Mining bill bites the dust after corporate lobbyingDecember 2010
Proposed legislation that would have made Canadian mining companies accountable for the negative social and environmental impacts of their foreign operations has been narrowly defeated in parliament after intense lobbying by the industry.
The bill would have created a mechanism for complaints against companies to be filed with the government, which could then investigate and publish its findings within eight months. However, the measure was defeated by 140 votes to 134 in the Canadian House of Commons.
John Mackay, the member of parliament who originally proposed the bill, said: ‘The lobbying from industry has been massive. The amount of money they have been spending on killing this bill is extraordinary.’
Canada’s registry of lobbyists shows that the Mining Association of Canada has been talking to cabinet ministers, MPs and other public servants in dozens of behind-the-scenes meetings during the past year.
In public, mining companies have said that allegations of environmental and human rights abuses committed by the sector are ‘hogwash’ and that the proposed legislation would cause ‘a flood of frivolous and vexatious complaints’, driving some companies out of mining altogether. They also argue that existing voluntary guidelines are adequate.
Michael Bourassa, co-ordinator of a Global Mining Group co-ordinated by the law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, said: ‘[The bill] was based on the false premise that Canadian mining activities abroad are inconsistent with international social and environmental best practices and with Canada’s commitments to human rights.
‘In reality, however, Canada is recognized internationally as a global leader in corporate social responsibility and its companies are preferred investors all over the world.’
However, trade unions and NGOs have argued that the bill would have helped prevent human rights violations they believe are common in Canadian mining companies’ overseas operations.
Amnesty International, which supported the bill, said its defeat was ‘another blow to Canada’s international reputation as a leader in the protection of human rights’.
The MiningWatch Canada pressure group added: ‘Heavy lobbying and some serious misinformation put out by the mining industry chipped away at support for what was a modest but important step toward corporate accountability.’
The bill would have introduced state investigations into companies’ activities, and any violations found would have resulted in the withdrawal of government political support, export credits, and investments by the Canada Pension Plan, the country’s second biggest fund with C$130billion ($127bn, £81bn, €96bn) in assets.
About three-quarters of the world’s mining companies are headquartered in Canada, and Canadian investment in mining and energy abroad is worth $80billion (£51bn, €60bn) per year.
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