By Justin Ling
November 6, 2015 | 8:37 pm
A regime change in Ottawa means that the government of Canada will be breathing down the necks of its mining companies operating in the the global south, a Liberal MP confirmed to VICE News.
John McKay, who has sat in the House of Commons since 1997, has repeatedly tried to push the previous Conservative government to set up penalties for mining companies who have breached human rights, environmental standards, or labor practises.
But his efforts to update the law, by way of bill C-300, were foiled — once in 2009, and again in 2011.
While McKay says the new government hasn’t discussed the bill yet, he’s optimistic the legislation will be returning in due course.
“That, I hope, would be a government initiative,” McKay says.
C-300 would have created a system to allow citizens of foreign “developing” nations to file complaints against Canadian mining companies, directly to either the minister of foreign affairs, or international trade. If the minister determines the complaint is legitimate, and that the company has broken international standards for business, then the company will lose all support from the Canadian government.
That support is nothing to blink at. One estimate says that the extractive sector receives $20 billion from Export Development Canada, a government agency, in subsidies and insurance alone. The Canadian Pension Plan invests millions more. Other departments and programs offer even more cash to the industry.
Calls have increased in recent years to do something to force the companies to behave responsibly.
Three-quarters of the world’s mining companies are said to be headquartered in Canada, which means much of the blame ends up on Canada’s doorstep when things go badly. One report, commissioned by Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada — an industry association which supports better regulation for Canadian mining abroad — found that Canadian companies were responsible for four times as many violations of human rights and environmental standards as other mining heavyweights like Australia and India.
In response to the allegations of misdeeds, the previous Conservative government installed an office to encourage Canadian companies to do more to respect international standards. A VICE investigation published in 2014 found that even the office’s own stakeholders referred to it as a “joke” and a “white elephant.”
Eventually, the Harper government put that idea out to pasture and rebooted their effort in 2014, and even received some accolades for its new approach. Under the new plan, the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor was supposed to take complaints, mediate between those filing the complaint and the company, and find ways to address any possible problems. Ultimately, if the company refuses to play ball, the office can revoke their government assistance.
A new counsellor was appointed in March, but there has been no update from the office since then. A calendar lists just two events for the counsellor, both in October. Trying to subscribe to the office’s newsletter leads to a broken link. The office’s website says the most recent complaint was received in 2013.
McKay calls the whole thing a “half-assed measure.”
During the previous election campaign, VICE asked Trudeau what he would do in office to fix the problem.
“The Canadian mining industry has made significant efforts over the past while as an industry, but there are still a few actors that need to be, you know, cracked down upon and addressed more directly,” Trudeau said. When pressed, he referenced McKay’s bill and said it would be something that his government would go ahead with.
McKay says he’s optimistic that Trudeau will stick to his word. But, he adds, “if I need to jump start it, I’ll jump start it.”
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