News  Conservatives kill mining accountability bill

Michael Ignatieff and other Liberals absent for vote

Bill C-300, a private member’s bill aiming to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for infractions against the environment and human rights, was defeated in Parliament Wednesday by a vote of 140 to 134.

Liberal MP John McKay for Scarborough-Guildwood first presented the bill to the House of Commons in 2009, aided by professors from McGill, the University of Ottawa, and the University of Toronto. It has since met with opposition from Canadian mining companies as well as from the Conservative Party who have argued that such a bill would hurt the Canadian economy and the federal Canada Pension Plan, which is heavily invested in the mining industry.

Although it is rare for the Prime Minister to take part in votes on private member’s bills, Stephen Harper was not only present for the vote, but also whipped his caucus into voting against the bill. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, along with other members of his party, were absent for the vote.

“The mining companies have the ear of every political leader,” McKay told The Daily. “They spent massive amounts of money telling MPs that the bill was the end of Western civilization as we know it.”

McKay called the failure of the bill a “tragedy.”

“There are a lot of people who are very disadvantaged…very impoverished…very vulnerable…who just got the pointy end of a legislative stick,” he said.

Supporters of Bill C-300 are not the first to have questioned the integrity of Canadian mining companies. In 2008, the Norwegian national pension plan withdrew its investments from Canadian company Barrick Gold, because of a negative review of the company’s environmental performance in Papua New Guinea, where arsenic was being dumped in a river beside one of the mines.

Roughly three-quarters of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada. Thirty-three per cent of the companies that have, since 1999, allegedly violated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – the current international method of self-regulation for the mining industry – are Canadian-owned.

According to McGill Law professor Richard Janda, who helped craft the bill, Canadian mining companies have been known to employ “paramilitary security forces [which] have been involved in murders and rapes in and around mine sites, and there have been a number of documented human rights violations.”

McKay said he thought failure to act on mining regulation now would deal a blow to the country’s global image. “Canada suffers a huge loss of prestige and leadership around the world. We are the number one industry in the world in mining and we showed absolutely no leadership at all,” he said. “Other countries who also mine are going to say, ‘if Canada’s not doing anything, why should we?’”

Asked what the next step in the struggle to increase regulation of the mining industry would be, Janda said regulation advocates should hold mining companies to the claims they have made in recent weeks. “We should hold these companies accountable for what they were claiming over the course of this debate – namely that we have adequate regulations for evaluating [ecological and human rights] performance,” Janda said. “If we do then let’s have a report card now.”