Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday October 16, 2020
Make Canada’s electric vehicle bet pay off
The federal and Ontario governments have just rolled the dice — using taxpayers’ money — in hopes of hitting it big in the electric vehicle industry.
After anteing up $295 million apiece, they recently convinced Ford Motor Co. of Canada to commit about $1.4 billion of its own money to start manufacturing these zero-emission machines and the batteries that power them at its Oakville plant by 2025.
It’s a smart, and admirably non-partisan, gamble on the part of these governments that could preserve thousands of Canadian auto-sector jobs and grow the economy while doing something just as important — fighting climate change.
But if they want this steep, $590-million bet to pay off, they have to do more than just put up money. It’s not as easy as saying if you build it they’ll buy it.
While there are plenty of hybrid and fully electric vehicles on the market, only about 0.5 per cent of the 23 million passenger vehicles on Canadian roads are electric. There are strong reasons more Canadians haven’t leapt behind the wheel of an EV, reasons Ottawa and Queen’s Park need to address.
For starters, electric vehicles are generally more expensive to buy than the ones driven by the internal combustion engines that are doing so much to heat up this planet. When it comes to range, most EVs can’t travel nearly as far on a full-charge as their gasoline-driven rivals on a full tank, though the gap is decreasing. And the number of electric recharging stations is pitifully small — just a fraction of the number of gas stations out there.
These negatives shouldn’t make anyone a naysayer about the future of Canada’s electric car and battery industry. It is, in fact, visionary for our nation to embrace what will surely be the technology of the future. Unfortunately there are no givens in the global auto sector and too often good intentions on the parts of governments and even industrial gurus don’t pan out.
Canada badly lags behind other countries, such the United States, Germany, Japan and especially China in making EVs. When the current federal Liberal government asked every single EV manufacturer in the world to move to Canada, the answer was consistently no.
But there’s an upside to the fact that Ford Motor’s first zero-emission vehicles won’t roll of the line in Oakville for another five years. That gives the federal and Ontario governments a half decade to ensure their — your — investment ultimately pays off.
Canada needs recharge stations, lots of them. Establishing and paying for more of this essential infrastructure should be part of the federal Liberals’ plan for rebuilding post-pandemic Canada.
Perhaps they could partner with existing gas stations. If their owners give the matter some thought they’ll realize they, too, have a stake in transitioning away from petroleum-based fuels.
Programs could be established or beefed up across the country to help homeowners as well as condo and apartment complexes, to install their own recharging facilities. In addition, the federal government should review its current rebate program for people buying electric vehicles to determine if it’s working and even if it should be enhanced.
Finally, attention must also be paid to the Canadian mining companies that produce the minerals, such as cobalt, nickel and lithium, that will go into the electric vehicle batteries. Do they require help in meeting what could be a significant new demand?
When it comes to electric vehicles, Ottawa and Queen’s Park may feel that, as Ford Motor once proclaimed, they have “a better idea.” They need to back it up. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)