Quebec’s economy minister says it’s naive to think batteries can succeed without subsidies

Posted September 22, 2023 4:48 pm ET

Quebec Economy and Innovation Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon speaks at Volta Energy Solutions in Cranby, Que., Tuesday, Sept. 5, started the first copper plate plant in 2023. The Canadian Press/Christine Muschi


Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon has come out to defend subsidies to foreign companies to boost the battery industry.

On Thursday, National Bank President and CEO Laurent Ferreira criticized government subsidies given to foreign companies, particularly to boost the battery industry.

„My point is that when we give subsidies to foreign companies, they go directly into the pockets of non-Canadian foreign stakeholders,” Ferreira said in an interview Thursday. Commerce (CCMM). „I’m skeptical about this model, in the long term, creating wealth.”

Pitskippen „respectfully” responded to the businessman’s comments at a press scrum in the Bromont the other day. He replied that the national bank boss „doesn’t appreciate the government’s role”.

„If there were no government subsidies, there would be no battery industry in Canada. It would be in America,” he said.

The minister believes that the philosophical debate between proponents of laissez-faire and interventionism is interesting.

„What the Quebec government has decided to do, we believe in it,” he said, „it will choose the sectors that are useful,” he said. „There will be people, people (companies) who think we shouldn’t do anything in Quebec (anyway), it’s naive (to believe that).”

The minister later added in 'X’ that he saw the world „in the same way” when he worked at the National Bank in the 2000s.

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His experience in government convinced him that the province should be „aggressive” and make „targeted concessions”.

„We should not be fooled into giving more, but we will never close the wealth gap by applying educational principles,” he said.

Ferreira’s speech comes at a time Governments are spending billions of dollars to attract foreign companies to the battery industry.

Canada could spend nearly $13 billion on Volkswagen’s plan to build a battery plant for electric vehicles in St. Thomas, Ont. Aid to Stellandis for its battery plant in Windsor could reach $15 billion.

Quebec is not to be outdone.

Provided by Ottawa and Quebec $640 million in aid to Ford’s Bécancour plant. GM-Posco acquired the plant Nearly $300 million from both levels of government.

The Legault government is said to be on the verge of developing a project in Vallee-du-Richelieu with Swedish cell manufacturer Northvolt, and significant budgetary support is expected.

Fitzgibbon referred to this announcement as anonymous.

„If the announcement is made next week, as we think, I will not pre-empt it, but I will come with statistics to show what the impact is on the sector,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on September 22, 2023.

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Fitzgibbon "respectfully" reacted to the businessman's comments at a press scrum the following day in Bromont. He replied that the National Bank boss "does not appreciate the role of government."

"If there were no government subsidies, there would be no battery industry in Canada. It would be in the United States," he said.

The minister believes that the philosophical debate between the advocates of laissez-faire and interventionism is an interesting one.

"What the Quebec government has decided to do, and we believe in it, is to say, 'let's choose the sectors where it's worthwhile,'" he said. "People who think that in Quebec we shouldn't do anything, people (companies) will come (anyway), it's naive (to believe so)."

Later on 'X,' the minister added that he saw the "world in the same way" when he himself was working at the National Bank in the 2000s.

His experience in government convinced him that the province had to be "aggressive" and make "targeted offers."

"We must not be fooled into giving too much, but we will never close the wealth gap simply by applying academic theories," he said.

Ferreira's speech comes at a time when governments are spending billions of dollars to attract foreign companies to the battery industry.

Canada could spend nearly $13 billion on Volkswagen's project to build a battery plant for electric vehicles in St. Thomas, Ont. Aid to Stellantis could reach $15 billion for its battery plant in Windsor.

Quebec is not to be outdone.

Ottawa and Quebec have granted $640 million in aid for Ford's Bécancour plant. The GM-Posco plant received almost $300 million from both levels of government.

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The Legault government is reportedly on the verge of making the construction of a project by Swedish cell manufacturer Northvolt in the Vallée-du-Richelieu official, and significant budgetary support is anticipated.

Fitzgibbon referred to this announcement without naming it.

"If the announcement is made next week, as we think it will be, I won't divulge it in advance, but I'll come back with figures to show what the impact of this sector will be," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 22, 2023. 

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