Mining sector decries lack of federal consultation with First Nations on new resource reporting rules

By Mackenzie Scrimshaw | May 2, 2015 4:12

The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) is seeking assurance from the Department of Natural Resources that it’s adequately consulting aboriginals about the government’s new transparency act for the extractive sector, the head of the association says.

“I think we’re doing more of the consulting than they are,” president and CEO Pierre Gratton said. “I’m not sure what they’re doing.”

The association is particularly concerned about a provision that will require companies to publicly report the resource revenues they pay to aboriginal governments.

The act requires companies to report a breakdown of their payments to domestic and foreign governments for any cumulative amounts greater than $100,000. Although it received royal assent in December 2014, the act hasn’t yet come into force.

MAC reiterated this concern Thursday when the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA) working group convened for its second meeting to discuss how companies will satisfy their obligations for reporting payments.

“Consulting with First Nations and the Inuit and the Metis to make sure that they know what this legislation is, they understand what is it is and they see the merits of it…is, for us, very important,” Gratton said in an interview.

The Department of Natural Resources hosted Thursday’s meeting.

In an e-mail, department spokesperson Jacinthe Perras said the working group exists “to seek views and input on the development of implementation tools related to the form and manner for reporting entities to meet obligations under the Act, including a reporting template.

“The new reporting system will increase transparency while ensuring that businesses are not overly burdened by aligning with emerging global standards.”

The MAC’s Gratton raised the issue at a Canada 2020 symposium Wednesday, posing a question to a panel on aboriginal peoples and economic development. The panelists — finance and utility executives as well as aboriginal advocates — seemed unaware of the new reporting rules. Then, Clarence Louis, chief of B.C.’s Osoyoos Indian Band, responded — after saying he wasn’t certain what Gratton was talking about.

“Our corporate information, our self-generated income, is none of the federal’s or provincial’s or the taxpayers’ business,” Louis is quoted in an iPolitics article.

Gratton reflected on this incident the following afternoon.

“Part of why I asked the question was to see if some leaders in the indigenous community in Canada actually knew about this and it turned out they didn’t, which sort of reinforces my concern that the government’s going ahead with this without really talking to the people that are going to be affected by it,” he said.

This provision “could be a good thing,” but it’s “very important” the government reassures aboriginals “that this won’t lead to a clawback or somehow disadvantaging communities that have these agreements.

“We’ve got no indication any of that has been forthcoming.”

Publish What You Pay (PWYP) Canada — also part of the working group — takes a position somewhat similar to MAC’s.

“NRCan should continue to consult as widely as possible with First Nations on that aspect of the law,” acting director Kady Seguin said.

“Wherever there is a governance role that’s being played, transparency can help ensure that there is some sort of accountability.”

As for whether this includes aboriginal governments, Seguin said “any form of governance role we feel is important to have an element of transparency.”

iPolitics asked Seguin if this provision should carry even it’s met by opposition.

“I think that’s where we feel that the consultation process from NRCan is very important,” she said, adding the forthcoming reporting framework could “possibly resolve” potential concerns.

Like MAC, PWYP-Canada is one of the parties that initially pushed for this legislation.

“We lobbied for it,” Gratton said of MAC, “Though we didn’t for including aboriginal peoples.

“We deliberately excluded indigenous governments from our work because we knew it would require extensive consultation and we felt we had neither the time nor the resources to do that. And it could be done at a later date,” he said. “But then the Harper government decided to include aboriginal governments.”

MAC became more concerned after it met with aboriginals and listened to their concerns, Gratton said.

He says he thinks these concerns come from “a distrust of the federal government’s intentions and whether this would lead to a next step, which would be to claw back funds. So, if it’s disclosed that they get ‘x’ amount from industry, then they’d get that much less from government, leaving them no further ahead.

“And that would be a problem for us, too, because obviously, then what’s the incentive for sitting down and negotiating with us if they’re going to end up no further ahead financially?”
Accordingly, MAC urged Ottawa to consult aboriginals.

“Good relations with First Nations are absolutely critical to our business and the last thing we need is for governments to do something that in some way undermines that,” he said.

After all, the two parties have a significant relationship, so “we can’t afford to have something like this divide us.”

With files from James Munson.