Québec has a modern, diversified, and somewhat dirigiste economy, in which the Government of Québec is not afraid to assume a central role. For decades now, the Government has attempted to identify economic sectors that – in its opinion – have a promising future. On Thursday, October 29, 2020, the Government added the exploration and mining of minerals to its list of such sectors when it released the Québec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals(2020-2025) (the "Plan").
(Other sectors that the Government has recently recognized as growth opportunities include food production and transformation, electricity exports, green hydrogen and the electrification of transportation.)
Basic Objective of the Plan
The basic objective of the Plan is to support exploration for Critical and Strategic Minerals ("CSM") in Québec as well as their production and recycling, all the while respecting local populations and the environment.
Critical and Strategic Minerals
The CSM acronym encompasses 22 minerals deemed essential for the "new economy" and, in some cases, national security, including vanadium, cobalt, titanium, and lithium. Many of the CSMs listed are present in minable quantities in Québec. Some of these are scarce in North America and would logically fall under the purview of the Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration announced on January 9, 2020 by the Canadian and U.S. governments.
At the time of writing, there are six mines in Québec producing the following CSMs: graphite, nickel, niobium, titanium and zinc. A seventh mine, the Nouveau Monde Graphite mine near Saint-Michel-des-Saints, is awaiting government authorizations to move into its commercial phase.
Concrete Objectives and Action Points
The Plan identifies 11 concrete objectives and puts forth 22 action points. We note among these the following:
- The Government is prepared to support the exploration and mining of CSMs in a number of ways, including sharing the financial risk of exploration and assistance in relations with local communities and First Nations.
- The Government wants to ensure that CSMs are used in Québec and not merely exported, and to this end is prepared financially to support value-added CSM projects.
- The Plan places considerable emphasis on creating a circular economy where CSMs are recovered and reused, and is prepared to assist in R&D and other steps to facilitate recycling and reuse.
- While the Government has focused on creating an environment favourable to CSMs and has resisted the urge of picking and choosing winning technologies—something very difficult to do accurately—it has agreed to fund further research in solid electrolyte batteries to be carried out by Hydro-Québec's IREQ research centre and the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
- Interestingly, the Plan is not just about CSMs. The Plan also addresses the need for infrastructure improvement in Québec's North and reaffirms Québec's environmental protection goals for that region. In other words, the Plan serves to reaffirm commitments made by previous governments, including those made under the Plan Nord.
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