Eight communities from three First Nations in Quebec and Ontario have signed a working agreement with Gazoduq Inc., the company behind a proposed 780-kilometre natural gas pipeline, to analyze the impacts of the project on their territories.
The collaboration does not, however, “in any way” mean the communities have given their consent, said Adam Jourdain, the president of the collaborative entity named Mamo Aki.
The communities are located in Quebec’s Abitibi, Mauricie and Saguenay regions, as well as Northern Ontario, all places the pipeline would run through if it is approved.
The Wahgoshig First Nation, Abitibiwinni First Nation, Lac-Simon Anishnabe First Nation, Atikamew of Opitciwan, Atikamekw of Wemotaci, Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation, Essipit First Nation and Pessamit First Nation will now be represented under Mamo Aki.
Jourdain, who is also the director of economic development for Wemotaci, said being able to speak as one united front will ensure communities have the same information and a stronger voice as the project moves forward.
Normally, he said, companies would have to go door-to-door and sign separate agreements with each community.
“Now we are all at the same table and we have the same information — we’ll be able to put more pressure,” he said.
Each community will still decide on their own whether or not they support the pipeline in the long run.
But the budget allocated by Gazoduq to Mamo Aki will allow the hiring of independent environmental and legal experts.
“It serves as a lever to help us make a free and informed decision at the end of this process,” Jourdain told CBC News.
Louis Bergeron, the president of Gazoduq, said the company has been working to reach this kind of agreement for the past two years.
“It makes it more efficient to have these eight communities working on the same page and having one co-ordinated approach with Gazoduq,” Bergeron said.
The company hopes to carry natural gas to a liquefaction terminal on the Saguenay River, a sister project being pushed by GNL Quebec.
Both GNL Quebec and Gazoduq recently found out that one of the main investors in their $14-billion endeavour was pulling out, leaving a $4-billion gap.
Gazoduq said it continues to move forward with the project, and said a final decision on the investment plan will be made in 2021.
The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) is currently reviewing Gazoduq’s initial project description.
The company also intends to submit to Quebec’s environmental review board, known by its French acronym BAPE, in 2020.
Bergeron said that when they do, they will already have the input they need from First Nations.
“They will themselves conduct some specific studies regarding the environment and traditional activities on their own territories,” said Bergeron.
By including First Nations early on in the process, Bergeron hopes Gazoduq will be able to give a more complete portrait of the project to the BAPE.
“We’ll be in a position to talk about remediation and I would say mitigation, and how we can better deal with the issues, the specificities of their territories and their traditional activities.”
Company remains unphased despite protests
In recent weeks, both Innu and Anishnabe communities in Quebec have protested in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.
The protests didn’t block traffic or cause any major disruptions, but showed some local opposition to the Gazoduq pipeline.
The company said even though it will be dealing with one centralized group from now on, it will be able to address divisions within the communities thanks to the studies they will submit to the company.
“They will collaborate to the filing of the application, meaning that all their concerns and preoccupations will have been taken into account,” said Bergeron.