Battery mega-factory project | Quebec refuses to disclose its analysis of the sites proposed to Northvolt

The Legault government refuses to make public the analysis it made of the different lands that could accommodate the Northvolt battery mega-factory project, a “lack of transparency” denounced by various observers.

“Quebec has only one location meeting the five criteria (of the company): the site of Saint-Basile-le-Grand and McMasterville”, in Montérégie, affirmed the Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Development. Energy (MEIE) during information sessions in February, an argument repeated many times by the government.

This conclusion is based on an analysis carried out by the Directorate of Industrial Land and Infrastructure, which is part of the Strategic Industries and Major Economic Projects Sector of the MEIE, which The Press requested to obtain by invoking the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information.

The MEIE confirmed in its response that it “holds documents” relating to the request for The Press.

“However, these are not accessible,” states the email signed by the secretary general of the ministry responsible for access to documents.

“We will not disclose documents which contain, in substance, information having an impact on the economy and on administrative decisions,” he adds, invoking six different articles of the law.

Doubts about justification

These arguments raise the eyebrows of lawyer Merlin Voghel, of the Quebec Environmental Law Center.

“It seems to me to undermine the law on access,” he told The Press.

“I have difficulty seeing how the availability of land would have an impact on the Quebec economy,” he illustrated, adding that he doubts the relevance of invoking articles of the law relating to the protection of industrial secrets, since it was the government that took the step.

The law states that all information is “available and accessible”, unless it can be demonstrated that information falls within the limits and exceptions set, recalls M.e Voghel.

Considering the reasons alleged by the Ministry in response to your request for access, it is doubtful whether this is a compliant application of the law on access. Of course, it is up to the Commission for Access to Information to decide.

Me Merlin Voghel, from the Quebec Environmental Law Center

The analysis that Pierre Fitzgibbon’s ministry refuses to disclose possibly contains information “fundamental to ensure adequate application of environmental rules”, adds Mr.e Voghel.

There Environmental Quality Act requires any person wishing to destroy wetlands to demonstrate that there was no other site available in the same regional county municipality (MRC), he recalls.

“Culture of secrecy”

The analysis would therefore allow the public to know if there were other sites more suitable for the Northvolt project, which would have required destroying fewer wetlands, illustrates Marc-André Viau, director of government relations for the organization. ecologist Équiterre.

“It’s as if the government was deliberately trying to maintain a kind of culture of secrecy around this project, when there is no reason to do so,” he laments.

This refusal is all the more difficult to explain since the population is in favor of the project, recalls Mr. Viau, citing two recent surveys on the issue, which also showed strong disapproval of the government’s “way of proceeding”.1.

The Legault government, which constantly reiterates its pride in developing the battery sector, has every interest in making this document public, he believes.

If we are proud, we do not hide the information. If we are proud, we are open and transparent.

Marc-André Viau, director of government relations at Équiterre

Northvolt will also have to demonstrate that there was no other site that could accommodate its project in order to obtain the required authorizations for work having an impact on the copper redhorse, an endangered species, adds biologist Alain. Branchaud, general director of the Quebec section of the Society for Nature and Parks (SNAP Quebec).

“We need more transparency in this matter, especially since there is no (independent evaluation from the Office of Public Hearings on the Environment, or BAPE),” he said. .

His organization reiterates its recommendation to create a public online registry containing all documents relating to the project.

“Good things have been done, inventories (of the species present on the site, wetlands, etc.), believes Mr. Branchaud. They have every advantage in making the information public. »

“The legal process of access to information was followed by the Ministry and the minister is not consulted,” declared Mr. Fitzgibbon’s press secretary, Mathieu St-Amand.

Three sites proposed

Quebec has offered three sites to Northvolt, the company told The Press : the one she chose, in Montérégie; another in Montreal East, which she considered too small; and a third in Baie-Comeau, on the North Shore, which she deemed too far from a sufficient population base. “We have not studied other sites in Quebec than those proposed by the Ministry,” declared Laurent Therrien, director of communications and public affairs at Northvolt. The company was looking for land of at least 170 hectares (1.7 square kilometers) in an industrial zone, with access to a railway, where electrical capacity was available in the short term, and located in a population area of at least one million inhabitants, to have access to sufficient labor.

1. Read “Northvolt mega-factory: 53% of Quebecers in favor of the project, according to a new survey”


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