Damming Quebec’s rivers still a bad idea

The Gazette

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The rural vote is up for grabs. If anyone doubts that, they have only to look at the latest announcement from the Quebec Liberals. Claude Béland, MNA for Kamouraska-Témincouata, says his party will relaunch the controversial mini-dam project abruptly dropped by the Parti Québécois in November.

The PQ is no less eager to curry favour with rural voters but threw in the towel on this bad idea after members of Quebec’s artistic community led a protest over the damming of some of Quebec’s most scenic recreational waterways.

Will the fate of the next provincial election turn on whether private energy producers are allowed to build small dams throughout the province? Should it?

In the mid-1990s, the province set up a commission of inquiry headed by Quebec Court Judge François Doyon to study small-dam construction in Quebec. The commission found the program to be confused, poorly managed and given to favouritism. Between 1993 and 1998, small-dam contracts cost Hydro-Québec more than $180 million. Doyon also concluded that few permanent jobs were created after dam construction and that many of the plants had seriously deleterious consequences for the rivers.

Even at its most expansive, the PQ program of small dams would have produced only 425 megawatts of power – just over one per cent of Hydro-Quebec’s 37,000 megawatts of installed capacity. On the other side of the ledger were potential losses in recreational use of some of Quebec’s most spectacular waterways. These included the Sept Soeurs rapids on the Rouge River between Montreal and Hull and the Neuf Falls on the Batiscan River.

In November, Quebec announced that no new mini-hydro projects would be built on Quebec’s rivers. Three dams at Matawin in the Lanaudiere, Magpie near Sept-Îles and Rivière des Quinze were to go ahead, but the moratorium stopped another 10 mini-power projects.

There is no question that Quebec’s rural areas are suffering from a shortage of jobs and people, Some civic leaders see the mini-dams as a way to generate income and employment. But that would be a case that has to be proved, over the findings of the Doyon commission. For the Liberals to fan hopes where little hope exists borders on the irresponsible. Such dams were a bad idea for the PQ, and they’re a bad idea for the Liberals.

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