Part 4: Lithium on the Prairies – Governments’ roles in mining

Both provincial governments support the efforts of exploration and extraction companies to take advantage of the new demand for lithium.

Both provincial governments support the efforts of exploration and extraction companies to take advantage of the new demand for lithium. The federal government has pushed for more vehicle electrification to help it meet its international sustainability goals and has entered into agreements about critical minerals with other countries. 

Manitoba government

Manitoba premier Heather Stefanson announced at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference in June that the province, in association with the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and the Manitoba Mineral Development Fund (MMDF), was dedicating $10 million to the mining industry in the province. 

The funding will support Manitoba’s mineral sector supply chain over the next three years. 

Since 2019, the MMDF has provided mining and mineral development funding throughout Manitoba. Communities, businesses, indigenous groups, municipalities or not-for-profit organizations can apply for one-time grants from the MMDF for activities that advance new mining opportunities and support indigenous communities in collaborative resource development. 

To date, MMDF has allocated more than $5.4 million to 41 projects.

Manitoba’s minister of natural resources and northern development, Greg Nesbitt, could not be reached. 

Manitoba Legislative. GETTY IMAGES

Saskatchewan government

The Saskatchewan Geological Survey, part of the Ministry of Energy and Resources, has conducted a subsurface brine sampling program since 2011, focusing on lithium and other elements.

The province also has the Saskatchewan Advantage Innovation Fund and the Saskatchewan Petroleum Investment Incentive, which Prairie Lithium has taken advantage of, according to a news release from the province.

That same news release outlines the Targeted Mineral Exploration Incentive program, which provides a 25 percent rebate, up to a maximum of $50,000 per year, to encourage drilling activity in support of exploration in Saskatchewan. 

Jim Reiter, Saskatchewan’s minister of energy and resources, said the province has a “red tape committee” that constantly reviews its various permit and licensing processes to keep them streamlined. He noted the province wants to be cautious while remaining business-friendly.

“The ministry has been working with the industry to try and see what sort of barriers there are to development and try to get those barriers out of the way for them,” Reiter said in an interview with The Flatlander. 

The minister said the hope is that lithium can grow the Saskatchewan economy, similar to how potash, oil and gas have created jobs and revenue for the province.

While there is currently no EV or battery manufacturing in the province, Reiter said the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) is building a rare earth materials processing plant in Saskatoon, which should be operational in 2024. The provincial government provided $31 million in funding to the facility in 2020 and an additional $20 million this past June.

When there is a resource like lithium with huge potential, Reiter said, the province is obligated to develop it to its full potential. 

Federal government

In early 2020, the federal government finalized the Canada–U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, an agreement meant to advance the two countries’ interest in securing supply chains for critical minerals, including lithium, according to a news release.

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The accompanying action plan guides cooperation between the two countries in industry engagement, supply chains, mineral resources information and collaboration with other countries. 

The plan promotes joint initiatives in research and development collaboration, supply chain modelling, and increased support for the industry.

In Canada’s 2022 budget, the federal government aims to provide up to $3.8 billion in support of critical mineral exploration over eight years starting in 2022-23. The funding is meant to implement Canada’s first Critical Minerals Strategy and includes $80 million for public geoscience and exploration programs, a doubling of the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit; $1.5 billion for new infrastructure investments in critical regions, and $1.5 billion for mineral processing, materials manufacturing, and recycling for essential mineral and metal products in the battery and rare earth elements supply chain.

More specifically for lithium, the federal government has continued its support and funding for EV initiatives. While not directly tied to lithium exploration and extraction, a greater global demand for EVs necessitates more demand for lithium used in current EV battery technology. 

During this year’s EV Week, from July 26 to 30, the Government of Canada announced funding of over $32 million to install 853 electric-vehicle chargers across the country. This is part of its broader goal to have all new light-duty cars, and passenger trucks be zero-emission by 2035.

In August, the feds signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) with German automakers Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. 

The agreement with Volkswagen focuses on sustainable battery manufacturing, cathode active material production and critical mineral supply, and setting up a Canadian office for PowerCo, Volkswagen’s newly formed battery company.

Meanwhile, the Mercedes-Benz agreement centres around EV and battery supply chains. It supports creating a sustainable critical mineral supply chain in Canada, collaborating in research and development, and identifying potential investments in Canada.

First Nations

In Canada, mining and exploration projects must include local indigenous bands if exploration or proposed mining is to take place on traditional lands. 

Barr said that in Manitoba, New Age Metals has an MOU in place with the Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation. 

This agreement outlines how they will work together, what the First Nation expects from the company for reporting, and a framework of how future deals would look if exploration and mining go forward.

Barr said New Age Metals offers training and employment initiatives to young people in the First Nations they work with in Manitoba and Ontario.

Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation chief Derrick Henderson could not be reached. 

According to the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Mining Agreements online information tool, there are eight official agreements between companies and First Nations in Manitoba, including the one between New Age Metals and Sagkeeng First Nation, and 28 agreements in Saskatchewan.

Read the full series Lithium on the Prairies:

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