While domestic companies flounder, foreign behemoths have built a dominant position in the Canadian critical minerals sector – and few have benefited more than Australia
At the world’s biggest mining conference in Toronto earlier this year, two federal cabinet ministers engaged in a public discussion about Canada’s critical minerals industry. Conspicuously absent from the conversation was any Canadian mining company.
Instead, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson chatted amiably with Jakob Stausholm, chief executive officer of Rio Tinto PLC, a giant British-Australian multinational. Mr. Stausholm played up Rio’s Canadian credentials and trumpeted that it is the biggest mining company in Canada.
Mr. Champagne, in turn, plugged Rio’s efforts to make green aluminum. Ottawa has been a big supporter of Rio, providing hundreds of millions in funding to decarbonize its aluminum, steel and titanium operations. The subtext from the conversation was clear: A giant foreign company is the modern-day poster child for the Canadian mining industry.
Canada’s politicians talk a big game in critical minerals, but the list of domestic companies benefiting from the mining or refining of energy transition metals such as nickel, cobalt, lithium and aluminum is short. While Canada has made strides in building out its electric battery manufacturing infrastructure, there are few Canadian companies who mine or refine the materials needed for these factories.
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