A Sudbury mining executive said he is working hard to keep managerial control of his company and its assets in Northern Ontario.
In speaking to a Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce lunchtime crowd on April 6, Trevor Walker, president and CEO of Frontier Lithium, said his company has spent more than 10 years developing an incredibly rich and significantly large lithium mineral deposit in northwestern Ontario.
Lithium is one of the key minerals used in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles (EVs). The company is still in the development phase with plans to create two mining operations and a concentrator in the area of the deposits, located about 190 kilometres north of Red Lake near the First Nation communities of Sandy Lake, Deer Lake and North Spirit Lake.
The company’s website said the plan is for Frontier to become a strategic domestic supplier and to produce battery-grade lithium hydroxide and lithium salts to the growing electric vehicle markets in North America as well as being a supplier for high quality glass manufacturers.
Walker told the audience that Frontier, which has its head office in Sudbury, wants to keep the firm Canadian and to manage the company and the mineral assets with the best interests of the North in mind.
"We're working on a project in the North. So we're really conscious about, you know, the construct, the control, maintaining northern control. Our own decision making," Walker said.
"We've seen the history of Cleveland-Cliffs (the U.S.-based former Ring of Fire explorer) and companies bringing Lear jets into Indigenous communities, to conduct meetings in the North. That is a recipe for disaster. Don't allow others to come in and make those decisions. Those are our decisions. We know better. We know best. We know the North," he added.
Walker said other international firms have come knocking on the door, but they have been turned away.
"From 2010, we've had various funds, global funds, try and reach in and gain control over the potential of the project. We've always said no."
He added that some key factors for Frontier are now occurring to help the company move forward as the market for EVs is growing and there appears to be a declining demand for gasoline-powered vehicles.
Walker said the Ontario government recently made its largest ever investment in the automotive industry for the creation of an EV battery plant in Windsor. It was announced two weeks ago.
At the same time, Ontario revealed a critical minerals strategy to identify and support the mining of resources to support the change to battery power in the auto industry. It was announced in Thunder Bay.
Another big development, said Walker, is the Wataynikaneyap Power (Watay) energy project that is providing energy to more than a dozen Indigenous communities in northwestern Ontario. The project will create new power generation and an 1,800-kilometre transmission line to deliver reliable electricity to these First Nations. It will also bring power to the Frontier mine and concentrator sites.
"So those things are converging at once for us. So we're really, really fortunate and very lucky that this is taking place at the same time," said Walker. Provincial investment in southern Ontario has been “huge” over the years, but gradually, he said, the investment dollars are moving north.
Walker said the newly announced critical minerals strategy is an example. He said it is an education and awareness project as well as being an investment support strategy.
Walker said he has noticed more and more Ontario residents are beginning to understand the importance of mining.
"I can tell over the last year myself in personal conversations, people in Ontario are beginning to understand the reality, for those people that have been referenced as NIMBY individuals, or, you know, not be favourable for mining. In our jurisdiction, the reality is, their tweets, their (social media) posts, they're all on devices that require the mines and metals that we're so gifted with here in Northern Ontario.”