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The federal government has given the go-ahead for Galaxy Lithium (Canada) Inc. to build a new lithium mine in Quebec as Canada attempts to establish a footing in a critical mineral industry dominated by China.

Alongside cobalt, copper and graphite, lithium is a vital component in electric-car batteries, and one of several critical minerals the government has prioritized as part of its critical minerals strategy.

While Canada is making inroads into domestic electric-vehicle production, thanks to the presence of automakers like General Motors, the country is far behind globally in the mining and refining of key battery minerals like lithium.

Galaxy’s lithium project is located 100 kilometres east of James Bay and the Eastmain Cree community in Northern Quebec. The open pit mine is expected to be in production for up to 20 years, create 280 jobs during construction and employ 167 people on a continuing basis.

Galaxy Lithium must adhere to 271 conditions while the mine is in operation, including measures to protect fish, birds, wetlands and caribou. The project included extensive consultation with the Cree Nation Government, which represents several Cree communities in Quebec, and many of the conditions aim to protect land and resources used by the Cree.

Jonathan Wilkinson, federal minister of natural resources, said in a statement accompanying the mine approval that Ottawa is “committed to making Canada the global supplier of choice for sustainably and responsibly sourced critical minerals, from exploration and extraction, to manufacturing and recycling.”

At the moment, the only lithium mine in Canada is owned and operated by Sinomine, a major Chinese mining company that is influenced by the Beijing government.

China is among the world’s biggest lithium miners, holds about 60-per-cent share of the highly-profitable refining market and is the biggest producer of EV batteries.

Owing to growing concerns over national security, Ottawa late last year cracked down on Chinese investment into the Canadian critical minerals sector, stipulating it would only allow new Chinese investment under exceptional circumstances.

Canada, however, has been clear it welcomes investment by jurisdictions it deems friendly to its national-security interests, including the United States, Europe and Australia.

Privately-held Galaxy Lithium is owned by Australian lithium miner Allkem Ltd.

Before proceeding with the mine project, Galaxy Lithium must also obtain provincial approval.

Late last year, Ottawa said in its critical minerals strategy that it planned to take steps to speed up the approval of new mines in Canada, and in particular to try to avoid the duplication involved in getting provincial and federal approvals.

While there are currently no lithium mines operating in Quebec, Nemaska Lithium Inc., which is part-owned by the Quebec government, is developing a project and hopes to be in production in the next couple of years.

Quebec is blessed not only with promising lithium deposits, but its low-carbon energy grid comprising abundant cheap supplies of hydroelectricity has made it an attractive jurisdiction for mining companies.

Brazilian mining giant Vale S.A. is planning on building what would be Canada’s first battery-grade nickel refinery in the province. GM and South Korea’s POSCO Chemical Co. Ltd. also last year announced they were moving forward on the construction of a $400-million battery-parts plant in Quebec.

Last month, Ottawa also approved the construction of an Ontario critical minerals mine that should help Canada better compete against Russia in palladium, a key automotive metal. Toronto-based Generation Mining Ltd. received approval to proceed with its Marathon project.

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