North

Cree $4.7 billion Grande Alliance infrastructure agreement moves to 1st phase of feasibility study

The $4.7 billion dollar Grande Alliance agreement proposes road extensions and upgrades, a 700-kilometre railway to the far northern reaches of Cree territory, a deep sea port, new power lines and the creation of a network of protected areas, among other projects to be built in three stages over the next 30 years.

Marks the start of a 12-month process looking to hear from Cree citizens, groups

Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum, left, shakes hands with Quebec Premier François Legault, after signing La Grande Alliance, a memorandum of understanding on collaborative, long-term economic development plan at a news conference in February 2020 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/ The Canadian Press)

A feasibility study — into the first phase of a multi-billion dollar development plan known as La Grande Alliance — is being called unique by Cree leaders in northern Quebec. 

"It's not a conventional feasibility study where you just do numbers and see how much you think it's going to cost," said Davey Bobbish, who is the president of the Cree Development Corporation, an investment arm of the Cree Nation Government. 

La Grande Alliance is a $4.7 billion dollar infrastructure agreement signed in February 2020 between the Cree and province of Quebec.

It proposes road extensions and upgrades, a 700-kilometre railway to the far northern reaches of Cree territory, a deep sea port, new power lines and the creation of a network of protected areas, among other infrastructure projects to be built in three stages over the next 30 years. At the time of the signing it was called the Cree vision of development.

The Cree Development Corporation announced earlier this month the awarding of a $4.4 million dollar contract for the phase one feasibility study that also marks the start of a 12-month process aiming to involve stakeholders in the "co-design" of the plan that could transform Cree territory. 

We are trying to put the communities in the forefront.- Davey Bobbish, President of the Cree Development Corporation

"We are trying to put the communities in the forefront [so] we take into account what is important to them," said Bobbish.

He added Cree leaders want a clear idea of what the priorities and benefits are for the Cree population at the end of the process.

The agreement proposes several infrastructure projects that would transform the territory including a deep sea port in Whapmagoostui, Que., 700 kilometres of new railway, hundreds of kilometres of new road, new power lines and the creation of a network of protected areas, among other projects to be built in three stages over the next 30 years. (Cree Nation Government)

"[La Grande Alliance] is something that is just an idea right now," Bobbish said. At the time of signing of La Grande Alliance, Bobbish was the Chief of Chisasibi, the largest of the Cree communities. 

Some opposition to La Grande Alliance

Some Cree were suprised by the agreement at the time of signing and criticised what they called a lack of consultation by Cree leaders and community chiefs. Close to 900 people have since signed a petition created by Cree youth against the agreement. 

The Cree Development Corporation is funding the hiring of 10 Grande Alliance Community Information Officers through local band offices, whose job it will be to organize consultations and discussions with Cree land users, community groups such as youth and women's associations, economic groups and individual citizens, according to Bobbish. 

"We're trying to get their ideas. We're trying to figure out what will be the benefits for the community,"  said Bobbish. 

The first phase includes a potential railway from the southern edge of Cree territory to kilometre 257 of the Billy Diamond Highway and upgrades to community access roads in northern Quebec for Waskaganish, Wemindji, Eastmain and Nemaska, among other projects.

Bobbish also said that all potential projects would still need to go through a full environmental review under section 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. 

Cree Grand Chief Abel Bosum, left, and Quebec Premier François Legault after signing a memorandum of understanding on a long-term economic development Grande Alliance agreement in February 2020. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Vision Eeyou Istchee Consortium

The contract for the feasibility study has been awarded to the Vision Eeyou Istchee Consortium, which is made up of firms Stantec, SYSTRA and Desfor.

Stantec has more than 40 years experience in Cree communities, according to a release by the company. 

Alessandro Cirella, director at Stantec and the consortium's project director said in a news release, that the study aims to improve the communities' quality of life.

"It will be carried out with the utmost respect for the land and Cree heritage, and will integrate sustainable development practices."

The Vision Eeyou Istchee Consortium is also hiring a Cree liaison officer who will work closely with the community information officiers or GACIOs.

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