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RNNR Committee Report

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Bloc Québécois Dissenting Opinion

New technologies are playing an increasing role in Quebec’s economy. Aerospace, telecommunications, the medical sector, transportation electrification and renewable energy are all high-growth sectors in which the supply of critical and strategic minerals (CSMs) is vital.

The Government of Quebec considers that critical minerals have importance in key economic sectors, present a high supply risk and have no commercially available substitutes. Strategic minerals are indispensable to implement Quebec’s major policies. Quebec’s CSMs include copper, tin, gallium, zinc, cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel. CSMs play an important role in our daily lives and are found in cell phones, computers, rechargeable batteries, electric vehicles, medical imaging equipment and solar panels.

In the current economic context and considering the growing demand for CSMs, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources undertook a study on critical minerals and associated value chains. The Bloc Québécois is keen for Quebec to become a world leader in the green economic recovery, develop an end-to-end supply chain within its borders for battery production and seize the strategic opportunity of transportation electrification. Securing the supply of critical minerals and reducing our dependence on foreign markets were addressed in this study. In this regard, we were excited to begin the committee’s work to identify the challenges of developing CSMs and solutions to support the sector.

However, as we are seeing more and more, the federal government has a disturbing and unfortunate habit of wanting to interfere in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces and of wanting to impose its way of doing things. The most striking example of this desire to intrude is of course health care. In the fall of 2020, the Quebec government released its own Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals. The federal government, if not willing to help, should at least not interfere.

Many of the recommendations in the report clearly infringe on Quebec’s jurisdiction over mineral exploration and development. That is the main reason why we cannot support the report nor every single one of its recommendations as an ensemble.

In 1982, the addition of section 92A to the Constitution Act, 1867, expanded the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces with respect to the exploration, development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources.

Parliament has some jurisdiction over natural resources, but it is limited. It can regulate natural resources on federally owned property, such as national parks, military bases and the sea that lies beyond the geographic boundaries of any province or territory. It can also regulate natural resources on First Nations reserves. Parliament can also make laws affecting natural resources using its jurisdiction over the regulation of interprovincial and international trade and commerce, like taxation. It can also make laws for peace, order and good government.

In 1946, having decided that uranium was a strategic mineral, the federal government exercised its declaratory power to declare uranium to be for the advantage of Canada and federalized it under the Atomic Energy Control Act. Subsequently, all mines fell under the jurisdiction of the provinces, which have authority over the subsurface, except for uranium mines, which fell under federal jurisdiction.

The 1946 act reads as follows: All works and undertakings

(a) for the production, use and application of atomic energy,

(b) for research or investigation with respect to atomic energy, and

(c) for the production, refining or treatment of prescribed substances,

are declared to be for the general advantage of Canada.

These few words, “for the general advantage of Canada,” were akin to a constitutional amendment removing uranium from Quebec’s jurisdiction. This precedent must not be repeated for other critical minerals.

Canada has no business telling Quebec how it should conduct its affairs in its own jurisdiction. The federal government must also stop trying to impose wall-to-wall national strategies that do not take Quebec’s priorities and distinct nature into account. This hierarchical vision of the Canadian federation is paternalistic and contrary to the principle of asymmetrical federalism.

The federal government can play a role in promoting the electrification of transportation, which Quebec has been working on for over a decade.

Quebec has put in place bold policies on transportation electrification over the past decade, while the federal government had no strategy. Quebec has not received its fair share of infrastructure investment in the past. If the federal government wants to spend on the electrification industry, it must make sure its investments do not compete with the Quebec market and undermine Quebec’s efforts to develop this industry, particularly with respect to mineral processing and battery production. If programs are created, they must align with Quebec’s strategy. The federal government can still play a role in promoting the electrification of transportation. For example, if private industrial projects were to be announced in the battery field, there would be no reason for the federal government not to participate. Among other things, the federal government can:

  • renew and enhance incentives for the purchase of zero-emission vehicles for low-income households, the replacement of older vehicles and the purchase of used vehicles;
  • following the Bloc Québécois’ proposal and the recommendation of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which conducted a study on zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), and following the lead of British Columbia, Quebec and 11 U.S. states, develop regulations to require automakers to build and sell enough zero-emission vehicles to meet demand, thus accelerating the transition of the auto industry to ZEVs (zero-emission law with credit system);
  • provide research incentives to develop the heavy-duty and commercial vehicle sector as well as purchase incentives;
  • invest in research and development in Quebec research centres, particularly in the regions, in colleges and universities, to promote the acquisition and adaptation of green technologies to support our unique network of Quebec-owned SMEs;
  • electrify the federal fleet and install charging stations in federal buildings, public areas and businesses, particularly in the regions; and
  • incentivize the purchase of electric school buses and support fleet replacement by allowing companies to borrow at an advantageous rate and by covering interest costs for five years.