Will government accelerate new lithium mine projects?

Mining for answers

This week there was, on the surface at least, exciting news reported by CTV that a memorandum of understanding has been signed between the Government of Canada and Mercedes Benz, as well as Volkswagen, to secure access to Canadian raw materials for batteries in electric vehicles.

As an MP with active mining operations in my riding, I can talk firsthand about the significant importance of well-paying jobs, as well as the considerable spin-off economic benefits not just to the local community but the entire region.

It is also worth noting, while Canada currently does not have an active lithium mining and processing industry, we are ranked number six for having the world’s largest lithium reserves behind countries such as Chile, Australia, Argentina, China and the United States.

For those of you unfamiliar with lithium, it is a highly reactive metal that is used in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and other electronic products, such as laptops and cell phones, as well as in a growing list of other consumer goods.

As the world increasingly relies on electric battery powered vehicles and devices, this will result in increased lithium demand.

But, with this announcement I also have some concerns.

As many in the mining industry will know, back in 2014, the (former Conservative) government rejected the New Prosperity Mine that would have been located west of Williams Lake. In August 2021, the current Liberal government rejected another mine, the proposed Grassy Mountain Mine, that would have been located in southwest Alberta.

Both rejections occurred under different federal governments, but for the same reason, the potential adverse impact on the local environment.

Since the current government came to power, it has also expanded the scope of impact assessment to include considerations such as “gender-based analysis plus” to the scope criteria that must be met. (For some context, there is a 16-page federal document to explain how this impact assessment process is intended to function.)

Aside from these types of regulatory requirements and environmental concerns, proponents must also consult with local Indigenous communities. However, if a local Indigenous community is strongly in support of a project, Ottawa may still reject the proposal for other reasons.

On a related note, a recent C.D. Howe Institute report found business investment in Canada is about half what it is in the United States and is lower than in other OECD nations. One of the stated reasons for our declining investment and productivity is related to “regulatory uncertainty” here in Canada.

There is a growing list of projects that have been cancelled in Canada, not just for environmental reasons, but also for political reasons. I mention this because if there is to be a sudden boom in new lithium mines, it raises the question of where does the federal government prefer these mines be located?

There is also the question of water use. It has been reported the production of lithium through evaporation ponds uses a lot of water. Approximately 2.2 million litres of water is needed to produce one ton of lithium.

During the 2019 election, the Liberals promised to create a new water regulator and has been dropping hints it will proceed with such an agency. It isn't known whether its mandate will inevitably conflict with (existing requirements) and act as another potential hurdle for new mines to navigate.

Likewise, given the uncertainty of our current regulatory process, what changes is the government prepared to make that will accelerate the approval process of new lithium mines?

Currently, the government is silent on those details.

My question this week:

What are your thoughts on the future of lithium mining here in Canada?

I can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-665-8711

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Dan Albas is the Conservative Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.

Before entering public life, Dan was the owner of Kick City Martial Arts, responsible for training hundreds of men, women and youth to bring out their best.

Dan  is consistently recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 most active Members of Parliament on Twitter (@danalbas) and also continues to write a weekly column published in many local newspapers and on this website.

Dan welcomes comments, questions and concerns from citizens and is often available to speak to groups and organizations on matters of federal concern. 

He can be reached at [email protected] or call toll free at 1-800-665-8711.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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