Montreal Earth Day protesters criticize Northvolt, Quebec government

“It makes no sense,” said Shirley Barnea, from Pour le futur Montreal, criticizing the Northvolt battery plant and other energy transition projects supported by the Quebec government at the Earth Day protest in Montreal. Gareth Madoc-Jones reports.

A Swedish manufacturer building an electric vehicle battery megaplant near Montreal and the Quebec government handling the file were the main actors drawing the ire of climate activists at an Earth Day march Sunday afternoon.

On the eve of Earth Day, climate-conscious Montrealers gathered at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Monument on Mount Royal before marching down Park Avenue.

They heavily criticized Northvolt is moving forward with its $7-billion plant on the land that straddles the municipalities of Saint-Basile-le-Grand and McMasterville. Roughly 23,500 trees needed to be removed before building could begin.

“You’re building this project that’s for the transition, but you’re doing it on a place where you have 20 endangered species, a biodiverse force and a region of Quebec where we really don’t have many of those left,” said Shirley Barnea, a spokesperson for Pour le futur Montréal. “And so you’re destroying nature to protect nature, it makes no sense.”

Earth Day march in Montreal April 21, 2024. (Gareth Madoc-Jones, CityNews)

Climate activists argue the Northvolt project is simply a multinational corporation making profit, but it’s being disguised as energy transition that’s good for Quebec.

“They’re proposing projects that they say are green, but really we’re just continuing in the same economic model that’s causing climate change,” Barnea said.

“I think it’s really important that we ask ourselves the question, who is this development for? It’s not for Quebecers like you and me. It’s for Swedish company Northvolt. They’re going to take all the profits back.”

Shirley Barnea, the spokesperson for Pour le futur Montréal, at Montreal’s Earth Day march April 21, 2024. (Gareth Madoc-Jones, CityNews)

“Northvolt will not reduce the CO2 in Quebec, not at all, because the battery will be exported and so if there is a reduction it will be not here,” added Ariane Labonté, a spokesperson for Comité Action Citoyen.

Northvolt’s 170-hectare site will have initial capacity to produce about 30 gigawatt hours of annual cell manufacturing when it goes into production in 2026, enough to power one million vehicles a year. Northvolt says it plans to eventually double that capacity.

The site will include facilities for cathode active material production and battery recycling, and will employ up to 3,000 people.

Quebec’s government committed up to $2.9 billion to secure the deal, while the federal government has pledged up to $1.34 billion.

Protesters show off signs ahead of Earth Day march in Montreal April 21, 2024. (Gareth Madoc-Jones, CityNews)

The group Workers for Climate Justice says that money could have been put to better use.

“Invest that in collective solutions, we need more public transportation,” said spokesperson François Geoffroy.

Québec solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who held a media availability before the march, agreed the Quebec government needs to massively reinvest in public transportation across the province.

Warming climate, extreme weather

Overall activists say more needs to be done to fight climate issues.

Earth shattered global annual heat records in 2023, with scientists saying a warming climate is to blame for extreme weather events like droughts and torrential downpours. European climate agency Copernicus calculated that the global average temperature for 2023 was about one-sixth of a degree Celsius warmer than the old record set in 2016.

“We want to celebrate the Earth, and we want to give a message to our government,” said Labonté. “We want that it hears us. We want that it stops to destroy the nature.”

Earth Day, which has its roots in growing concern over pollution in the 1960s, is recognized annually on April 22 and involves 192 countries.

This year’s theme is to end the use of plastics – the goal is a 60 per cent reduction in the production of all plastics by 2040.

“The fight is not here, right now, today,” said Geoffroy. “The fight is every day within your workplaces, within your political assemblies. That’s where we need to keep fighting.”

–With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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