In Quebec, a man wages a lonely war against the Churchill Falls “unjust” deal

Lucien Beauregard, of Sainte-Julie, a Montreal suburb, says the Churchill Falls Accord, while beneficial for his home province, is a historic wrong that needs to be righted.  (Submitted by Lucien Beauregard - photo credit)

Lucien Beauregard of Sainte-Julie, a suburb of Montreal, says the Churchill Falls agreement, while beneficial for his home province, is a historic wrong that needs to be righted. (Submitted by Lucien Beauregard – photo credit)

Lucien Beauregard readily admits it. In his circle of friends, in his neighborhood, probably in all of Quebec, he has few supporters when it comes to the fight of his life: contesting the Churchill Falls deal.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the treaty is seen by many as a historic injustice — a ironclad 65-year agreement that will allow Quebec to buy its neighbor’s hydroelectric power at an embarrassingly low price.

But in Sainte-Julie, the Montreal suburb where Beauregard lives, the Churchill Falls arouse little interest, let alone mockery. After all, the deal is extremely favorable for Quebecers.

“I’ll tell you straight away, the majority of people [in Quebec] saying the same things the Supreme Court said in 2018: It’s a contract, they signed it, so live with it,” said Beauregard, a 73-year-old engineer.

“For me it’s a question of justice. … It’s a bad deal that doesn’t make sense.”

‘Angry’ by Deal

In 2000, Beauregard moved to St. John’s on a 10-month contract. One day a colleague at work started teasing him.

“He said, ‘You Quebecers, we like you guys, but don’t forget Churchill Falls,'” Beauregard recalled in an interview last week. “I had no idea about Churchill Falls. I had heard of the name, I knew it was a hydroelectric power plant, but nothing else.”

Beauregard called Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and asked for a copy of the infamous deal. A few days later, a brown envelope appeared on his desk.

“I was furious,” said Beauregard, whose home office now keeps 14 folders of research on the treaty — speeches by former Prime Minister Brian Tobin, St. John’s Telegram columns by Russell Wangersky and a wealth of information about the Hydro-Québec Chair, who oversaw the Churchill Falls Accords, Jean-Claude Lessard, whom Beauregard describes as “the spawn of Satan”.

“I’ve stood in the weeds at Churchill Falls every day for 20 years.”

Submitted by Lucien Beauregard

Submitted by Lucien Beauregard

Watertight agreement

In 1966, Hydro-Québec agreed in a letter of intent to purchase most of the electricity produced at Churchill Falls Dam, an interim commitment that allowed Brinco, a consortium of British companies, to borrow the necessary funds and start construction of the massif to begin 5,428-megawatt dam.

But the final contract wasn’t signed until three years later, while construction work was still ongoing and Brinco was shedding money. Hydro-Québec’s bargaining position had been significantly strengthened – and it was taking full advantage.

The final agreement continues to be very beneficial for Hydro-Québec, which currently pays 0.2 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity at Churchill Falls. For comparison, in the third quarter of 2022, Hydro-Québec earned 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour — 41 times more — on its electricity exports.

After the first 40 years of the treaty, it was automatically renewed for a further 25 years without the possibility of renegotiation. The price of electricity is not indexed to inflation and has even fallen over time. Successive Newfoundland and Labrador governments have repeatedly tried to reopen the deal, losing once and for all in the country’s Supreme Court in 2018.

Time to bury the hatchet?

The Churchill Falls contract expires in 2041, and with Hydro-Québec’s strategic planning spanning decades, not years, the governments of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador must soon decide the future of the dam — and their energy partnership.

Churchill Falls produces 15 percent of Quebec’s electricity. The province’s electricity surplus is expected to dry up by 2026 and Prime Minister François Legault is scrambling for energy sources.

Legault has made no secret of his interest in developing the 2,200-megawatt Gull Island project, another hydroelectric power plant on Labrador’s Churchill River. To do so, however, he would need the cooperation of the Newfoundland and Labrador government, which requires a fair price for Churchill Falls’ power supply.

For Lucien Beauregard, the upcoming negotiations are a golden opportunity to bury the hatchet and apologize to Newfoundland and Labrador for what he calls an “unworthy” deal.

“It’s a unique opportunity to tear up the contract today and for you [Newfoundlanders and Labradorians] to get the price you deserve,” he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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