Hailed as green energy source, northern Quebec lithium project divides Cree
NEMASKA, QUE. — Type the word “Nemaska” into a search engine and most results refer to Nemaska Lithium, the company that sought bankruptcy protection in 2019 before being partly bought out by the Quebec government’s investment agency. The episode resulted in tens of thousands of small investors losing significant savings.
However, Nemaska is above all a Cree community in the heart of the boreal forest, more than 1,500 kilometres from Montreal. They share their territory with a wide variety of species, and caribou herds have long visited the area, drawn by its abundance of lichen.
These fragile ecosystems are home to a multitude of threatened species that will soon have to deal with new visitors: starting in 2025, approximately 15 heavy trucks a day will roar through these ancestral hunting grounds carrying the thousands of tonnes of ore that Nemaska Lithium plans to mine.
According to the promoters, the region contains some of the world’s largest deposits of spodumene, a rock from which lithium — key to the energy transition and the electrification of transport networks — is extracted.
Nemaska Lithium describes itself as a corporation that “intends to facilitate access to green energy, for the benefit of humanity.”
The Whabouchi open pit mine will be located about 30 kilometres from the village of Nemaska, in the watershed of the Rupert River, considered one of Quebec’s ecological gems.
“If the water becomes contaminated by the mine, I don’t see how we can limit the damage to the food chain,” says Thomas Jolly, who was chief of Nemaska from 2015 to 2019, stressing the importance of fishing to his community.
Nemaska means “Place of Plentiful Fish,” and that is what led the Cree to build their community here in 1979 after a proposed Hydro-Québec dam project threatened to flood their ancestral village. (In the end, the Crown corporation chose to build its reservoirs elsewhere, and the flooding of Old Nemaska never occurred.)
“At the time, the Department of Indian Affairs wanted to impose another site on us, but it was partly a swamp … so we chose to settle here instead, where it’s dry, in a place where there is everything we need to hunt and fish,” Jolly said in an interview in Nemaska.
Various other Hydro-Québec projects have led to an increase in mercury levels in lakes and rivers near Nemaska, to the point where for some bodies of water, public health authorities recommend eating no more than two fish of certain species per month.
According to public health data, one of the waterways with the highest mercury levels is the Nemiscau River, which is also set to receive mine effluent from Nemaska Lithium.
“How much more contamination can these streams handle?” Jolly wonders.
He explains that history has taught him to be wary of the studies carried out by the mining company on the environmental impacts of lithium extraction. “Hydro-Québec said they didn’t know (the mercury contamination) would happen,” he says. “Come on!”
The construction of the mine will cause the elimination of a lake and a stream in addition to modifying several other bodies of water. In total, the negative effects on fish and fish habitat are estimated at 54,600 square metres, according to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, and Nemaska Lithium is working to implement a compensation plan for this loss of habitat.
The federal government’s approval of the mine comes with dozens of conditions, including protecting water quality. In an interview with The Canadian Press, Vincent Perron, the director of environment and stakeholder relations at Nemaska Lithium, says the company has “a very comprehensive and rigorous water quality monitoring program.”
Perron explains that Nemaska Lithium, among other things, is committed to verifying every three years “the level of heavy metals in the flesh of fish, starting during the construction of the mine and until the end of a five-year period following its closure.”
He stresses that “a water treatment plant will be installed to treat the excess drainage water before it is released into the Nemiscau River.”
Company documents show that 10 species of mammals with a special status — either threatened, vulnerable or at risk — may frequent the mine area, including the wolverine and the woodland caribou as well as various species of birds, such as the golden eagle.
The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada cited potential “habitat loss and fragmentation” for those species but said the impact would not be significant because of the availability of similar habitat nearby and mitigation measures proposed by the proponent.
For Jolly, regardless of mitigation measures, “it’s obvious” that animals will be negatively affected by the blasting, the extraction and transportation of ore. He wants the mine administrators to consider traditional Indigenous knowledge and not just “book science” in managing the risks.
“You, people from the south, when you talk about animals and plants, you use the word species,” he says, “but we call them educators.”
Nemaska Lithium says it wants its mine project to set a benchmark for environmental responsibility. Powered by renewable electricity from Hydro-Québec, it will be one of “the greenest lithium producers in the world,” says Perron.
The project will have “one of the lowest intensities of production in the world in terms of CO2 equivalent emissions from processing and transportation combined,” he said. “It is nearly three times lower than the global average, and more than six times lower than China.”
However, Jolly stresses that hydro power is not as green as some people make it out to be. The environmental impacts of large dams are considerable, he says, citing examples of entire communities that have had to relocate because of flooding. Hunting grounds were submerged and mercury levels shot up in fish, among other upheavals in the James Bay Cree’s traditional way of life.
The Quebec government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Nemaska Lithium. Premier François Legault, who wants Quebec to export electric vehicle batteries worldwide and be a leader in 21st-century transportation, considers the company “an important component of the green economy.”
Jolly questions why lithium mined from Cree lands should be a central part of the government’s plan to combat climate change. “Who is responsible (for the climate crisis)?” he asked. “Is it up to us to pay and suffer for what they have done?”
He says the project was approved by the band council without properly consulting the population, a critique echoed by another former chief, George Wapachee. In his book “Going Home”, published last fall, Wapachee writes that the decision to accept the lithium mine “was made without the approval of community members.”
But while many in Nemaska are worried about the mine, it also gives hope to those who see it as an important tool for economic development. At a hearing in 2015, former Chief Matthew Wapachee presented a petition that included about 100 signatures in support of the project.
“Nemaska Lithium should be commended in recognizing and ensuring that this partnership is founded on mutual trust, protection of the environment and respect of Cree rights and traditional way of life,” Matthew Coon Come, who was then grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, said in a press release at the time.
Even though some in Nemaska say they were not sufficiently informed about the mine project, Nemaska band council spokesperson Laurence Gagnon maintains that the community was regularly consulted at annual general meetings. The council accepted the project “100 per cent for the economic benefits,” she said in an interview.
She said the village is expected to receive annual royalties. “We are talking about several million dollars over 30 years for the community,” she said. This money “returns to our citizens for better infrastructures, better services.”
Current Chief Clarence Jolly was among the elected officials who in 2014 voted to ratify the agreement with the mine.
Over a period of several months, The Canadian Press made numerous attempts to speak with him to discuss the impacts of the mine and its social acceptance, but he declined all requests. Gagnon explained the chief’s refusal by noting that the lithium mine was “a sensitive subject” that he preferred “not to discuss during an election period.”
The chief offered to provide an interview after the community elections later this month.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.
Stéphane Blais received the support of the Michener Foundation, which awarded him a Michener–Deacon Investigative Journalism fellowship in 2022 to report on the impact of lithium extraction in northern Quebec.
Stéphane Blais, The Canadian Press
Those With Rare Diseases Need to Wait, as Usual
Science has developed the ability to research, develop and create functional cures for many of our so-called “incurable diseases”, but having the ability to do something and actually doing it are two different things. Medicine has always suffered from a problem with “knowing-doing”. It is the difference between what a doctor actually does for a patient and what can be done with all that we know. Developmental breakthroughs in medicine are allowing doctors to do things they never could imagine before. Sometimes these break-thoughts don’t fit into businesses/governmental financial or regulatory systems, meaning that it can take a long time for patients to actually benefit, a time many patients may not have.
The National Institutes of Health in America invest more than $40 Billion in biomedical research each year, and the private sector twice as much. The discoveries are valued by all, but why is it so hard to use these discoveries?
Science’s ability to engineer medicines has far outpaced how these medicines are actually built, tested, and put into human beings. Artificial Intelligence has assisted the community by mapping the human genome in efforts to cure various diseases. The US Government defines rare diseases as those that affect fewer than 200,000 people in America. Some affect only a handful of people. There are over 7000 different rare diseases, with more than 30 million people in America diagnosed with one of them. That is 10% of the US population. So improving how society can find and care for these patients could have a great impact. Problem is that the health system is not flagging enough people with these diseases, while many individuals don’t even know what disease they may have, or that they indeed have a disease. A.I. steps up front to assist in the recognition, tracking, analyzing, and identifying of these patients through computer-programmed systems. Put one’s symptoms into the machine, and often voila, a point from which a doctor can begin his medical investigation and treatment. A diagnostic odyssey in each individual case.
Artificial Intelligence has a prominent place within our health system, including helping design new treatments, helping predict which treatment is better for which patient, and screening for rare diseases with suggested diagnoses to boot. Why are many with rare diseases often left out in the cold, to search on their own for a cure? Money! Simple.
Who makes medicines, and invests millions in treatments and research for diseases? Pharmaceutical Firms.
What are they but profit centers for investment bankers, massive corporations, and a financial structure centered upon the shareholder, and not the average joe? Solutions can be found, but the willingness to spend way beyond what a firm can make in profits needs to be there. Sure our DNA is constantly changing, and evolving biologically. Making a drug that cures cancer, may cure some, but certainly not all forms since each person is unique, their biology specific to that person. Many doctors realize that their methods are much like witch Doctors, forever experimenting with the specific individual’s condition.
Our Health system is tied to our financial system. That is the root of it. So long as the doctors, hospitals, and researchers are tied to profit (our financial system) the necessary technology, research, and investment will not be found for those with rare diseases. I have a disease that has no cure. My immune system is attacking the tissue in my mouth. It is sorely painful, personally transformative, and damn if you could find a doctor who is a real expert in the field. Since it is rare, the institutions of the industry will not find proper medicine for its management, let alone its cure. I live with it, and the disease manages the way I eat, what I eat, how I clean my teeth, how I sleep, and interact with my partner too. This disease can transfer to another. Great eh!
For those of you who have or know of someone who has a rare disease, all I can say is to be patient. The present-day financial and healthcare systems need to change drastically, with governmental intervention in all aspects of research, planning, and manufacturing of medicines. Out of the hands who care for themselves, and hopefully into the hands of those who care about you and those you love.
Canada is set for its largest alcohol tax increase yet. Here’s what to know
Canadians could soon be paying around a quarter more for a 24-pack of beer thanks to the largest increase yet to a federal tax on alcohol.
The “escalator tax” is set to increase by 6.4 per cent on April 1 unless a change is announced before then, such as when the federal budget is revealed on March 28, according to food distribution professor at Dalhousie University, Sylvain Charlebois.
Charlebois told Global News that the tax, which was introduced in 2017, was designed to automatically increase over time based on the rate of inflation to avoid renegotiating it too often.
Given the amount of inflation Canada has experienced recently, the tax is now set for its biggest increase ever, he noted. Last year, the tax went up 2.4 per cent.
And while a penny a beer might not sound like much of a hike, industry experts say it’s one more factor pushing up costs for producers and distributors that’s likely to have ripple effects on what consumers pay.
Breaking down the cost increase
Charlebois predicts the tax will increase the price of a single beer by one cent, while the finance ministry told Global News in a statement that the amount would be three-quarters of a cent. Charlebois said that the price increase would be visible immediately after the tax is scheduled to be implemented on April 1.
Beer Canada told Global News in a statement that the tax increase will bring up the price of a 12-pack by 10 cents. For a 750 ml bottle of wine, the price could increase close to three cents, according to figures from the Canadian Revenue Agency.
In a statement to the Canadian Press, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) said that a 750 ml bottle of a spirit of 40 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) may increase 70 cents. Charlebois said that the tax may have a smaller impact on the price of craft beer since it is lower volume and usually at a higher price, but could affect larger manufacturers more.
The tax could have a ripple effect on costs, as well.
Beer Canada said since the tax is a production tax imposed on the brewer at the point and time of production, “it is then magnified by other fees and taxes imposed by distributors, retailers, and provinces, including sales taxes,” making the impact on a 12-pack likely closer to 20 cents.
Along with other inflation factors, beer retail prices are projected to rise 10 per cent in 2023, according to the organization.
Beer Canada notes there has been a 60-per cent increase in barley prices, 40-per cent increase in packaging costs, and a doubling of freight costs.
Industry group Restaurants Canada told Canadian Press it estimates the tax increase will cost Canada’s food-service industry about $750 million a year, with the average casual dining restaurant expected to pay an extra $30,000 towards alcohol.
The carbon tax is also set to increase April 1 to $65 a metric ton of carbon from $50, which Charlebois said could impact alcohol prices as well since most producers do not have completely green supply chains. In addition, provinces individually typically increase their tax on alcohol, as well.
Overall, the escalator tax alone will amount to an extra $125 million a year that Canadians will pay to the government.
“It’s just one tax people don’t need right now,” Charlebois said. “It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s more that the tax burden is only increasing.”
“It’s a lot of pressure,” he added.
Industry calls for no tax increase
There is still the possibility the tax could be scrapped, Sylvain said, as lobbyists are moving against it.
Beer Canada says that Canada has the highest alcohol taxes among G7 nations, with about half the cost of a typical can of beer going to taxes, while up to 80 per cent of a bottle of alcohol is taxed, according to Spirits Canada.
The organization is calling on the federal government to freeze current alcohol taxes until inflation reaches closer to the Bank of Canada’s two per cent target.
“It’s do or die time in terms of action,” CJ Hélie, president of Beer Canada, told Global News. “April 1 is right around the corner and the question will be, does the government’s actions live up to their commitment.”
On March 22, MPs voted 170 to 149 in favour of a motion calling on the government to cancel the alcohol tax increase, sponsored by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.
Helie told The Canadian Press that the escalator tax used to be “digestible” when it was around two per cent, but with more than triple the usual increase, it should now be reconsidered.
“When inflation is through the roof, we need to rethink this automatic formula,” Helie said. “The industry is already in dire straits. Using a rigid formula in a time like this is unacceptable.”
— with files from The Canadian Press
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Principal resigns after Florida students shown Michelangelo statue
A principal of a Florida school has been forced to resign after a parent complained that sixth-grade students were exposed to pornography.
The complaint arose from a Renaissance art lesson where students were shown Michelangelo’s statue of David.
The iconic statue is one of the most famous in Western history.
The 5.17m (17ft) statue depicts an entirely naked David, the Biblical figure who kills the giant Goliath.
The lesson, given to 11 and 12-year-olds, also included references to Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” painting and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”.
Principal Hope Carrasquilla of Tallahassee Classical School said she resigned after she was given an ultimatum by the school board to resign or be fired.
Local media reported that Ms Carrasquilla did not know the reason she was asked to resign, but believed it was related to the complaints over the lesson.
They also said Ms Carrasquilla had been principal for less than one year.
In an interview with US outlet Slate, the chair of the school’s board, Barney Bishop III, said that last year the principal sent a notice to parents warning them that students were going to see Michelangelo’s David – but that this wasn’t done this year. He called it an “egregious mistake” and said that “parents are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture”.
“We’re not going to show the full statue of David to kindergartners. We’re not going to show him to second graders. Showing the entire statue of David is appropriate at some age. We’re going to figure out when that is,” Mr Bishop said.
On Thursday, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, moved to expand a law that banned public schools from teaching sexual education and gender identity.
Teachers who violate the law face being suspended or losing their teaching licences.
The David was completed by Michelangelo between 1501 and 1504. It was instantly hailed as a masterpiece, with Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari saying the David “surpassed” any statue that had ever existed before.
Queen Victoria gifted a copy of the David to the South Kensington museum – later the V&A – in 1857. When she first saw the cast, she was apparently so shocked by the nudity that a fig leaf was commissioned to cover up the genitalia.
The V&A’s website says that the leaf was kept “in readiness for any royal visits, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks.”
20th century Japanese poster art – in pictures | Art and design – The Guardian
Putin and his allies love buying art. To help us win the war in Ukraine, we should confiscate it – The Guardian
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