The Debate over Subsidies for Foreign Companies in Canada’s Battery Sector

2023-09-22 22:16:11

The Minister of the Economy, Pierre Fitzgibbon, defended the subsidies paid to foreign companies to develop the battery sector.

The President and CEO of the National Bank, Laurent Ferreira, criticized, Thursday, government subsidies paid to foreign companies, in particular to develop the battery sector.

My point on this is that when we give subsidies to foreign companies, […] they go directly into the pockets of foreign shareholders who are mainly not Canadian. […] I doubt this model, in the longer term, in wealth creation.

Mr. Ferreira made this statement in an interview on Thursday, on the sidelines of a presentation before the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM).

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The battery of an electric vehicle in a Volkswagen factory in Germany where 1,000 cars are manufactured per day. (Archive photo)

Photo : Getty Images / Sean Gallup

Mr. Fitzgibbon respectfully reacted to the businessman’s comments during a press scrum the next day, in Bromont. He responded that the boss of the National Bank does not appreciate the role of the government.

If there were no government subsidies, there would be zero in the battery sector in Canada. It would be in the United States.

The minister believes that the philosophical debate between supporters of laissez-faire and supporters of interventionism is interesting. It places the Legault government in the middle between the two poles. We believe in what the Quebec government has decided to do. It’s saying: “Let’s choose the sectors where it’s worth it.”

People who think that in Quebec we should do nothing, [que] THE [entreprises] will come [quand même]it’s naive [de le croire].

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Later, on the X platform, the minister added that he saw the world the same way when he himself worked at the National Bank in the 2000s. His experience in government convinced him that it was necessary be aggressive and make targeted offers. We must not be fooled and give too much, but we will never close the wealth gap by simply applying academic theories.

Mr. Ferreira’s intervention comes at a time when governments are deploying billions of dollars to attract foreign companies into the battery sector.

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Close-up of an electric vehicle engine. (Archive photo)

Photo : iStock

Canada could spend nearly $13 billion on the Volkswagen project, which wants to build a battery factory for electric vehicles in St. Thomas, Ontario. The aid granted to Stellantis could reach $15 billion for its Windsor battery factory.

Quebec is not left out. Ottawa and Quebec have granted $640 million in aid for the Ford plant in Bécancour. That of GM-Posco, for its part, benefited from support of nearly $300 million from both levels of government.

The Legault government is reportedly on the verge of formalizing the construction of a facility for Swedish cell manufacturer Northvolt in Vallée-du-Richelieu and significant budgetary aid is anticipated.

Mr. Fitzgibbon also mentioned this announcement without naming it. If the announcement is made next week, as we think, I will not disclose it in advance, I will come back with figures to show what the impact of this sector is.

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