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Hydro-Québec, the world’s fourth largest hydropower producer, pumps out low carbon electricity at the cheapest rates in North America. For some, it is the key to a greener, more prosperous, future, but that “clean energy” comes freighted with a complicated history and an uncertain future.

This is the story of how a massive, state-owned utility company came to be a symbol of the French-Canadian people. It’s also the story of how a company, with all of the force of a colonial culture behind it, used its power to try to push Quebec’s original occupants—its indigenous people—to one side. It’s the story of how that effort led to something that has become its own kind of revolution in Canada: native people pushing to regain power over their own lives and culture.

And it’s a story about the environmental benefits and human costs of clean energy. 
 

 

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Powerline Part One: Maitres Chez Nous


Powerline Part One: Maitres Chez Nous


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Not long ago, something happened in Quebec.

It changed the province's politics, economy and its national identity. And it happened because of hydro-power.


1950s Quebec was a province clearly divided between the haves and the have-nots. Almost everything having to do with power -- as in electricity, hydro-power -- was under an anglo thumb. With British and American corporations controlling the means of production, French Canadians ended up paid less and holding fewer positions of power. There was mention of assimilating them into anglo-culture. Francophones were the butts of jokes and the target of discrimination.

 

For decades, Quebecois nationalist movements had pushed for autonomy. They knew that empowerment came in the form of electrical companies. One premier of Quebec, Adelard Godbout, called the Anglo-Canadian-owned hydro companies an "economic dictatorship." Hydro-Quebec, a government-owned corporation, was established in the forties to curb that monopoly and lower the cost of electricity. But this didn't drastically change the political or social landscape for the French Canadian identity. For true

 
Hydro projects multiply along Quebec's rivers, constantly increasing the province's generation capacity

Hydro projects multiply along Quebec's rivers, constantly increasing the province's generation capacity

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