Ontario Premier Doug Ford has unveiled an electric vehicle strategy that aims to have the province produce 400,000 electric cars and trucks a year by 2030 and attract two or three battery plants.
The plan, released on Wednesday at a campaign-style event at auto parts maker Linamar in Guelph, Ont., about 100 kilometres west of Toronto, says the province will partner with the industry to prepare it to make the “car of the future” and “establish and support a battery chain ecosystem” using the mineral wealth in Northern Ontario.
It points out that carmakers have already announced billions to build new EVs at Ontario plants.
But the strategy doesn’t provide details or outline any significant new government funding, beyond previously announced cash to subsidize research and promote innovation. And it sparked opposition criticism that Mr. Ford is embracing EV conversion after it not only cancelled a rebate program for EV buyers after his government came to office in 2018, but also sanctioned the removal of charging stations from commuter-rail parking lots and cut a requirement for new homes to have EV rechargers.
The government says a new committee drawn from industry and non-profit groups has been set up to advise it on how to boost EV uptake, including looking at charging infrastructure and the “upfront cost” of the vehicles. Mr. Ford on Wednesday appeared to suggest he could change his mind on the rebate issue.
“Before the election, I didn’t believe in giving millionaires rebates on $100,000 Tesla cars – nothing against Tesla, they’re gorgeous cars,” Mr. Ford said when asked about the rebate. “But, you know, I just didn’t believe in it. Let’s see how the market dictates.”
Ontario plants assemble about 1.6 million vehicles of all kinds annually now. But the success of any plan to convert the province into a hub of EV manufacturing hinges on beating back a tax credit, proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden, that would favour only U.S.-made electric cars.
The issue is expected to come up in talks at a trilateral summit in Washington on Thursday with Mr. Biden, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Opposition MPPs pointed out that Ontario has lagged other provinces in domestic electric vehicle sales since Mr. Ford cancelled the province’s rebate program. Other provinces continued to offer incentives on top of an up-to-$5,000 federal government rebate on EVs, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
Ontario NDP MPP Wayne Gates, the party’s auto strategy critic, accused Mr. Ford of making a “sudden flip-flop” on electric cars and not doing enough to save auto jobs. Liberal MPP John Fraser said the Premier was trying to appear environmentally conscious before next June’s election: “Now, six months from an election, Doug Ford’s saying, ‘Call me Mr. Green. Kermit. I just think it’s a stretch.”
Last October, the Ontario and federal governments pledged $295-million each as part of a deal to support new EV production at Ford Motor Co.’s plant in Oakville, Ont.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said the government’s new strategy is meant to show that Ontario intends to put money on the table to attract new investments. In an interview, he said at least three major players, whom he would not name, are looking at the province for new battery-related facilities or expanded EV manufacturing.
“They have got a few hot prospects right now of very, very material investments. And I think the strategy is in part designed to signal to those potential investors that the province is conscious about how competitive the environment is,” Mr. Volpe said. He called the plan a “reasonable road map,” provided these major investments can be secured and the U.S. tax credit problem is solved.
The push from Ontario to establish a foothold in battery metals mirrors similar initiatives from other provinces, and internationally. Last year, Ottawa and Washington also finalized a joint action plan on critical minerals, with commitments to build secure domestic supplies of battery minerals, as fears of a growing stranglehold by China on supplies intensify.
But currently, Ontario has little or no presence in the electric car battery supply chain, other than being home to several exploration companies with early-stage projects. Lithium is the key element in electric car batteries, but there are no lithium mines, no lithium processing plants, and no battery makers in Ontario.
Plus, the Ring of Fire mineral deposits in Ontario’s Far North, which the government often points to as a potential boon, face numerous hurdles before they could be part of any EV push. Ontario has said it would contribute $1-billion for a road to a potential nickel project staked out by junior exploration company called Noront Resources Ltd. But the cash is contingent on matching funds from Ottawa.
Australian mining giant BHP Group Ltd. is vying for control of Noront but views the Ring of Fire as an ultra-long-term project. Johan van Jaarsveld, chief development officer with BHP, recently told The Globe and Mail that the Ring of Fire could be developed over a 40- or 50-year time horizon, and that the company had made no decision on whether it would be willing to finance the development on its own.
Brendan Marshall, vice-president of economic and northern affairs with the Canadian Mining Association, said Mr. Ford’s decision to focus on attracting battery makers is not realistic, given the billions in incentives on offer in the U.S. for the industry in Mr. Biden’s recently passed infrastructure bill.
Compared to some other provinces in Canada, Ontario is also playing catch-up. The Quebec government has funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into lithium development over the past five years.
“Ontario has been a bit behind the eight ball,” Mr. Marshall said.
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