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Robert Bourassa, father of James Bay hydro

The Story

In 1971 Premier Robert Bourassa vows to break Quebec's "vicious circle" of unemployment. The usually unemotional Bourassa is animated in this television clip while announcing plans for a project promising to encourage industry and create new jobs. It is a power initiative on James Bay that would become the largest hydroelectric power development in Canadian history. Hydro-Québec will build a series of dams, dikes, reservoirs and power stations and divert major rivers to harness enormous amounts of power. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: May 2, 1971
Duration: 0:46

Did You know?

• With the creation of Hydro-Québec, the province nationalized its private electricity companies beginning in 1944.
• In 1963 Quebec nationalized all remaining private companies. It was part of an effort - called The Quiet Revolution - to modernize the province. The idea to nationalize was promoted by the Minister of Natural Resources René Lévesque in 1962.

• James Bay was the next big step for Hydro-Québec. The development cost $13.7-billion and diverted three rivers - Caniapiscau, Eastmain and Opinaca - into reservoirs on La Grande Rivière.
• In 1982 another reservoir was created called La Grande-2. It was made by spilling a waterway three times the height of Niagara Falls into the underlying bedrock. It became the largest underground power operation in the world.

• The Cree and Inuit of James Bay contested the hydroelectric project because it flooded their land and caused mercury contamination in the bay's fish.
• In 2003 the James Bay project still remained incomplete.
• Around the time of the James Bay project launch, Bourassa left a Constitutional conference of Canadian premiers in disagreement with the prime minister.

• In 1971 he opposed Trudeau's ideas on constitutional patriation because he wanted more decentralization for Quebec.
• After the conference Bourassa explained his reasons: "I believe in a flexible federal system. That I want more powers for some provinces - for all the provinces - if they want those powers for social securities."

• A year later the premier faced a civil labour crisis. In 1972, 200,000 provincial government employees went on strike. The Bourassa government took out a court order to force teachers, civil servants and hospital employees back to work. In a bold move, Bourassa sent the ones who wouldn't comply to jail.



Robert Bourassa: Political Survivor more