continue the development of Northern Quebec and the
self-fulfillment of the Cree nation.”
anyone remember the referendum the Cree held following the last one held
by the Parti Québécois (PQ)? To anyone fearing Quebec’s separation
from the rest of Canada (not to mention the kind of self-righteous
flag-waving and historical revisionism that comes with it), the Cree were
seen as a beacon of reason. If Quebec was to push forward in its surge
toward sovereignty based on a unique linguistic and cultural history here
dating back some 450 years, then how strong an argument would the Cree
have had for sovereignty with a unique cultural and linguistic history
going back thousands of years? If you think it is significant that the PQ
is respecting the Cree as a nation, think again. What is significant here
is that the Cree are now respecting Quebec as a nation.
deal will reap huge political benefits for Premier Bernard Landry. Landry,
who inherited his post when Lucien Bouchard stepped aside, will have to
win an election someday soon and has yet to leave his indelible mark on
the province. Should the deal go through, it will stand as a monumental
achievement for Landry and could help him in his bid to remain in power
and regain some lost momentum for the PQ who have not been the same since
Lucien Bouchard resigned in the wake of racist comments made by party
hardliner Yves Michaud.
development has always been on the front burner for the provincial
government. Successful Cree opposition has been a constant stumbling block
to the full exploitation of Quebec’s natural resources. It is no secret
to anyone that Hydro-Quebec is one of the brightest jewels in the crown
for an economically viable independent Quebec. To forget the separatist
mandate of the current government would be to ignore the obvious. Hydro
development will allow the PQ to create thousands of jobs, to redirect the
Rupert River and to ultimately fortify the government’s plans. The
political gains from such a project will be enormous. Landry will be able
to look voters square in the face and say that he has managed to secure a
deal that will bolster the economic aspirations of Quebec. He will have
solved issues of employment, development, and Native relations in one fell
Cree have long been a thorn in the paw of PQ political ambitions. Landry
will be seen as Androcles, the man who managed to remove the ever-prickly
thorn from the paw. The lion will be free to roam at will. The deal, in
effect, creates a clean slate for the PQ in its dealings with the Cree.
Old court cases will be cleared off the books, old disputes will be signed
away, old injustices will magically be erased, and history between the
Cree and Quebec will start fresh from the year 2002. It is imagined that
the plan will also go some way to further the distance between Quebec and
Ottawa as the feds have been left out of the starting line-up on this one.
the allegations of racism that the PQ has endured, especially since the
Michaud episode, a new deal with the Cree will be a public relations coup.
The Quebec government will benefit from a new reputation for being
tolerant, respectful and progressive, a far cry from the old image of a
government that fails to respect the rights of its Native population. At a
time when Native politics are ablaze from coast to coast (Burnt Church,
Ipperwash, Barriere Lake), it would be quite an achievement for Quebec to
settle its disputes with the Cree with a stroke of the pen.
with permission of The
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