A new mine could position Quebec as a lithium leader, but its rocky past worries locals

CBC News

It could be a boon for a small community, but critics brace for impact after history of failures and spills

By Kate McKenna, CBC News

In an expansive open-air pit 550 kilometres northwest of Montreal, 100-tonne trucks criss-cross the climbing roads, preparing for the mine to open.

The chalk-white veins of those rocks have metals inside, including one of the most sought-after minerals in the world: lithium, a key component of electric car batteries. 


Several kilometers outside of Val-d'Or — a town in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region so mineral-rich, the name actually translates to "the golden valley" — Rodrigue Turgeon points to an empty field, but for some water and blue-grey sludge.

That sludge — mining tailings from an old gold mine — looks unnatural even in the browning decay of November.

Turgeon, a spokesperson for the group MiningWatch Canada, is calling on Canadians to see the tailings and understand that more lithium means more mines. He wants Canadians to question whether it's a good idea to replace extracting one resource — gasoline — with another resource — lithium.

"It's important to acknowledge the extent of areas we've been polluting for centuries in Quebec's history to encourage this polluting industry that's only pursuing its own profit," he said.

Turgeon said citizens ought to resist the idea that lithium will save the environment, and instead change their consumption habits. 

"It's a shift from one kind of pollution to another. We have to really start doing everything in our power to reduce our consumption rate," he said.

Teresa Kramarz, the University of Toronto mining expert, says that in addition to mining, there needs to be serious conversations in Canada and abroad about more sustainable forms of transportation, including increased public transit. 

"Everyone buying electric cars and everybody having a Tesla in their driveway, I don't think that's sustainable… it's neither just nor sustainable. 

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