Vic Fedeli, who’s the provincial Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, and I have a couple of things in common, among them our affection for northern Ontario.
He’s a former mayor of North Bay and represents the riding of Nipissing in the legislature. I was a kid in Kapuskasing.
We had a long chat just before Christmas about how southern Ontario benefitted in 2020 by $5 billion in auto industry investment that will result in several thousand new jobs and the preservation of thousands of others.
But what really had us excited was how northern Ontario will benefit in the next 12 months as the supply chain for electric batteries and vehicles gets up and running. But first, a review.
This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star
Fedeli reminded me that over a matter of weeks in the late part of last year, Ford announced it was investing more than $2 billion to transform its Oakville Assembly Complex into a global hub for battery electric vehicle production, Fiat Chrysler was planning a major retooling of its Windsor Assembly Plant for more electric vehicles and General Motors said it would bring pickup-truck production back to the Oshawa Assembly Plant, which was supposed to close.
“Since 2000,” Fedeli said, “Ontario’s share of North American auto assembly had shrunk from 17 per cent to 12 per cent and our province did not get one dollar of the $300 billion that was invested globally in electric vehicles. So the auto companies, as well as the union, Unifor, deserve congratulations for this stunning turnaround.”
There was something else at play: money. I’m not talking about investments by government; automakers had told the province that Ontario had become too expensive a jurisdiction in which to do business.
“That’s why through lowering taxes, reducing electricity costs and cutting red tape, we reduced the cost of doing business in Ontario by nearly $7 billion a year going forward,” Fedeli said. “That is a stunning number that companies were looking for and thousands of jobs were the result.”
The minister noted that Premier Doug Ford and other members of the government launched a program called Driving Prosperity and then told everybody who would listen (and including some who didn’t), that Ontario is one of the best, if not the best, jurisdiction for auto investments on the continent.
“The plan builds on our unique combination of being among the top automakers in North America as well as being the No. 2 technology centre, making us a standout choice to develop and build the next generation of vehicles,” he said.
That was 2020, then. This year, 2021, promises to see the momentum continue with the development of an electric vehicle and battery supply chain throughout the province. This will include fresh opportunities for the province’s mining industry as electric vehicle batteries require various minerals found in Ontario’s north. As it’s developed, it should make it easier for the province to attract electric vehicle investments from other automakers.
That’s the plan, anyway.
“I can’t contain my excitement for the north,” Fedeli said. “When you think about the town of Cobalt – and by the way, did you know that Cobalt, in its heyday in the early 1900s, had a 1,000-seat theatre and the first electric street car? – it will be reignited because the mineral cobalt is so important to EV production. And they’re exploring for other minerals all through that Timiskaming area.
“Further north, you go to Hearst and they have an unbelievable supply of graphite that’s needed for batteries. Head west of there, north of Red Lake, and there’s huge deposits of lithium up there. The centrepiece, of course, is the nickel that’s mined in Sudbury. So people in northern Ontario are very excited about what happened in the fall and those auto investments are going to prove to be beneficial for all of Ontario.”
Fedeli said, as the Ontario government had to work with Ottawa and the car companies to create autos and jobs, the same holds true for the mining companies.
“The ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines is at the table with my ministry and the mines to determine exactly what they need,” he said. “We’re at that critical juncture where all the parties – Ottawa, us, the industries – have to come together with labour to make sure we have all the right pieces in place to take absolute advantage of this opportunity.”
I know this sounds like a commercial but it really is amazing how not a lot was happening in the auto industry in mid-2020 and then Boom! That explosion can only grow in magnitude during the rest of this year.
I’ll keep an eye on the progress and report back.