Doug Ford's hopes for Ontario's electric vehicle industry hinge on mining its Ring of Fire
Premier Doug Ford's government is touting Ontario as a future electric vehicle manufacturing hub, and dangling that as a reason to speed up mining development in the northern part of the province. Ford's Progressive Conservatives want to lure the big automakers to produce electric vehicles in southern Ontario. A key part of that strategy involves opening up the so-called Ring of Fire mineral deposit, located more than 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay in an area home to Indigenous people. The Ring of Fire was originally promoted as a source of chromite, an important component in steel.
The Ontario provincial government released the second phase of its automotive strategy Driving to Prosperity Wednesday with an ambitious agenda aimed at electrifying the province’s auto industry and creating a complete domestic battery supply chain extending from extracting critical minerals to battery production. © Dan Janisse The City of Windsor announced on Tuesday, August 17, 2021 the addition of 22 new electric vehicle charging spaces citywide. One of the charging units is shown during the press conference.
The plan’s goals call for at least 400,000 electric and hybrid vehicles to be produced in the province by Ontario’s five OEMs (Stellantis, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota) by 2030.
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“The auto sector is too critical a sector to ignore,” said Minister of Economic Development Vic Fedeli.
“The window of opportunity is open and we’re going to jump through it. We’re using the opportunity to reset the industry in the province and put it on the path into the future.”
In addition to supporting the industry’s transition and creating a battery supply chain, the plan will also offer help to retrain workers.
The province, in partnership with the federal government, has already committed hundreds of millions of dollars to each of General Motors, Ford and Stellantis to help the companies ready their production facilities in Ontario for electrification.
Fedeli said similar support for Ontario’s two other OEMs would also be available. Honda has production facilities at Alliston while Toyota has plants at Ingersoll and Woodstock.
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© Provided by Windsor Star Peter Frise, executive director of the Centre for Automotive Research and Education at the University of Windsor, is shown on Friday, July 2, 2021.
“This is a big deal because the announcement of a strategy by a Canadian government is something that’s been called for in this country,” said Peter Frise, who is a member of the Automate Canada board and director of the University of Windsor’s Centre for Automotive Research and Education.
“We’re starting to see a strategy and the good thing is it’s focused on the right set of issues — chiefly electrification. It’s a really strategic move to harness Ontario’s mineral wealth by tying it to the automotive sector.
“It could position Ontario to become a much bigger player in the auto sector and help develop the north.”
While the OEM supports are largely aimed at securing what Ontario already has in the sector, the new plan has a real focus on landing the big prize of the industry’s future — at least one major battery plant.
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“Each of these plants is a multi-billion-dollar investment,” Fedeli said.
“That would be the first greenfield investment made in Ontario of that size in any sector in more than a decade.”
Stellantis recently announced its intention to build two battery plants in North America while Ford also requires more battery plants. There are several independent battery manufacturers looking to locate on the continent to meet the growing demand.
Earlier this year officials for Invest WindsorEssex confirmed they were in advanced stages on multiple bids to land Canada’s first EV battery plant. Both Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed their governments were prepared to offer financial support in the hundreds of millions of dollars to land a plant.
“We’ve been negotiating and working very aggressively on the electric battery manufacturers worldwide,” said Fedeli, who added the province is also exploring what it would take to create a domestic microchip supplier.
“We’re prepared to look at all aspects with investment. We’re completely committed to building the auto industry of the future.”
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Fedeli added supporting an electrified auto industry also presents opportunities for a larger portion of the province’s economy such as the tech and mining sectors.
Southern Ontario is home to North America’s second largest tech sector after Silicon Valley while northern Ontario and other parts of Canada contain the critical minerals needed to make batteries.
“You can feel the excitement in northern Ontario,” said Fedeli, a native of North Bay.
“The auto industry has been here (Ontario) for 100 years and we’ve never had a piece of it. There’s a chance to create more good paying (mining) jobs.”
Fedeli said the province is rich in critical minerals, including a large find of lithium near Red Lake, and is home to North America’s only cobalt smelter.
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