In a candid — and exclusive — conversation, provincial minister Vic Fedeli and Ontario’s new Representative in Washington, D.C., David Paterson, talk the future of batteries and EVs in the province
It’s been almost 35 years since David Paterson walked the halls of Queen’s Park.
In 1986, the seat the Ontario government was the first stop Paterson made after completing his Master of History at McGill University. Now, he’s returning to politics.
Paterson’s official title is Ontario’s Representative in Washington, D.C. His mandate is to nurture and grow Ontario’s trade with the United States and provide advice to the government.
Paterson steps into his role coming off three decades of corporate experience that’s taken him around the world, brought cutting-edge technologies to market and helped him hone the art of communications and storytelling.
So, it’s not surprising then, that the tale of how he’s soon to become a frequent flier to Washington begins with a plot twist.
“I was not really expecting to do anything like this,” says Paterson in an exclusive video interview with Electric Autonomy — a tag-team discussion that also includes Paterson’s new boss, Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, who is on-screen from his home in North Bay.
“The minister and I sort of spoke early on — around the time I was leaving General Motors. I was absolutely thrilled when he suggested this. I hadn’t thought of it and yet it sort of dawned on me that maybe, in some small way, I could add some value from all the things I’ve learned.”
Paterson’s electrification experience
Many industry people know Paterson from his tenure at BlackBerry from 2010-2014, during the height of the technology company’s mobile service boom.
From 2014 to earlier this year, Paterson was vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs at GM Canada. The first half of that time was dedicated to stabilizing the company in a rocky automotive industry.
But then things began to change. Suddenly the tone switched from just surviving to thriving in a very different looking future.
“One of the things that I worked very hard on was not only to see the retooling of Ontario-based auto plants for the electric future, but also the battery supply chain,” says Paterson.
“We did some pretty amazing things. Opening up Canada’s first EV plant and starting the conversion of the St. Catharines plant from engines to electric motors. Building the Markham technology centres out…[there are] 1,000 people with PhDs working in there now.”
Paterson believes it’s this from-the-ground-up experience that gives him a unique and valuable skill set to represent Ontario in Washington.
“My job will be, in Washington, to not only to help continue to attract people to Ontario and to help Ontario companies to do well in the United States, but to also help to manage the policy environment,” says Paterson.
“You need to understand what’s in the minds of the investors and then see these connections. I’ve had the privilege of being on the inside of understanding that from the perspective of a big investment company. I’ve also had the the good fortune to have been very involved in a series of trade agreements.”
A confident team
Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade is, unusually, at his home — an unplanned break from his travel schedule (the day before he was in St. Thomas admiring Volkswagen’s battery factory site) because of a bug, he says. But he waves off well wishes with a laugh and a hearty assurance that he’s fine.
What Fedeli really wants to talk about is Ontario’s EV battery supply chain prospects and how his newest advisor is going to come into play.
“[David]’s just one of the nicest people that you want to meet,” says Fedeli. “He is going to be a tremendous, absolutely tremendous asset to the province of Ontario.”
Mid-interview with Electric Autonomy Fedeli fields a phone call from Premier Doug Ford. But he doesn’t lose his train of thought, rejoining our conversation with his boldest claim yet.
“I think you are going to see 2024 being the absolute banner year for Ontario,” says Fedeli.
“There’s a window that’s opened up and everybody’s going to find a dance partner. This is the year that everybody will end up somewhere…because the [federal sales] mandates kick in. The only way you’re going to make those mandates is if you start producing cars in the very near future. The only way you’re going to do that if you produce the batteries in the very near future.”
Paterson says he is coming into his new role “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
In the last two years, Ontario has attracted close to $27 billion dollars in investments in its EV battery supply chain, says Fedeli.
And Paterson appears to enjoy the prospect of growing that number over his three-year term.
“We’re only in the very early years of the electrification revolution,” he says. “As this transformation of technology takes place we just need to keep our foot to the floor.”