In the early 1980’s, aluminum giant Alcan (that’s apparently their official name, by the way: “aluminum giant Alcan”) located their headquarters in a renovated heritage hotel on Sherbrooke, inserting newly built low-rise wings behind the hotel to wrap around the Greek Revival Salvation Army church to the south. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness of the project was hailed as a kind of charitable intervention on the part of Alcan, a nice gesture to the city — they could have fatally cut themselves off from reality in a suburban office park, or recklessly built some huge speculative skyscraper with their name on top (only to lose money on the deal when paying tenants didn’t take the bait), but instead chose to do something sensible that met their needs. Nobody disputes the quality of the architecture involved, but let’s credit their good sense in pursuing their own interests before we credit their generosity in incidentally respecting ours.

Now comes news that Alcan is expanding their mini-campus, by building a 15-story tower on top of (behind? beside? nobody knows) the same church, purchased from the Salvation Army. A $58 million project altogether, relatively small potatoes, and yet the announcment was attended by the mayor, the premier, the economic development minister, and a crowd of media (the recent announcement of a new $135 million skyscraper on de Maisonneuve entailed neither a pile-on of politicians nor banner headlines). All this when they admit they weren’t even considering moving their headquarters out of town. Maybe it’s the half-billion dollars of subsidies and “loans” (don’t worry, they’ll just get written off — after all, it’s not like there’s banks or a stock market that could provide capital to firms like this) that Quebec has thrown at Alcan in the past few months.

In BC, Alcan is threatening to cancel a smelter project unless the (publicly owned) BC Hydro buys surplus hydro from them at $71 a megawatt-hour. This is power that Alcan generates using (publicly owned) water for $5 per megawatt-hour. In South Africa, Alcan is gearing up to incur 4.7 million tons of carbon emissions per year at its new smelter, using electricity from coal-fired plants. This is after it negotiated hard for a good deal from South Africa’s (publicly owned but partially privatized) national electric utility, Eskom, which specifically entails eliminating Eskom’s ability to redirect the resulting profits to reduce power bills for the impoverished black citizens — an undesirable “cross-subsidy” — to whom it denied service under apartheid.

Alcan giveth, sure. But boy does it taketh the fuck away.


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