The financial difficulties of several mining projects, even their collapse, have cost the Quebec government hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Here are four recent examples.
Taxpayers invested more than $740 million for the construction of the Renard diamond mine, located north of Chibougamau, and the road leading to it. The government, the Caisse de dépôt and the Fonds FTQ lost at least $186 million when the company operating the mine, Diamants Stornoway, became insolvent in 2019. Québec, the Caisse, Osisko Gold Royalties and the Toronto firm Triple Flag Mining are today the owners of the mine, which resumed operations in 2020.
Quebec had invested at least $52 million in BlackRock Metals when the Quebec company obtained court protection in December 2021. The government still wants to remain a shareholder of BlackRock along with the American investor Orion. The company must find US$1.1 billion to finance the construction of an iron, titanium and vanadium mine near Chibougamau as well as a processing plant in Saguenay.
Quebec has invested $130 million in this Quebec company which is developing the spodumene (lithium) deposit at Whabouchi, in Eeyou Istchee Baie-James. Nemaska Lithium took shelter from its creditors at the end of 2019, weighed down by cost overruns. The government has pledged to invest $300 million in reviving the project alongside the American company Livent, which notably supplies lithium to BMW and Tesla.
NORTH AMERICAN LITHIUM
The government has invested approximately $100 million in North American Lithium (NAL), owner of the Authier spodumene (lithium) mine in Abitibi. The company, which was controlled by Chinese interests, found itself in a situation of insolvency in 2019. The Australian firm Sayona, which bought the assets of NAL last year, plans to relaunch activities in 2023 and quickly become a major lithium supplier for North America.
In recent years, successive governments of the Liberal Party, the Parti Québécois and the Coalition Avenir Québec have bet large sums of money on mining projects, seeing them as a way to create or maintain well-paid jobs in the regions.
Since 2015, Quebec has invested approximately $400 million in 17 projects through the Capital ressources naturelles et énergie fund. The largest recipient was Indian giant Tata, which received $125 million in 2016 for a more than $1 billion iron mine on the North Shore.
That's not all: the government has injected several other tens of millions of dollars into the industry through Investissement Québec, the Ministry of the Economy and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.
La Caisse not very talkative
For its part, the Caisse de dépôt had promised in 2013 to invest $250 million in Quebec mining companies “in the development phase”. Le Journal recently asked the Caisse to take stock of this commitment, but the institution confined itself to saying that it was a shareholder of about fifty Quebec mining companies.
The Caisse's largest investment in the Quebec mining sector is its stake in Osisko Gold Royalties, which was worth more than $225 million at the end of 2021.
The Fonds FTQ makes its mark
As for the Fonds de solidarité FTQ, it has invested approximately half a billion dollars in more than 125 Quebec mining companies since the 1990s. Today, it holds approximately $190 million in investments in 88 companies specializing in exploration , production and provision of services (drilling, etc.).
“Our investment philosophy has always been to be there throughout the mining sector chain,” says Dany Pelletier, Senior Vice-President, Investments at the Fonds FTQ.
Last year, the Fonds de solidarité FTQ announced a $75 million loan to Australian mining company Champion Iron for the expansion of the Lac Bloom iron mine, on the North Shore, a project criticized by the Bureau public hearings on the environment.