Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to make Canada a global leader in the production of batteries for electric cars, and has asked for a review of investment legislation to protect industry from hostile foreign investors.
Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne will be working to unlock the country’s large rare-earth mineral deposits to put Canada at the forefront of supplying the world with these elements, vital to electric vehicles, smartphones, high-tech equipment and military hardware.
The Prime Minister included those instructions to Mr. Champagne among mandate letters released to his ministers two months after the recent federal election.
The United States and many European countries have been looking to Canada as a supplier of critical minerals – such as indium, aluminum, tellurium, niobium and tungsten and magnesium – to reduce their reliance on China, the world’s leading supplier of these types of resources. Canada also has large reserves of lithium, which is used in batteries to power electric vehicles.
Mr. Champagne has been directed to modernize the Investment Canada Act to protect the rare-earth mining sector and enact stronger measures to “mitigate economic security threats from foreign investment.”
In recent years, Chinese companies have purchased stakes in Canadian mining interests that extract lithium, cesium, uranium and chromite, the main source of chromium – a key ingredient in stainless steel.
However, the federal government has begun to scrutinize deals by Chinese miners and other state-run companies. In 2020, Ottawa rejected a proposal by a Chinese state-owned entity to take over a gold mine in Nunavut.
In another sign that Ottawa is taking a tougher approach to Beijing, the government ordered stated-owned China Mobile to cease operating in Canada over national-security concerns. In July, Mr. Champagne unveiled revised guidelines for funding of high-end university research. The move was in response to concerns raised by Canada’s spy agency about the loss of intellectual property and sensitive technology to foreign countries such as China.
Mr. Trudeau’s mandate letter to Mr. Champagne made no mention of when Ottawa will announce whether it will ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies from Canada’s 5G network. The mandate letter only said that Mr. Champagne and other ministers would be working on a national cybersecurity strategy to deter cyberthreats.
Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which also comprises the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand, that has not blocked or restricted Huawei from their 5G networks. The U.S. says Huawei is a national-security risk because it must follow the orders of China’s ruling Communist Party.
Mr. Champagne dodged questions in the House of Commons Thursday on whether a decision would be announced before Christmas.
China was also not mentioned in the mandate letter for Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, although she was told to develop an Indo-Pacific strategy, which The Globe and Mail reported will focus heavily on how to manage an increasingly belligerent Beijing.
David Cohen, the new U.S. ambassador to Canada, told The Globe last week that the Biden administration regards China as the greatest threat to the democratic world and urged Ottawa to work with Washington on ways to challenge Beijing on everything from cybersecurity to human rights.
The Canadian Indo-Pacific strategy is being crafted in the wake of the worst rupture in relations between Ottawa and Beijing in half a century and while memories are still fresh on how China reacted to the arrest of a Huawei executive at the Vancouver International Airport. Beijing arbitrarily jailed two Canadians – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – for more than 1,000 days and imposed trade restrictions on Canadian exports.
The mandate letters were a subject of debate Thursday in the House of Commons. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole led off Question Period by asking why there was “no mention of the inflation crisis” in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s mandate letter.
Ms. Freeland responded by accusing Mr. O’Toole of misleading Canadians about the strength of the economy, before listing positive statistics about Canadian growth and employment.
The Prime Minister’s letter to Ms. Freeland does say “you will work to make life more affordable for middle-class Canadians,” including through child-care programs and “significant action” on housing affordability.
The Finance Minister’s letter includes “driving a plan for long-term growth” and restates several of the main tax-related pledges made by the Liberals during this year’s election.
The letter lists a corporate tax hike for banks and insurance companies that earn more than $1-billion and requiring them to pay a temporary “Canada Recovery Dividend,” establishing a minimum 15-per-cent tax rule for people in the top income-tax bracket and implementing a luxury tax on cars, boats and planes.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra is urged in his letter to deliver on the government’s COVID-19 vaccination policies for travellers on interprovincial trains, commercial flights, cruise ships and other federally regulated vessels.
Mr. Trudeau urges Mr. Alghabra to make Via Rail’s multibillion-dollar plan for “high-frequency” passenger rail on dedicated tracks between Quebec City and Toronto “a reality” and to launch a procurement process. The Liberal platform had referenced launching a procurement process in 2021, but that timeline is not repeated in the mandate letter.
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is urged in his letter to bring in three bills related to the internet, including updating the Broadcasting Act to require platforms such as Netflix to support Canadian content.
The other bills will focus on hate speech that will “hold social-media platforms and other online services accountable for content they host,” and requiring digital platforms “in early 2022″ to share a portion of their news content revenue with Canadian news outlets.
As labour shortages continue across the country, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser was asked to work with employers to bring in 2,000 skilled refugees to fill labour shortages “in high-demand sectors such as health care.”
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