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Hydroelectricity chez nous

From rushing rivers deep in Canada's wilderness comes the electricity that keeps our cities humming. As a renewable, emissions-free source of energy, hydroelectricity is "green," but flooding from hydroelectric dams has sometimes devastated traditional aboriginal livelihoods. Ranging from a single tidal turbine to Niagara Falls to a dam carved from a mountain, Canada's hydro projects provide 60 per cent of this country's power.

In the wilds of northern Quebec, a province hopes to secure its destiny. A huge hydroelectric project -- the first of its size for Hydro-Québec -- is underway on the Manicouagan River. For René Lévesque, Quebec's minister of natural resources, Manicouagan represents a chance to fulfill the philosophy of "maîtres chez nous," or "masters in our own house." On CBC Television's Newsmagazine, Lévesque says the project means Quebec will no longer be a "branch office" to the rest of Canada. 
. Hydro-Québec was founded in 1944 but it wasn't until the 1950s that the utility began building new hydroelectric plants on the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries.
. In 1960 Premier Jean Lesage and his Liberals won a provincial election, ushering in the "Quiet Revolution" - a period of social, institutional and political reforms.
. As minister of Public Works, René Lévesque was responsible for "hydraulic resources" in the province.

. After researching his role and its relationship to Hydro-Québec, Lévesque came to view the utility as "the goose that laid the golden egg." When his portfolio shifted and he became minister of natural resources in 1961, Lévesque drafted plans for Hydro-Québec to buy and nationalize all privately held power companies.
. When the company owners balked at the plan and the provincial cabinet was split on the issue, Lesage gambled and called an election.

. There was just one issue in the 1962 election: nationalizing Quebec's power utilities. "Maîtres chez nous!" was the Liberals' campaign slogan, linking the idea of nationalized power with a modern, dynamic society in control of its own destiny.
. The Liberals won the election with 63 seats to the Union Nationale's 31.
. In May 1963 the provincial government bought out the private power companies for $604 million. The nationalized utility began its first hydroelectric project soon afterward.

. For a reservoir, Hydro-Québec flooded Lake Manicouagan, a circular lake in a 72-kilometre-wide crater that was created in an asteroid strike about 212 million years ago.
. The dam at the Manicouagan site, which was completed in 1968, was named for former premier Daniel Johnson. Johnson himself was to have inaugurated the dam, but he passed away the night before the event. The inauguration was postponed for one year.

. The powerhouse at Manicouagan was nicknamed "Manic 5." The significance of the hydro project to Quebecers was so great that it inspired both a brand of cigarettes ("Manic") and a song (La Complainte de la Manic, or "The Ballad of the Manic"). 
Medium: Television
Program: Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: March 17, 1964
Guest(s): René Lévesque
Host: Norman DePoe
Narrator: Rex Loring
Duration: 4:36

Last updated: May 9, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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