Pay-the-Rich Scheme: Part of the "Green Economy"

In its January 14 press release, Rio Tinto announced that it "is investing U.S.$6 million for the construction of a first module in the plant, with an initial capacity to produce three tonnes of scandium oxide per year, or approximately 20 per cent of the current global market." The government of Quebec will contribute to the project to the tune of approximately $850,000 within the framework of the $68-million pay-the-rich scheme announced last October by the Legault government as the "Québec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals 2020-2025 for a greener Quebec."[1]

In its October 24, 2020 issue, The Marxist-Leninist Weekly had already highlighted how the federal and Quebec governments responded to the Trump administration's call to secure a supply chain for minerals critical to the U.S. war economy.[2] By integrating, among other things, the Canadian rail network with the North American rail network, the economies of Canada and Quebec are being prepared to participate in the increasingly fierce inter-monopoly and inter-imperialist rivalry for the control of sources of raw material, commodities, markets and spheres of interest.

This is how Quebec's Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan Julien, qualified the Rio Tinto announcement: "RTFT's scandium oxide valorization project is a concrete example of how we can extract value from our mining wastes. It demonstrates our ability to innovate and seize business opportunities in a growing market as we strive to ensure secure supplies of critical minerals. This business has the potential to become a major scandium supplier outside China."[3]

Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) already operates an open-pit ilmenite mine in Quebec at Lac Tio, near Havre-Saint-Pierre, on the North Shore, which is the largest ilmenite deposit in the world (see location "A" on the Quebec map). The ore is then sent by ship to its metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, where titanium dioxide, pig iron, steel and world-class metal powders are extracted (see location "B" on the Quebec map). In total, nearly 1,650 workers are employed at these two Quebec sites.

Rio Tinto is currently testing the production of small quantities of a high-performance aluminum-scandium master alloy using scandium oxide produced by RTFT, with the support of its aluminum sector based in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region in Quebec (see location "C" on the Quebec map).

Map showing the three major Rio Tinto sites for mining (A) and refining (B) titanium and refining aluminium (C) in Quebec (click to enlarge)

Quebec's Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region is also an important hub for the aluminum sector, which for Rio Tinto represents almost half of its global production of this metal. Rio Tinto's activities in the region include an alumina refinery, four wholly owned aluminum smelters, six hydroelectric plants, the Arvida Research and Development Centre (CRDA), the Aluminium Operational Centre, a rail network and a port.

All these infrastructure projects related to minerals critical to the U.S. imperialist war economy are considered part of a "sustainable greener economy." Their aim, however, is not a sustainable natural environment but to serve the U.S. war economy and its striving for world hegemony over China and Russia. War production is the greatest cause worldwide of collective insecurity as well as pollution. So long as the aim is to make the rich richer, extracting scandium from by-products generated during the production of titanium dioxide will not be used to serve the people. Canada's highly qualified work force and its resources are its greatest assets which must be brought under the people's direction and control.


1. "The Gouvernement du Québec launches the Québec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals: future resources for a greener Québec," Quebec Government Press release, October 29, 2020 

2. "Canada's Strategic Critical Minerals:Who Decides? -- Integration of Quebec's Northern Regions into U.S. War Economy - Fernand Deschamps," TMLWeekly #40, October 24, 2020 

3. "Rio Tinto enters scandium market with construction of new plant in Canada," Rio Tinto January 14, 2021 press release. 

(With files from: Aluminum Insider, Canadian Mining Journal, Government of Canada, Government of Quebec, Rio Tinto, SCALE, TML Weekly, TML Monthly. Photos: Service de cartographie du gouvernement du Québec)

This article was published in

March 22, 2021 - No. 20

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