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The Role of Law and Technical Discourses in a Border-Crossing Hydroelectric Development: The Case of Churchill Falls in Labrador

Authors: Martine Verdy*, Universite De Montreal
Topics: Legal Geography, Political Geography, Resources
Keywords: nation-building, national identity, nationalism, resource-making, hydroelectricity, political borders, Newfoundland-and-Labrador, Quebec, Canada
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

An analysis of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric development as a border-crossing project shows political borders as instruments of resource-making and nation-building in ways that are reinforced through the authority of scientific and legal discourses. Here, the law and legal processes mobilize technical discourses, converting the border from a line between two territories into an effective barrier that concentrates the benefits of resource exploitation on one side, and the costs on the other. The nationalist discourses that result mask the interdependence of the territories in question. This study of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric development, which links the province of Quebec with that of Newfoundland and Labrador (Canada), overturns the accepted history of Quebec’s resource nationalism. Where it is commonly accepted that the province’s nationalist discourse “maîtres chez-nous” (masters at home) was made possible through the massive damming of its own rivers, this work shows that it was the construction of a 5200 MW dam in Newfoundland’s northern territory of Labrador that generated the wealth and the training for the construction of the Quebec dams that came to symbolize its modernity and national independence. To become “maîtres chez nous,” it was necessary to become “maîtres chez-eux” (masters abroad). This research relies on archival work, which includes newspaper articles, legal documents and statistical data reports on the production and availability of energy. This methodology allows to integrate the various discourses and perceptions of a wide variety of actors including government and corporate representatives, construction workers, environmental groups, lawyers, judges, experts and engineers.

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