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$1.6B EV battery separator plant to open in Ontario’s Niagara Region in 2027 will ‘boost’ the city, mayor says | CBC News

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A small city nestled in southern Ontario’s Niagara Region will be home to a new $1.6-billion electric vehicle (EV) battery plant that was officially announced Tuesday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford were among politicians in Port Colborne, Ont., to speak about the investment by Japanese company Asahi Kasei Corp.

Mayor Bill Steele said Asahi Kasei’s investment is the biggest in the city in the past century.

“You’re going to see the resurgence of all kinds of new industry that will tie in, not just with EV battery trade,” he said. “It’s going to give a whole boost to the city.”

The facility will be Canada’s first lithium ion battery separator plant.

Asahi Kasei Corp., in partnership with Honda, will build battery separators, which prevent the anode and cathode from coming into contact and causing a short circuit, but still allow the lithium ions to move back and forth.

Honda recently said it’s building an EV battery plant next to its Alliston, Ont., assembly plant, which it is retooling to produce fully electric vehicles as part of a $15-billion project to create a supply chain in the province for the automaker.

WATCH | PM announces new EV supply chain plant in Port Colborne, Ont.

PM announces new EV supply chain plant in Port Colborne, Ont.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s next electric vehicle supply chain plant, a joint venture between Asahi Kasei Corp and Honda Canada that will build Canada’s first lithium ion separator plant. Trudeau calls the $1.6 billion investment by Asahi Kasei ‘generational.’

Steele said Asahi Kasei has already been taking orders and the plant should be operational in 2027. It’ll take up half of a 162-hectare parcel of land along Highway 140 that’s owned by BMI Group.

The company will invest more money as the plant’s construction progresses, he added.

Why the company chose Port Colborne

Asahi Kasei president Koshiro Kudo told reporters Tuesday the company has been aiming to build a separator plant abroad for the past few years, looking in Europe and the United States before settling in Canada. 

“We have learned that there is a huge enthusiasm coming from the federal government, provincial government and the local municipal government,” he said through a translator. “Also, we have [found] that there are plenty of great quality human resources available here.”

A sign for Port Colborne.
Port Coborne is a small city in Niagara Region near Lake Erie. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Steele said the city has been in talks with the company for nine months.

He said Port Colborne’s “welcoming people” and access to rail, water, highways and the Canada-U.S. border as reasons Asahi Kasei chose the city.

Trudeau said Canada’s natural resources are the driver behind EV investments.

“We have clean energy and we take climate action seriously. We have stable democratic institutions and strong communities, and all those things are what the international community investors look for when they come.”

Number of jobs, who will fill them still unclear

Trudeau and Ford also emphasized how the plant will create jobs for generations to come.

But there’s no word on how many jobs the plant will produce and who will get them.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne did not directly answer a media question about any guarantees the government received about Canadian jobs at the plant, but said it is always top of mind.

“I can assure you that, in all our discussions with partners like Asahi Kasei and all the others, we’ve always made sure that we maximize the number of jobs for Canadians, not only during the plant and the construction phase, but certainly making sure that all the suppliers will be involved in that.”

A man speaking at a podium.
Port Colborne Mayor Bill Steele says the investment for the planned $1.6-billion EV battery plant is the biggest the city has seen in a century. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Steele said there will be some workers taking flights from Japan to Port Colborne to help train workers, but also said almost all jobs will go to Canadians.

Union leaders, federal Conservatives and the NDP have been demanding assurances from Trudeau that he will ensure jobs are going to Canadians as he rolls out successive announcements on EV and parts plants.

The announcement is “very good news,” especially since Niagara has seen “too many factories disappear in the last 20 years,” Trevor Longpre, chair of General Motors St. Catharines Unifor Local 199 in the Niagara Region, said in an email to CBC News.

He also said he hopes all autoworkers receive the benefits of working with a union. 

Jim Bradley, Niagara Region’s chair, said the plant will create jobs directly and indirectly, with local businesses servicing the factory when it opens.

Steele added the investment will spur more home construction in the area and increase the city’s tax base.

Local First Nation says there was no consultation

When asked if there had been any consultation with local Indigenous communities regarding the plant, Steele said BMI Group, which owns the land, has done “consultation.” He did not provide specifics. 

CBC Hamilton contacted BMI Group for more details but didn’t immediately receive a response.

At least one First Nation said it’s waiting for consultation.

Mark LaForme, director of Mississauga of the Credit First Nation’s Department of Consultation and Accommodation, said there’s been no consultation from anyone about the project. 

“Our reaction is one of deep disappointment … the absence of consultation is contrary to the spirit of reconciliation and this must be addressed,” LaForme said.

Port Colborne is “situated in the Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation,” he added. 

“This is compounded by the fact that this project is in close proximity to Lake Erie, a significant water body that the Mississaugas of the Credit people have historically relied on to sustain life.”

CBC Hamilton contacted Six Nations of the Grand River and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council to confirm if they have had any consultation but didn’t immediately receive a response.

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