5.2 Building an auto industry through reconciliation

The shift to EV production is an opportunity to grow Canada’s auto industry, and secure good jobs across all areas of a burgeoning supply chain. Canada has all of the ingredients, from mines to manufacturing, to build a forward-looking powerhouse industry that grows the economy while reducing Canada’s carbon footprint at the same time. However, it is imperative that government strategists and policymakers understand the perils of this plan without a full and proper acknowledgement of Canada’s repressive colonial past and its obligations to Indigenous Peoples and their land.

As part of its truth and reconciliation commitments, the federal government passed into law the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People in 2021. This legislation requires government to ensure all federal laws are consistent with the Declaration’s terms, including requirements that Indigenous Peoples have “free, prior and informed consent” before Canada can permit any mining project. Projected growth in EV production will require a significant expansion in nickel, lithium and copper demand by the auto industry, inevitably resulting in the construction of new mines.

According to one estimate, Canada must build seven new nickel mines, two smelters and one refinery over the next 30 years simply to maintain its global share of nickel production. Assurances that such discussions over new mining projects happen in consultation and with the consent of Indigenous Peoples, in line with UNDRIP, is paramount. Mining firms must govern their projects under the strongest environmental standards, including the use of sustainable and energy inputs, maximize the economic benefit to Indigenous and Northern communities and commit to after-life land reclamation.

  • The principles of free, prior and informed consent, as committed under UNDRIP legislation, must be operationalized by federal and provincial government officials to facilitate meaningful, respectful and constructive dialogue between Indigenous communities and developers. A January 2022 report produced by the British Columbia First Nations Energy and Mining Council provides useful guidance for consent-based approval and regulation of new mining sites, from permitting to land reclamation and restoration, in a manner that upholds Indigenous self-determination, self-governance and human rights.

  • Governments must draw links between significant upstream industrial development projects and local job growth, skills training, revenue sharing and community and infrastructure development in Indigenous and Northern communities. Promoting and brokering the negotiation of fair share agreements between developers and Indigenous and Northern communities is one tool to maximize local benefits and can work in tandem with incentive-based programs to promote new Indigenous-led start-ups and Indigenous ownership of local suppliers. Such agreements can contain revenue sharing commitments with Indigenous Band Councils and local governments along with local hiring requirements, contracts with local Indigenous businesses and suppliers. These may also include commitments to empower local and Indigenous community oversight of a project’s environmental standards as well as co-ownership through equity shares.