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Analysis | Northvolt: the government’s miscalculation

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Feb27,2024

In a hurry to act, the CAQ seems taken by surprise by all the questions raised by the project.

Analysis | Northvolt: the government's miscalculation

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Behind the scenes games, financial arrangements, site layout… the project was inevitably going to be examined from all angles. (Archive photo)

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In the days preceding the official announcement of Northvolt's arrival in Quebec, government advisors were active behind the scenes. We wanted to convince journalists of the merits of the project and, above all, to argue that taxpayers would get value for their money. Quebec and Ottawa were preparing to invest more than $7 billion in public funds in the adventure and we feared the reaction of public opinion.

If observers questioned the opportunity to invest so much money in the project of a foreign start-up and others questioned its technological choices, the reception was rather positive. It was after all, as François Legault himself pointed out, the most important private investment in the recent history of Quebec.

Ready to defend itself from an economic angle, however, the government seems to have been taken by surprise by environmental issues. His rhetoric is clearly not on point, even if he has several good arguments to make.

It was however written in the sky that such a large investment would certainly attract the attention of the media and civil society groups. Behind the scenes games, financial arrangements, site layout… the project would inevitably be examined from all angles.

Since being elected in 2018, the CAQ has drawn criticism from environmental groups, who constantly criticize it for not doing enough. By making the development of the battery sector the heart of its economic development policy, the government hoped to silence its detractors. Above all, he took the gamble that the reputation enjoyed by the Swedish company would convince the most skeptical.

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Northvolt: Pierre Fitzgibbon responds to journalists


Listen to the audio (Northvolt: Pierre Fitzgibbon responds to journalists. 9 minutes 8 seconds)

Many nuances have of course been lost in the debate. Far from being the oasis of greenery and purity that some describe, the site chosen by Northvolt still bears traces of its heavy industrial past. As for the work of the BAPE, it has not always had the unifying effect that has been attributed to it in recent weeks. Let's think about the conclusions of the institution which did not recommend moving forward with the tramway project in Quebec.

Everything is not lost for all that. Despite their numerous criticisms, the three opposition parties say they are in favor of the project.

The government is creating the problem of social acceptability from scratch, said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

There is no none of our criticisms which are against Northvolt, but rather of the government which, by wanting to act quickly, gives the impression of circumventing the rules […]. We must move the project forward, but in order, added Joël Arseneau.

In the letter he published this week, Pierre Fitzgibbon wrote that carrying out large projects is longer, more complex and more expensive in Quebec than almost anywhere else in the world.

The government's error was precisely not to take into account these particular contextual elements in its way of approaching the matter. Above all, it would have been advantageous not to take for granted that the project would go through like a letter in the post, simply because it is associated with the environment and the energy transition.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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