In September or October of this year, federal Members of Parliament will have a final vote on Bill C-300, An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries.
In a nutshell, C-300 would give the government 12 months to define the complex, contentious field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for Canadian exploration, mining and mining supply companies working in developing countries.
Once the definition is in place, virtually anyone will be entitled to make a complaint, our firms would be on the defensive, and sanctions could be applied. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and disgruntled individuals will have a field day at the expense of our industry and the Canadian economy.
Bill C-300 has arrived at a time when the industry, the public and politicians are all concerned about CSR. Despite a few bad examples, the exploration and mining industries’ have an enviable CSR record. Good judgement, not a sledgehammer, is needed to balance the need for improving CSR practices, industry well-being and the public good.
Return to Top
The passage of such a law would signal to the world that our government has little respect for the deportment of our industry around the world.
Many countries where Canadians have mining interests would not take kindly to Canadian law interfering in their affairs. Recently, in condemning Bill C-300, Peru’s Ambassador to Canada said: “We have our own rules: we are capable of managing our own environment without foreign direction.”
The management of Bill C-300, if passed, would fall on the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade without any new allocation of funds. DFAIT does not have the capacity to investigate complaints in developing countries. Indeed, if DFAIT were forced to do this work, collateral damage from C-300 could be a further weakening of DFAIT’s trade promotion efforts which are a valuable asset for Canadian mining suppliers that export.
On a practical level, complaints under C-300 made against mining companies and/or their service providers would slow down or cancel projects. Accused companies would have to spend time and money to defend themselves; their standing with shareholders; their relations with people in their local communities; their reputation and much more.
In my view, passage and implementation of Bill C-300 would result in the removal of mining company head offices from Canada to other jurisdictions where there are no such extraterritorial laws.
No other OECD country imposes such measures on its extractive sector as those proposed by Bill C-300. Instead, Canada’s OECD competitors are focussed on more constructive approaches, such as the UN-based process that will make specific recommendations within the next year.
Return to Top
There is no doubt that our mineral exploration and mining industry must practise the highest standards of CSR wherever they work.
Indeed, many universal standards are in place such as: the UN Global Compact; World Bank Environmental and Social Standards; OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; Equator Principles (adopted by banks to guide their project financing for extractive projects located in the developing world); the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and others.
Without adherence to these existing standards, mining companies can not get financing through banks, stock exchanges and investors. Explorers and miners know that, if social and environmental practices are not acceptable, they risk losing a whole project in which millions may have been invested. Thus, plenty of controls against CSR excesses already exist.
What is needed now, however, are programs like MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining and PDAC’s e3 Plus: A Framework for Responsible Exploration, that will help companies learn and improve.
The federal government has already established an office of an independent CSR counsellor that reports directly to the minister of international trade. The government has also launched an on-line CSR Centre of Excellence hosted by the CIM (http://www.cim.org/csr/) that serves as a repository for information and tools on good CSR practice. These are good moves.
What is not needed is an unnecessary Canadian law applied extraterritorially that will handicap our companies’ activities around the world without getting at the root of the problem.
Return to Top
On the surface, private member’s Bill C-300 sounds like motherhood. It is supported by its proponent, John McKay (Liberal, Scarborough-Guildwood) using the anecdotes and innuendos typical of NGOs who would prefer that there was no mining industry at all.
Unfortunately, it takes a broad understanding of international business, if not the mining industry, to see through the motherhood in this issue. Industry associations like the PDAC, MAC and the CIM as well as mining corporations have been doing their best to educate MPs, however this is proving to be a difficult task.
Bill C-300 is opposed by the Conservatives and supported by the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. The Liberal party is mostly in favour of C-300, but is divided. On second reading the bill was passed into committee by only 4 votes. On third and final reading the vote is certain to be close. Every MP’s vote will count.
Bill C-300 has been reported back to parliament from committee without any amendment. On September 20 at 11 a.m. EDT it will be up for its first hour of debate. After this the process is complicated but it is expected that the final vote could be as early as September 27 or as late as October 27.
Return to Top
By all analysis, this vote will be close. The well-being of our industry is held in balance by a few MPs.
More than anything, MPs respond to the wishes of voters in their own constituency. The most effective way to sway them is for individuals working in the industry to visit their offices or write letters urging them to vote against this unnecessary piece of legislation which will have unintended consequences.
CAMESE members can play a valuable role in persuading MPs to do the right thing.
If your MP is a Conservative tell them that you support their party’s opposition to Bill C-300.
If your MP is a Liberal, NDP or Bloquiste, they, with a few exceptions, are likely supporting the bill. Your intervention by phone, by a visit to their office or by letter is needed right now, just before the vote. If they are against it, your message will encourage their conviction. If they are for it, you may help persuade them to change their mind.
To help you get the message across we have prepared a letter which you may wish to send as is or use as a basis for your own letter. It is available at: http://www.camese.org/LettertoMPsonC-300.rtf
To search for your riding using your postal code and find out the name of your MP, their party and contact information, go to: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/parlinfo/compilations/houseofcommons/memberbypostalcode.aspx
I can not stress enough the importance of individual action with local MPs. This issue could be won or lost by a margin of one vote. Take action now!
CAMESE’s President, Al French of Canun International, wrote to his MP. The letter was quoted in a meeting of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development that was debating C-300. Peter Goldring (Conservative, Edmonton East) said that Al’s letter “underscores the importance of having discussions, not only with the mining industry, but also with other ancillary industries.” Letters work!
Please let us know if you do take action.