JV Content: Quebec seizes golden opportunity in critical minerals  

Alisha Hiyate, editor-in-chief of The Northern Miner, moderates a panel on Quebec's clean energy and critical minerals plans at the Energy Transition Metals Summit in Washington, D.C. in April. Credit: PENDA Publishing

Quebec has long enjoyed a reputation as a top-tier mining jurisdiction, but until recently, gold has run the show. 

Since it released its critical minerals strategy in 2020, however, spending on critical minerals exploration has jumped to $470 million, up from $60 million, said Jocelyn Douhéret, director of the mining policies office at Quebec’s Natural Resources Ministry. 

“It’s more than 600% increase in four years,” he noted, citing the raft of supports the province has implemented, from financial tools and programs to direct investment in projects.  

Critical minerals exploration claims have also increased by more than 110%. 

Douhéret was part of a sponsored panel on Quebec at the Energy Transition Metals Summit in Washington, D.C., in late April. The event was organized by The Northern Miner and the Precious Metals Summit Conferences. 

While Quebec is best known as a gold producer, it also hosts many base metals and iron ore camps, said Killian Charles, president and CEO of lithium explorer Brunswick Exploration (TSXV: BRW). 

“We forget all the iron ore that was produced for Detroit. You know Iron Ore Company of Canada was created from all these iron ore mines that were owned by car manufacturers in Quebec.” 

Charles said that in a way, the province is reclaiming a past identity with the current focus on critical minerals. 

“Quebec is blessed with a productive geology from a critical minerals perspective. Those critical minerals have changed over the course of history, but they remain at the forefront,” he said. “We are redeveloping something that was already quite core to the identity of Quebec to develop these areas for minerals that are used directly in the global economy.” 

Quebec is already starting to see the results of its critical minerals strategy, which it put in place ahead of any other jurisdiction in Canada, or even the federal government.  

“The main focus in 2020 was to develop a supply chain from mining to battery cell,” Douhéret said. “I can say that today, all the pieces are in place from mining, midstream and downstream with GM, Ford, and Northvolt.” 

Last year saw three major investment deals into electric vehicle (EV) battery) manufacturing facilities in Quebec. GM and South Korea’s POSCO announced the development of a $600-milion cathode active material (CAM) plant in Bécancour, about 150 km northeast of Montreal. Ford announced it would build a CAM plant valued at $1.2 billion, also in that city. And Sweden’s Northvolt said it would build a $7-billion EV battery plant, near McMasterville and Saint-Basile-le-Grand about 30 km southeast of Montreal. Together, the provincial and federal governments have committed billions to support the projects. 

Quebec Inc. 

Quebec institutions support mining across all stages, from exploration through development and beyond. But the Quebec advantage starts with the province’s geological database, Charles said. 

“There is nothing like the ecosystem that exists in Quebec to support mining companies,” Charles, a former mining equity analyst and a geologist, said. 

While the province’s funding ecosystem already includes many institutional funds, such as SIDEX, Investissement Québec, and the provincial pension fund Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, a new fund focused on exploration in northern Quebec was created last year.  

Sylvain Lépine, general director of NQ Mining Investment said the fund is focused on critical minerals in the territory north of Val-d’Or. It’s different from existing funds in that the money comes from the same region they will be invested in. 

The initial $20 million in funding came from two local organizations – James Bay Development Organization (SDBJ) and James Bay General Administration (ARBJ). 

“The fund would like to be a kind of an example of the quality of projects in the north, Lépine said. ”In 2023, more than $600 million was spent in this territory for lithium and nickel, copper, gold.”  

A geologist with a long history in mineral exploration, Lepine said the fund is looking for more sponsors to support investment in the vast region.  

NQ’s criteria for investment include location, project quality and management, and a strong focus on sustainability and community. So far, it’s invested in two lithium companies.

“We would like to invest in good companies that understand where they are, they understand the local community and they are there to participate not just in the mining ecosystem but in the local economy.” 

Quebec’s funding infrastructure helps companies weather the boom and bust mining business and volatile commodity prices, Charles said. 

“When you have funds that can support the industry through the thinner parts of a cycle, it allows consistency and allows that internal expertise to be maintained, he said. “It allows you to build more resilient companies.” 

Province’s potential 

Quebec’s critical minerals potential is immense. Even though they’ve only become the focus of exploration recently, the province already hosts 7% of global lithium reserves, Douhéret said. He said the province could supply 20% of the world’s natural graphite.  

Quebec is working with allies that include the U.S. and Europe to develop the sector, he added. “We could be a secure, sustainable, reliable partner and supplier for the local economy around us. And of course, we want to add value to the product before it leaves Quebec.” 

While Quebec has come a long way in just four years, there are still challenges ahead, such as building minerals refining capacity.  

The West hasn’t built refining facilities since the 1970s, Charles said. That makes the idea of building a spodumene refinery “quite shocking” as we’re used to shipping everything to China for processing. 

“That’s where I get very excited and interested because we are talking about redeveloping how Quebec, and all these areas interact with the global economy. 

It’s going to take a lot of political willpower because politics is often measured in second minutes and days, and mining and manufacturing is measured in, to be quite honest, in quarters, months, years, decades. These things are long term and have to be consistent over long periods of time.” 


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