North key to climate, economic agenda: minister

Thunder Bay, Ont. — Both business and government must adapt to changes in the economic and climate environments, and according to Jonathan Wilkinson, minister of Natural Resources, Canada is well positioned to take advantage of these opportunities.

Wilkinson attended the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Leaders Luncheon on Tuesday in Thunder Bay, where he spoke of environmental concerns, the economy and presented two paths to consider.

“The first path accepts that climate change is a reality and scientific reality is one that we can and we must address,” he said. “The second path is striking off the damage that climate change has already caused.”

The minister said Canada and Northwestern Ontario have a highly educated and well-trained workforce, a lot of natural resources that are going to be increasingly in demand, and strong energy and technology expertise in many areas.

All of this provides open doors to many opportunities for economic growth.

“One key area of economic opportunity of particular interest to many folks here is critical minerals,” Wilkinson said.

“In my mind, critical minerals represent a generational economic opportunity that is not simply about extraction, but it is about bringing to Canada, and in some cases to our allies, processing and refining of critical minerals. It’s about building batteries and electric vehicles and other products that utilize critical minerals. It is about ensuring that Canada extracts full economic value from the resources that we have available.”

Wilkinson says there are many opportunities that have been identified near Thunder Bay, which he says “is quite experienced” with respect to the mining sector.

“We see that some of those opportunities being really important in terms of helping us to meet our climate objectives, but also to growing an economic base here in Thunder Bay and across Ontario,” he said.

“The minerals that we will develop here will be hopefully processed and refined here and in other parts of Ontario, but we will be manufacturing batteries and electric cars in Windsor and other parts of Ontario. So it’s an opportunity for us to really build the economy of this province.”

Wilkinson urged Thunder Bay municipal authorities to be “very focused” on trying to find ways to ensure that those kinds of industries are attracted here. He stressed that the federal government “is very open to partnerships.”

Wilkinson pointed out that Canada is already a top producer of many minerals, including many critical minerals.

The federal government launched Canada’s critical mineral strategy in December, which he called a $4-billion plan that is focused on accelerating the work that they are doing.

He outlined three elements surrounding the prospect of a cleaner and more prosperous economic future.

“The first is to identify and to seize the opportunities that will enable the transition to a low carbon future,” he said, adding that our regional economies are very different. Every province and territory has a relatively unique mix of natural resources.

“The second element is really having a thoughtful approach to Canada’s conventional oil and gas resources,” he said.

“In virtually all forecasts, oil is going to decline in 10 to 15 years and will continue to decline as the erosion of vehicles and other lower carbon technologies are deployed in greater numbers.”

The third element is the need for more power to simply decarbonize the grid.

“If you are going to electrify transportation . . . if you are going to pursue the production of hydrogen and if you are going to pursue the production of critical minerals, we’re going to need more power,” he said. “We need much bigger and we need a much cleaner (approach).

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal