OTTAWA — Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the new critical minerals strategy released Friday does not explicitly ban Canadian mines from exporting critical minerals and metals to countries such as China.
Nor does it prevent companies from taking advantage of any of the $3.8 billion in promised investments if they intend to ship the metal they produce to non-democratic countries.
But Wilkinson said the federal government is looking at whether new policies are needed to restrict where Canada’s critical minerals can be exported.
“It’s obviously something that we live in and it’s being discussed internally,” he said.
The 58-page strategy is the culmination of years of consultations and is designed to help Canada capitalize on what Wilkinson has repeatedly called “generational opportunities.”
In 2020, the World Bank predicted that demand for critical minerals — dozens of metals and minerals used in batteries and clean energy production, such as lithium and copper — would soar 500% by 2050.
China is currently a powerhouse in this field, the largest producer of many elements and a leader in refining and processing most of them for use in battery production and other technology manufacturing.
The need for the Canadian ally to consolidate supplies of these minerals has become more urgent this year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis in Europe, which relies heavily on Russia for gas and oil.
Wilkinson said it was a strategic mistake that should not be repeated with critical minerals.
“Western countries are increasingly concerned about being dependent on a small number of non-democratic jurisdictions for the supply and processing of critical minerals,” he said.
Earlier this fall, Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced a policy to review and limit investment by state-owned companies in critical Canadian mineral projects. So far, three Chinese companies have been ordered to divest their Canadian holdings, at least one of which has already been done.
On Dec. 2, Australian company Winsome Resources signed a $2 million deal to buy a stake in Vancouver-based Power Metals from China-based Sinomine Rare Metals Resources. This includes the right to export lithium, cesium and tantalum at the Case Lake project in Ontario.
The project is still under development. But China Mining is also the owner of the Tanco mine in Manitoba, which restarted lithium production a year ago. All are shipped to China for processing.
Pierre Gratton, president of the Canadian Mining Association, said export controls would be “a very heavy stick,” but given the huge global demand, he didn’t expect finding other customers to be a major issue.
“No one in our industry is blind to the fact that the world is changing,” Gratton said.
“I think I’ve heard Deputy Prime Minister (Crystia) Freeland say we’re re-entering some kind of new Cold War. It’s definitely going to change investment and trade flows; it’s already there. We’ll just have to see how it evolves .”
Gratton praised the new strategy Friday, calling it a comprehensive and clear road map that will help drive investment in Canada’s mining sector.
“This is a very exciting time for the industry,” he said. “It’s hard not to be very optimistic about it.”
The strategy has five broad goals – economic growth, climate action, advancing reconciliation, ensuring a diverse workforce and global security.
Canada holds the majority of the 31 key minerals on its list, but has chosen in its strategy to initially focus on the six with the greatest growth potential.
These include lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper and 17 metals and minerals called rare earth elements.
There are already substantial nickel, copper and cobalt mining operations, as well as smaller graphite operations.
Canada is not a commercial producer of rare earth elements, but it does have some of the largest known deposits. The Tanco mine in Manitoba is the only lithium mine currently operating, but at least one more will reopen in Quebec next year.
The strategy and the $3.8 billion investment in the 2022 federal budget aim to encourage new exploration, expedite regulatory and environmental review, build infrastructure where needed to support the discovery of new deposits, and develop equity partnerships with First Nations.
Sharleen Gale, Fort Nelson Aboriginal director and chair of the Aboriginal Major Projects Coalition, said every mine and battery mineral processing facility must have a “meaningful” partnership with affected Aboriginal people.
She said the coalition appreciated the strategy but encouraged the government to go further.
“This includes taking steps to ensure that proponents of battery mineral infrastructure engage Aboriginal countries at the earliest stages of these projects, and that equity options are always part of proposed key battery mineral projects on Aboriginal land,” she said.
Clean Energy Canada says the battery supply chain opportunity could contribute up to $48 billion annually to the Canadian economy and support up to 250,000 jobs by 2030.
The Canadian Press report was first published on Dec. 9, 2022.