“In the Heat of the Ring: Ontario Sparks Tensions as Ring of Fire Mining Heats Up EV Ambitions”

Ontario and Ottawa have promised billions of dollars to automakers to attract them to build electric vehicles and batteries in the province. The strategy puts the mineral-rich Ring of Fire at its core. But, as Global News’ Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Colin D’Mello reports, a looming battle with local Indigenous communities could spell trouble.

The lawyer representing a number of First Nations communities opposed to the Ford government’s plans for the Ring of Fire is cautioning that the province’s long-term electric vehicle battery manufacturing strategy might be a “fool’s errand.”

Premier Doug Ford agreed to enter into a pact with the federal government to offer hefty subsidies to companies that choose to build lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles in Ontario, seen as the next frontier in the province’s auto manufacturing strategy.

Both governments have poured billions into packages to tempt car makers to set up in the province,

Already, Ontario has agreed to give German automaker Volkswagen and Amsterdam-based automaker Stellantis up to $10 billion in tax breaks for the production of millions of batteries set to come off the assembly lines over the next decade.

In order to scale up the province’s battery manufacturing presence, however, the Ford government might need to unlock mining in a key region in northern Ontario, known as the Ring of Fire, which contains deposits of minerals needed to build electric vehicle batteries.

Opening the area up for critical mineral mining means a massive road-building effort, new studies, and convincing local First Nations communities to support the idea.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Autoparts Manufacturers Association, believes Stellantis and Volkswagen finally give the region an “anchor customer” to justify the infrastructure needed to access the mineral deposits.

“Now, those mining interests in Northern Ontario have two plants that are going to make, between them, something around 1.5 million batteries per year for 20, 30 years,” Volpe told Global News. “And so now that business model starts to look a little better.”

Building a dedicated road to the Ring of Fire has been a decades-long challenge leading to confrontations between prospectors, governments, and First Nations over the environmental concerns around drilling and mining potentially sensitive lands. Having an anchor customer and accelerated EV battery plans hasn’t changed the equation.

It has long been a key topic of conversation between Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The pair discussed the Ring of Fire during four successive meetings at the end of 2022, and it topped the agenda on three occasions.

While the Ford government has partnered with two First Nations — Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation — to conduct environmental assessments for an all-season road, a number of Treaty 9 First Nations have objected to the developments unless they are given a better understanding of the project’s impact on the environment.

While the Ford government has partnered with two First Nations — Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation — to conduct environmental assessments for an all-season road, a number of Treaty 9 First Nations have objected to the developments unless they are given a better understanding of the project’s impact on the environment.

Canada’s peatlands are among the largest in the world — making up around a quarter of the world’s total supply.

Together, they store more carbon than the Amazon rainforest and amount to the largest land carbon stock in the world. The latest research estimates Canada is responsible for 150 billion tonnes of carbon sequestered underground — the equivalent to 11 years of current global greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics of the Ford government’s plans fear that mining in the Ring of Fire could release some of that carbon and render the benefits of electric vehicles moot.

“The purpose of electrifying is to save us from ourselves, to reduce the growing catastrophe of climate change by getting off fossil fuels,” Kempton argued. “If, by getting at those minerals, we make climate change worse by digging up the peatlands that store trillions of tonnes of carbon … then that’s a case of cutting off our nose to spite our face.”

Recently, the Treaty 9 First Nations launched a lawsuit against Ontario and Ottawa arguing they must be equal partners in any development on their territories. The groups alleged they had not been properly consulted.

Chief Mark Bell of Aroland First Nation said his community and others aren’t on board with the Ring of Fire plan as it stands.

“We hear so much about building mines and roads and this and that, but they don’t have our community’s permission,” he said. “There’s been zero consultation on these types of projects.”

Both the government of Ontario and Canada filed a notice in recent days that they intend to defend the legal action, setting the stage for a protracted court battle over unlocking the country’s economic future.

  1. Explore the environmental concerns in greater detail: Dive deeper into the specific environmental risks associated with Ring of Fire mining, such as the potential impact on biodiversity, water sources, and the overall ecosystem. Discuss the measures being taken or proposed to mitigate these risks and ensure responsible mining practices.

  2. Highlight the perspectives of Indigenous communities: Give voice to the Indigenous communities affected by the Ring of Fire mining and their unique perspectives on the matter. Discuss their concerns regarding land rights, cultural preservation, and the potential benefits or drawbacks they anticipate from the mining activities.

  3. Analyze the economic opportunities in depth: Provide a comprehensive analysis of the economic benefits associated with Ring of Fire mining. Explore the potential job creation, revenue generation, and long-term economic growth for Ontario. Consider the ripple effects on local businesses, industries, and the overall regional economy.

  4. Examine the technological advancements and innovation potential: Delve into the technological advancements and innovation that could arise from the mining of critical minerals in the Ring of Fire region. Discuss the potential for research and development, the growth of related industries, and the advancement of clean energy technologies.

  5. Discuss the role of government policies and regulations: Explore the existing and proposed government policies and regulations that govern Ring of Fire mining. Evaluate their effectiveness in balancing economic development, environmental sustainability, and Indigenous rights. Examine the role of government agencies in overseeing the mining operations and ensuring compliance with environmental standards.

  6. Consider the global implications: Analyze how the outcome of the Ring of Fire mining battle in Ontario could impact the global EV market. Discuss the potential influence on supply chains, pricing of critical minerals, and the international competitiveness of EV manufacturing.

  7. Present case studies and examples: Provide real-life examples of other regions or countries that have faced similar challenges or successfully managed the balance between mining activities and environmental concerns in the context of sustainable development and EV ambitions.

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