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Sophie Brochu, then president and CEO of Valener, operator of Gaz Metro, is photographed at the company's annual meeting in Montreal in this file photo from March 22, 2016.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Premier François Legault’s government has named energy industry veteran Sophie Brochu as president and chief executive officer of Hydro-Québec as the province seeks to tap the utility to help rebuild public finances in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms. Brochu will become the first woman to lead Hydro-Québec, one of the world’s biggest producers of low-emission hydro power. She starts on April 6, the government said in a statement Wednesday.

“Quebec will emerge from these difficult times and I’m convinced that with Ms. Brochu at its helm, Hydro-Québec will play a key role in our recovery,” Mr. Legault said. “Her in-depth knowledge of the energy sector will be an undeniable asset in making Quebec the battery of North America.”

Ms. Brochu has 30 years of experience in the energy sector and is also a director at Bank of Montreal and BCE Inc. At Gaz Métro, now known as Énergir, she helmed a doubling of assets to $6-billion over eight years as the natural gas distributor took over Vermont’s two big electric utilities, before leaving the company in 2019.

Her appointment comes after the unexpected departure of former Hydro-Québec CEO Éric Martel last month. Mr. Martel moved to Bombardier Inc., taking over from Alain Bellemare. The transportation manufacturer faces yet another crisis that will test Mr. Martel’s leadership ability as it tries to finalize several asset sales and keep buyers interested in its business jets amid a massive economic shock caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Ms. Brochu joins a strong management team at Hydro-Québec, as well as 19,500 employees committed to providing reliable power and high-quality services to the utility’s customers, who are currently very hard hit, Hydro-Québec chairwoman Jacynthe Côté said in the statement. “Sophie’s leadership style is both unifying, which is something we really need right now, and visionary, which will allow us to seize extraordinary opportunities in the longer term,” she said.

Hydro is coming off a decent year during which it generated close to $3-billion in net income, benefiting from higher demand in all its customer segments. The utility signed a new export contract with New Brunswick earlier this year and made a $661-million investment in renewable power producer Innergex Renewable Energy Inc.

Ms. Brochu’s appointment raised immediate speculation of a major transformation being planned at Hydro-Québec in the years ahead. The utility could seek to build on its Innergex acquisition and consolidate the energy industry more broadly, business publication Les Affaires said.

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