VAL-D’OR | In Abitibi-Témiscamingue, criticizing mining companies is a high-risk activity. Yet this is what the environmental activist Henri Jacob has been doing for several decades. “There is an aplaventrism in front of the industry”, he pleads in an interview with Le Journal.
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We find this early ecologist at the Prospecteur microbrewery in Val-d’Or.
The man with the generous white beard, who took part in the shocking documentary The Boreal Error in 1999 with his friend Richard Desjardins, has lost none of his verve and spiciness.
Considered as colonized
Since then, he founded the organization Action boréale, whose mission is to protect the forests of northern Quebec, but he religiously follows what is happening in the mining sector.
"What shocks me is that we are still considered as a third world country, as colonized", launches Henri Jacob, frontally.
He would like there to be more mining companies in Quebec and for the communities to have more control over decisions in the mining sector.
“We are still in a mentality of water carriers. It's boring to say, but our leaders still consider that we are just arms, not smart enough to transform, "he laments.
Even worse, according to him, in the land of mines, miners are still considered cheap labor. However, the average salary of a worker is around $100,000, which is much higher than the average in Quebec.
Participate in profits
But the ecologist recalls the sacrifices of these lives of hard work, at the bottom of the mines, and believes that these workers could benefit more from the monster profits generated by the mines.
“These people work and risk their lives. Yeah, that sounds like big paydays, but when you look at corporate profits going up... How come we don't get more out of it? he asks himself.
Over five years, the price of an ounce of gold has gone from $1,250 to more than $1,830 in the last few days, an increase of 46%.
We would all be millionaires
“I would dare to go and get all the gold value that we took out of the ground, and divide that by the population, we would all be millionaires. When the price of gold increases, it should reflect more on the regions where you exploit it, ”he continues.
However, Henri Jacob wants to say it. He is far from being against mining, but he would like to see management done for the benefit of communities and not just for the benefit of companies.
"It's nice to get gold out, you dump gold, when our grandkids are going to want smart phones, you're going to need them. But it will be returned to safes in Switzerland or Arabia or wherever. Soon there will be no more gold in the ground,” he says.
Malartic, the scar
He still has in mind the episode of Malartic, profoundly transformed by the open pit gold mine, the largest in Canada. The ecologist who lives 15 km from the city remembers the moment of the establishment.
“All the municipal councils, all the politicians approved the mine even before the impact studies and the public hearings! I remember, we moved the houses during the hearings, ”he says.
“There is an aplaventrism in front of the mining industry,” he says.
But what breaks his heart is the clearly visible scar on the Abitibi territory that the exploitation will leave.
“You break the site for thousands of years. The Government of Quebec does not require the filling of open pit mines. So the hole that is there, it will be there for all future generations”.
What future for Malartic?
He wonders what future the mining towns of Abitibi will have when the gold has dried up.
“Who is going to stay in a city that has no possibility of expansion, because on one side it is a hole and on the other side there are marshes. There is no possibility of developing a tourist activity. People as they get older will leave, moreover, young people do not stay in Malartic.
“The mine will close in 10 years, 15 years? These people are condemned. It will become a ghost town. And it was done with the complicity of the City, ”he concludes.