Bill C-300 a High Water Mark for Mining and Government Accountability

On October 27, 2010, Bill C-300, the so-called Responsible Mining Bill, went to a final vote in the House of Commons. There were no illusions that the private member’s bill, put forward by Liberal MP John McKay, would breeze to victory. The ruling Conservative party whipped its MPs to oppose the Bill. And while the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois had expressed solid support for the Bill from the start, it was unclear how many would actually be in the House for the crucial vote, or, whether the intense industry lobby against the Bill may sway some to stay away.

Based on the results at second reading on April 22, 2009, when the Bill squeaked through by four votes, it was clear that McKay’s own fellow MPs were not united behind the Bill. In the months before the final vote Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff went on the record expressing concern with unspecified aspects of the Bill. The final vote was close, as predicted; Bill C-300 was defeated by just 6 votes. Thirteen of 76 Liberal MPs did not vote, 4 members of the NDP did not vote and 6 members of the Bloc did not vote (one independent voted against the Bill and one did not vote). All other MPs from the three opposition parties voted in favour of Bill C-300. For a breakdown of the vote see openparliament.ca.

 

The purpose of this Act is to ensure that corporations engaged in mining, oil or gas activities and receiving support from the Government of Canada act in a manner consistent with international environmental best practices and with Canada’s commitments to international human rights standards.– Bill C-300, an Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries.

Bill C-300:

  1. proposed standards for Canadian extractive companies operating in developing countries;
  2. made provisions for complaints against these standards to be brought before the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade;
  3. provided for public reporting in Canada Gazette of the reasons a complaint was dismissed, or the results of any examination undertaken as a result of the complaint;
  4. proposed that financing through Export Development Canada and promotion and support for Canadian extractive companies through Canadian embassies be contingent on Canadian extractive companies being in compliance with the proposed standards.

 

Industry lobby

Bill C-300 was introduced in February of 2009. The industry lobby against the bill started in earnest after the bill passed second reading two months later. As Bill C-300 moved towards hearings before the parliamentary committee of Foreign Affairs and International Development in October of 2009, the Mining Association of Canada and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) prepared to testify against the bill and made public statements setting out their opposition to the bill (see PDAC’s statement). The campaign against Bill C-300 ramped up considerably in the spring of 2010 when the annual international mining convention hosted in Toronto by the PDAC became a launching pad for PDAC’s efforts against Bill C-300. PDAC printed and handed out anti Bill C-300 buttons, put up anti-Bill-C-300 bill boards and posters, organized a panel on the Bill, hosted a press conference against the Bill and launched an anti-Bill C-300 web site to get its message out and to encourage PDAC members and others to “write to Ottawa” in protest against the Bill (this site appears to have been removed).

As the final vote neared, the industry lobbying effort became even fiercer. Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold had registered seven lobbyists to lobby on Bill C-300 and Barrick’s lobbyists met with at least 22 Members of Parliament and 3 Senators. Other mining companies that registered one or more lobbyists to lobby on Bill C-300 include Vale Canada, Goldcorp, Kinross, and IAMGOLD. Additionally, the Mining Association of Canada lobbied at least 29 members of Parliament and PDAC lobbied at least seven MPs.

Gains associated with the Bill C-300 process

Although the Bill went down to defeat by six votes a lot was gained in the time between the tabling of the Bill and its final vote.

Committee hearings

Hearings in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade started in October 2009 and, with breaks, ran until June of 2010. Twenty-five witnesses spoke in favour of Bill C-300, including MiningWatch Canada. Eight representatives of member organizations of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), an organization of which MiningWatch Canada is a founder, spoke in favour of the Bill. Six legal scholars supported the Bill in testimony, and the CNCA commissioned a legal brief by McGill law professor Richard Janda and Hon. Charles Doherty Gonthier, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (who passed away prior to the completion of the brief). Support for the Bill came in testimonies by human rights organizations Amnesty International, Rights and Democracy, and Human Rights Watch and from faith-based groups such as Kairos and Development and Peace. The United Steelworkers of Canada were solidly behind the Bill and testified before committee as did Toby Heaps, Editor in Chief of Corporate Knights.

The Committee heard from international experts such as Richard Steiner (environmental expert) and Karin Lissakers (transparency expert) as well as from Romina Picolotti, former Environment Minister from Argentina who testified that she had been threatened by Canada’s Barrick Gold as a result of her efforts to carry out her ministerial duties. The committee heard testimony based on extensive research and reports about alleged human rights and environmental abuses by Canadian mining companies such as Barrick Gold, Goldcorp, HudBay, and Pacific Rim in a great number of countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Papua New Guinea, Chile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, the Philippines, El Salvador and Argentina. A graphic report detailing allegations of rape and killing by Barrick’s security forces at the Porgera Joint venture mine in Papua New Guinea was tabled by human rights lawyers Tyler Giannini of the Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and Sarah Knuckey of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law. All of these testimonies are now part of the public record and will continue to provide evidence of the urgent need for the Canadian government to create mechanisms by which it can assure itself that tax payer dollars are not going to support companies implicated in human rights and environmental abuses.

Written support

Letters of support for Bill C-300 flooded in to Members of Parliament’s offices from all over Canada and from all over the world. There were thousands of letters of support from individuals but also from hundreds of organizations. Indigenous peoples from all over the world who gathered at a meeting in Manila in 2009 to discuss the impacts of mining on their lives signed a joint letter of support for Bill C-300. In the days before the final vote a letter came from Latin America that was signed by 39 organizations in support of the Bill. There was also written support from high-profile people, such as internationally renowned author and scholar Paul Collier, Professor of Economics at Oxford University, and from Senator Benjamin Cardin in the U.S., Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and supporter of transparency legislation in the U.S. under the new Dodd-Frank Bill.

Media support

Both mainstream and alternative media coverage of Bill C-300 has been more intense and sustained than we have seen for any other single campaign in which MiningWatch has been involved. Media coverage gained momentum during the committee hearings; in particular the Toronto Star provided detailed reports on testimony that was heard in committee. But media coverage remained strong in the run up to the final vote and, surprisingly, has kept up in the two weeks since the final vote. In addition to the Toronto Star, Bill C-300 has been covered (often multiple times) by the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, the Montreal Gazette, Le Devoir, the London Free Press, Inter Press, Canadian Press, The Northern Miner, the CBC, BNN, local radio stations from Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Whitehorse, London, Ont., Now magazine, Town and Country, the BBC, the Tyee, the Dominion and many others.

Perhaps the most interesting evidence of the strength of overall media reporting and support for the Bill comes in the form of two letters sent in to the Toronto Star in response to media coverage blaming Liberal leader Ignatieff for the Bill’s demise. The letters are from Peter Munk, chairman of Barrick Gold, and Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, who did not vote in support of the Bill. Ignatieff’s November 2nd letter to the editor reiterated that he felt there were “certain aspects of the bill that needed work” but again failed to specifying which parts he was unhappy with. Munk simply argues that Members of Parliament who defeated the Bill should be “celebrated.”

Panel discussions

There have been many panels organized across Canada to debate Bill C-300. Students, especially from law faculties, have been active in setting up these panels. But Bill C-300 was also actively debated in a day long panel on extractives and the lack of judicial remedy at this year’s International Bar Association meeting in Vancouver in October. These events have raised awareness of the issues addressed by Bill C-300 not only for the organizers but also for the public who have attended these sessions.

Increased awareness among policy makers

There can be no doubt that Members of Parliament from all parties, and many civil servants, have had to engage, willingly or not, with the issues at the core of Bill C-300: the need for an accountability mechanism that will assure the Government of Canada that it is not spending tax payer dollars on extractive companies that are causing harm in developing countries.

Where to from here?

Bill C-300 built on a sustained drive, since 2005, to achieve better ways to assure government and corporate accountability with respect to Canada’s extractive companies operating overseas. In 2005 a groundbreaking parliamentary report made concrete recommendations to the government of the day that, if followed, would have led to greater accountability. In 2007 a consensus report from industry and civil society, following a lengthy consultation period, further fleshed out the recommendations of the 2005 parliamentary report, but was not implemented by the government of Canada. Bill C-300 built on core elements of the 2005 and 2007 reports and added the regulatory teeth necessary to drive real change by the industry and the government agencies that support it.

The momentum that has been created by Bill C-300 will undoubtedly be channeled into new efforts to achieve the goals at the heart of the Bill. MiningWatch will actively engage with its partner organizations in the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability and with decision makers to find and create new opportunities to move this agenda forward. Watch this space!