Canada's Strategic Critical Minerals:
Who Decides?

Integration of Quebec's Northern Regions into U.S. War Economy

TML Weekly explained in February how Canada and Quebec are being further integrated into the U.S. imperialist economy and war machine through the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration.[1] A recent Quebec government announcement reveals that the next step is to build infrastructure to guarantee a supply chain to ship these critical minerals to the United States.

Representatives of the Eeyou Istchee Cree First Nations and the Quebec government met in Montreal on February 17 to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The office of the Premier of Quebec termed the MOU, "La Grande Alliance, [a] collaborative, long-term, balanced economic development in a spirit of respect for Cree values in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Territory."

Abel Bosum, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and Chairperson of the Cree Nation Government, signed the MOU on behalf of the Eeyou Istchee while Premier François Legault signed for the Quebec government.

The website of La Grande Alliance says, "La Grande Alliance is an agreement for collaboration and consolidation of socio-economic ties between the Cree Nation and Quebec government to connect, develop and protect the territory."

The project will cover "Eeyou Istchee, the Cree land that represents nearly 30 per cent of Quebec (450,000 square kilometres)." It is "a comprehensive plan to extend the transportation network (rail, road, port and airport), improve living standards (housing, electricity and internet) and guarantee the long-term protection of the territory (protected areas)."[2]

The project is presented as "a 30-year infrastructure program" estimated at $4.7 billion to be carried out in three phases. The first phase begins in 2021 in the south around Matagami in Abitibi, extends north to Whapmagoostui and east to Schefferville to connect the Cree territory with the rest of Quebec. The project "aims at developing infrastructure to facilitate the transport of people and goods, increase the value of natural resources by reducing travel costs and ensuring protection of First Nations land by creating a protected corridor for flora and fauna."[3]

As reported in a previous issue of TML Weekly, the protection of the natural environment is an issue of concern to the Cree people who oppose the further encroachment on their ancestral land, as many of them still depend on it for trapping and for their livelihood.[4]

Infrastructure for Extraction of Strategic Minerals

After the MOU signing ceremony, Premier Legault noted, "[Northern Quebec] is full of potential and presents possibilities in certain strategic minerals that are very attractive for the Americans and the Germans who, at present, are very dependent on China. Whenever there is a mining project, there must be acceptance on the part of the Indigenous communities. This Memorandum of Understanding proves that it is possible to work together on ambitious socio-economic development projects and take advantage of Northern Quebec's vast mining potential for the benefit of both our nations, in a spirit of respect for the environment, the territory and Indigenous values."

The Cree and the Legault government have agreed to share the costs of a feasibility study on Phase 1 of the Grande Alliance, valued at $1.5 billion. This entails the construction of a railroad from Matagami to Waskaganish, which is infrastructure needed to serve four lithium mining projects currently at the environmental assessment stage.

According to the World Bank and the Australian Institute for Sustainable Futures, global demand for minerals such as lithium, graphite, cobalt and nickel is set to explode by 2050, with expected increases ranging from 300 to 8,000 per cent, according to the various scenarios analyzed. Already the effect of this mineral boom is palpable in Quebec with a 50 per cent increase in mining investment for graphite and a 789 per cent increase for lithium between 2013 and 2018.

Map showing the location of potential mines and those already in production in relation to strategic and critical minerals (click to enlarge).

Quebec's Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources acknowledged in a February 2020 statement, "Critical minerals have significant economic importance in key sectors of the economy, present a supply risk, and have no commercially-available substitutes. Strategic minerals have strategic importance for states. They are needed to implement Quebec's economic policies, such as the 2030 Energy Policy and the future 2020-2030 Electrification and Climate Change Plan.


"Quebec already makes a major contribution to the supply of critical and strategic minerals, since it produces nickel, niobium and graphite and has mining projects under development for lithium, vanadium, rare earth elements and tantalum."[5]

Railway Network -- Part of Strategic Minerals Supply Chain 
for U.S. War Economy

Three-phase extension of road and railways in Northern Quebec under the Memorandum
of Understanding (click to enlarge). (La Grande Alliance)

Phase 1 of the MOU includes the construction of a railway from Matagami to a deep-water port at Whapmagoostui 700 km north on Hudson Bay. CN rail currently serves the Abitibi region. It has a rail interconnection between Matagami, the gateway to James Bay and the territory of the Cree Nation, and the transcontinental railway that links Canada from coast to coast.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau introduced Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, in the House of Commons on May 16, 2017. The act contains measures to amend the Canada Transportation Act with regard to air and railway transportation. It was given Royal Assent on May 23, 2018.

TML Weekly pointed out in 2017:

"The Trudeau Liberal government said at that time the direction it wants to take 'to grow Canada's economy' is to modernize it by introducing further deregulation and privatization. This direction is not new by any means, and was also the policy of the former Harper Conservative government. Bill C-49 consolidates the Harper government's direction in the service of foreign monopoly corporations in the transportation sector. They profit from Canada's network of transportation corridors that facilitate the international trade they dominate."[6]

Bill C-49 created a new mechanism called long-haul interswitching (LHI) to replace the system of temporary extended interswitching, which is managed through regulations. According to Minister Garneau's rationale, LHI was needed to provide a "competitive alternative" for captive shippers who have access to only one railway. This measure was clearly intended to further deregulate rail transport to benefit the railway monopolies operating mostly in the U.S., as it further expanded their access into the Canadian railway network.

An article in Workers' Forum explained, "[S]hippers of products like lumber, iron ore, grain or consumer goods in Canada's most remote regions, often served by only a single rail line, [are left] with few transportation options. With interswitching, the railway company picks up the cars from a customer and hands them off to another carrier that performs the line haul. The line haul includes the majority of the linear distance of the overall railway movement."

Under the legislation prior to Bill C-49, interswitching was available to shippers located 160 km from a recognized interchange point. Bill C-49 extends this distance up to 1,200 km. "This deregulation measure favours the railway monopolies now operating mostly in the U.S., as it will increase their access to the Canadian railway network," the article pointed out.[7]

Amending the Canada Transportation Act also brought a change affecting foreign ownership of airline and railway companies. The maximum percentage of foreign voting interests in Canadian air carriers increased from 25 per cent to 49 per cent with a single person able to control up to 25 per cent of the voting interests in that corporation, such as Air Canada and WestJet.

Specifically regarding the operation of the Canadian National Railway Co., an amendment to the CN Commercialization Act in 2018 increased the maximum voting shares that can be held by one person, from 15 to 25 per cent. Already in 2017, Microsoft oligarch Bill Gates was CN's biggest shareholder, with 13.3 per cent through his holding company. He also controlled another 2.3 per cent through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

More Pay-the-Rich Schemes to Further Integrate Quebec
into U.S. War Economy and Supply Chain

The evening before Legault signed the MOU with the Eeyou Istchee Cree First Nations, Pierre Fitzgibbon, Quebec's Minister of the Economy and Innovation appeared on the Radio-Canada weekly talk show Tout le monde en parle. Fitzgibbon spoke excitedly about the Government of Quebec's $30 million investment, through Investissement Québec, in a company based in France called "Flying Whales." The French company plans to build airships capable of transporting payloads equivalent to those transported by two semi-trailer trucks.

Fitzgibbon said, "It is an airship that takes a 60-tonne payload. We could transport houses to the far north; we could extract minerals, rare earths. It is a French group, which includes the Paris airport, Boeing, large French companies. We are investing 20 million euros. We have the rights in the Americas. And the French will invest the equivalent of what we invest in research and development here in Quebec. Here, we have a very efficient industrial cluster in aerospace, artificial intelligence, [and] our engineers. We anticipate that the project will be operational in 2022-2023. We can think of places in the far North, the James Bay territory, where there are no roads and airships that can carry 60 tonnes are more useful than putting billions into the construction of roads and railways. These airships will be complementary to our strategy to develop northern Quebec. This system will complement the traditional transport system."

Such airships have been available since the late 19th and early 20th centuries until the Hindenburg disaster undermined public confidence in them, and brought a definitive end to their "golden age." The government of Canada with such vast northern territories has not seen fit to put them to use for the delivery of goods to the north until now when mining interests have a direct stake.

Taken together, the ensemble of reports reveals how the Canadian and Quebec economies are being prepped to participate in the increasingly vicious inter-monopoly and inter-imperialist competition over control of sources of raw materials, markets and spheres of interest. Canada's transportation infrastructure, along with its human and natural resources, mainly serves the U.S. imperialist striving for domination, its war economy and insatiable demand to suck as much private profit as it can from wherever it is allowed to operate. But it also integrates the Europeans into the North American market, an advantage Quebec milks to the maximum when it comes to relations with France and the European Union. This disastrous path under the control of oligopolies and their cartels and coalitions which both collude and contend at one and the same time stands in opposition to building a self-reliant diverse economy under the control of the people and serving their needs and well-being and the necessity to humanize the social and natural environment.

The Cree and all Indigenous peoples are entitled as a birthright to a life they choose for themselves at the highest standard of living this modern age produces. Transporting goods to northern communities by airship whose payload is many many times greater than that of a plane should reduce the cost of food and all other things  imported from the south many times over, but will it? 

The direction of the Legault and Trudeau governments must not pass. The people cannot and will not accept such a direction for the economy that is not under their control and inevitably leads to crises and war.


1. "No to Canada's Integration into the U.S. Imperialist War Economy!" by Fernand Deschamps, TML Weekly, February 1, 2020.

2. La Grande Alliance

3. Ibid.

4. "Quebec Government Announces 'Grand Alliance' with Cree While Calling for Police Intervention to End Blockades," TML Weekly, February 22, 2020.

5. "Discussion Paper: Review of Quebec's Role in the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals," Energy and Resources Quebec," February 2020.

6. "Privatization and Deregulation in Service of Financial Oligarchy and Empire-Building Is Not Modernization," by Louis Lang, TML Weekly, June 3, 2018.

7. "The Real Aim of Bill C-49," by Pierre Chénier, Workers' Forum, September 28, 2017

(With files from Quebec Government, Radio-Canada, TML. Photos: TML, Grand Alliance. Quotations from Premier Legault and Minister Fitzgibbon translated from original French by TML.)

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 40 - October 24, 2020

Article Link:
Canada's Strategic Critical Minerals:: Integration of Quebec's Northern Regions into U.S. War Economy - Fernand Deschamps


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