Mining companies fight back against accountability bill

  • September 17, 2010
MineAfter the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace flooded Parliament Hill with more than 153,000 postcards last spring calling for Ottawa to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for damage they do to the environment and communities in poor countries, the mining industry is countering with a campaign of its own.

The Prospectors and Developers Association, dominated by junior mining and exploration companies, is urging its members to order up bundles of postcards that mining company employees can mail in opposing Bill C-300.

A PDA spokesperson would not tell The Catholic Register how many postcards it has mailed out to its members.

Bill C-300 will come up for third reading and its first hour of debate on Sept. 20. The bill then goes to the bottom of the order paper and won’t likely return for a second hour of debate and a vote until late October. However, theoretically, the private members’ bill could be voted on as soon as Sept. 27.

Liberal MP John McKay’s bill would create the sort of complaint process originally envisioned by a panel of industry and NGO experts in a 2006 series of four national roundtables examining corporate social responsibility in Canadian  mining abroad.

In 2009, instead of the third-party complaint process agreed to by industry and NGOs the government launched a voluntary process which allows the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor to investigate complaints only if the company agrees to be investigated.

The Prospectors and Developers Association says Bill C-300 is punitive, will encourage frivolous complaints and will damage Canada’s reputation abroad.

“That’s like saying having a legal system is going to ruin the reputation of individuals,” said Mary Durran, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace program officer.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of the Latin American Episcopal Conference, wrote to the government of Canada asking for stronger Canadian regulation of mining companies in 2006, said Durran.

Bill C-300 would deny companies consular support and government-backed export financing if they violate a basic code of corporate social responsibility. Canadian regulation is necessary given how regularly Canadian companies avoid regulation in poor countries, according to Durran.

“In most developing countries the judiciary is too weak to actually be effective against Canadian companies,” she said.

“I’ve kind of given up on self-regulation,” said Toronto MP McKay. “These folks talk a good talk. They have great annual general meetings. Their reports are magnificent. They have beautiful pictures of happy, smiling people. But the realities are distressingly different.”

Most Canadians aren’t aware of how rogue mining companies are damaging Canada’s reputation, McKay said.

“You can’t be the Chinese. You can’t be the Russians. You have to be world leaders — not only in technology, which I think (Canadian mining companies) are — but you have to be world leaders in the way you treat people,” McKay said.

Development and Peace will be one of more than a dozen organizations on Parliament Hill before the Sept. 20 debate making the case for passing Bill C-300. It’s an issue that Development and Peace members feel strongly about, said Durran.

“A lot of people are contacting their MPs now and they did so before the summer recess,” she said.

Durran expects a close vote with the government opposing the bill.

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