D & P 'disturbed' by defeat of responsible mining bill

  • October 29, 2010
Development and Peace miningOTTAWA - The defeat of a bill calling on Canadian mining companies to higher standards while operating abroad is disappointing to the Canadian bishops' development agency.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace called it "disturbing" that the responsible mining bill was defeated in the House of Commons Oct. 27.

“It is a very disturbing outcome,” said executive director Michael Casey in a release, noting Development and Peace has supported Liberal MP John McKay’s private member’s Bill C-300 from its introduction in 2009. Development and Peace had also mounted a five-year campaign to ensure Canadian mining companies operating in the developing world would exercise corporate social responsibility.

“Our 11,500 members are deeply disappointed, as are our partners in the Global South, who really welcomed the bill,” Casey said. “For years, we have listened to their stories about how Canadian mining companies are taking over their land, polluting their water sources, destroying their environment and often without consulting the affected communities or listening to their concerns.”

McKay’s bill had the support of MPs in the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Quebecois and most of his Liberal colleagues. It had squeaked through close votes to go to committee, a stage private member’s bills seldom reach. It was defeated by a vote of 140-134. Twenty-four MPs did not show up to vote.

Mining companies and the Conservative Party vigourously opposed the bill.

“This is a bill that while seeking to aim at ensuring our mining and extractive sector practises good social (and) good corporate social responsibility practices abroad, in fact would have the impact of putting Canadian companies on a very unlevel playing field versus other countries,” warned International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan the afternoon of the vote. “The risk to Canada is thousands of jobs."

He noted Canada’s mining sector is a leader in the world, but most of its mines are outside Canada. He warned of untold economic damage if the mining companies moved their head offices from Canadian cities. Toronto is the financial hub of the international mining industry.

“The impact of Bill C-300, if passed, would be to make it very challenging for companies to raise finances as they will be constantly tied up dealing with frivolous and vexatious complaints that will make investors think twice about operating here,” Van Loan said. “Headquarters of companies will inevitably move to other countries where they don’t face the same kind of difficulty or any kind of frivolous and vexatious complaint could tie up an investment effort or an effort to pursue a mine elsewhere.”

Development and Peace educational services director Clair Doran said in an e-mail that 40 Latin American environmental and human rights organizations had signed an open letter to Canadian MPs “emphasizing the importance of this bill based on violations they had witnessed in their home countries.”

“With its allies here in Canada and in the Global South, Development and Peace will continue to pursue its commitment to the rights of those affected by Canadian companies,” she said.

While Canadian mining companies have earned a bad reputation among many of Development and Peace’s partners, Van Loan told journalists Canadian companies played key roles in the recent Chilean mine rescue, "providing airlift to support the families and some of the rescue efforts,” and donating "onsite generating equipment to support the rescue efforts.”

“Canadian companies were there being good corporate citizens and of course contributed to one of the great success stories, a triumph of humanity in the face of incredible odds, a great success story,” the minister said.

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