Minister Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson. Source: Twitter, @JonathanWNV

Comment comes as Canadian officials anticipate talks with the incoming Biden administration on joint efforts to lower transportation emissions and tackle other auto supply issues

January 21, 2021 is a date likely circled on most Canadian officials’ calendars: the first full day of the new Biden administration and a new opportunity to engage the United States on cross-border agreements, initiatives and policies.

Reducing carbon emissions from transportation is a high priority for both the Trudeau government and the incoming U.S. president and an area ripe for potential cooperation. Could those talks include setting some kind of timetable for a ban on the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles?

The answer is yes, according to a story published today by Reuters, quoting Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson. In an interview, says Reuters, Wilkinson said talks between the two governments could include a discussion of “what the European countries and Quebec and British Columbia have done, which is to put a date at which they will no longer allow the sale of internal combustion engines.”

The ministry has not proposed or tabled any plans to that effect — and a representative declined further comment when contacted by Electric Autonomy Canada — but ZEV stakeholders will be optimistic that Wilkinson is noticing the trends being set elsewhere.

Collective progress

“I think we can collectively come up with mechanisms that will help both countries make progress on climate change,” said Wilkinson, in the same article.

Any such talks are also likely to focus on electric vehicles. As we reported this week, the new federal climate plan discusses areas of potential cooperation between the two countries, with particular emphasis on EV manufacturing, vehicle performance standards and supply-side market mechanisms to boost sales.

But it’s still too early to know what will actually make it on to the agenda.

Biden was bullish on climate in general during his campaign, but his platform did not include specific plans for EV adoption and transitioning to zero emission vehicles — other than a pledge to install 500,000 additional electric vehicle chargers.

With the Canadian auto sector so heavily intertwined with the American auto sector, addressing it together makes sense

“Supply-side” options

In a separate, recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Wilkinson acknowledged that he expects those “supply-side” options, including a potential zero-emission vehicle mandate, to be part of their discussions.

“With the election of Joe Biden, it provides an opportunity to engage that conversation on a North America-wide basis,” Wilkinson said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t move in that direction if the Americans aren’t interested.”

The Canadian government knows it needs to correct the EV supply-demand imbalance across the country. Recently, EV sales in Europe have been soaring, due at least in part to new regulations requiring car makers to meet fleet emissions standards that require them to funnel relatively large numbers of ZEVs into those markets. That leaves North America lagging behind — and with the Canadian auto sector so heavily intertwined with the American auto sector, addressing it together makes sense.

“This is something that we are going to be engaging very early on with president-elect Biden, and [Mr. Biden’s climate envoy] John Kerry and others, to ensure that we sort out whether this can be done together in a manner consistent with the integrated nature of the auto market,” said Wilkinson.

Creating a supply chain

Another topic of interest to the EV market is the goal of North America forming a self-sufficient end-to-end supply chain that would see both batteries and cars made and sold on the continent. The Canadian mining, auto, R&D and manufacturing sectors are already calling for a unified EV pipeline from raw materials to finished product. They believe North America has the expertise and resources and, when organized properly, would be able to mimic production models already established in Europe and Asia.

There may have already been a positive first step earlier this week.

Ontario-based First Cobalt Refinery, owner of the only permitted primary cobalt refinery in North America, received $10 million in funding from the provincial and federal governments to accelerate the recommissioning and expansion of its existing factory — a project with a total cost of $77 million. When completed, First Cobalt will be capable of producing 25,000 tonnes of battery grade cobalt a year — roughly five per cent of the global market — not to mention adding a lift to the local ZEV economy.

“The electric vehicle revolution is powered by cobalt…. Global demand for cobalt is increasing as electric vehicles become more widely adopted,” said Trent Mell, president and chief executive officer in a press release about the announcement. “Our refinery will be the only source of domestic cobalt for the North American electric vehicle industry and it will also be well positioned to support the European market.”