Evidence of meeting #29 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was responsibilities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Sabine Luning  Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University , As an Individual

March 28th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Dr. Luning.

I myself am the son of Dutch immigrants, and I always admire Holland's international influence, for such a small country and population. It seems to engage its public very well in participating in international initiatives. I admire your country for doing that.

What we have here with the present government is a shift. We previously had hundreds of NGOs, and now there are going to be a lot fewer carrying the ball for our international aid. As we see, we're embarking on using more companies and mining companies to carry that ball. That's what our debate is all about here today.

At the end of the day, the nature of companies, especially mining companies, is to make a profit for their shareholders. Many times, it's a very fickle industry. Commodity prices come and go, and you have alluded to the fact that sometimes they are bought out by other companies, which could be Australian or Chinese.

There is concern about who is left holding the ball when they leave or go bankrupt. We have instances even in North America—in Canada—of companies having left communities with a mess or employees with no pension plan.

As we embark on getting companies to carry our foreign aid, what should we be watching out for? It's not just what we're hoping they will do, but they're dealing with the taxpayers' money. How do we set benchmarks for transparency? How do we make sure that if something goes bust—a commodity price or a company—and communities are relying on something to happen where land has been transformed for different things...? Should we not have our own watchdog to make sure that these communities are protected?

The worst thing is that some great big initiative might happen with this company—it all sounds good, and ribbons are cut—and five or ten years later there is a community sitting there asking what happened.

4:05 p.m.

Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University , As an Individual

Dr. Sabine Luning

You're asking me whether this public-private partnership would not allow more control over companies. Is that what you're saying?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

I'm wondering how we can make sure as Canadians that these communities are protected, if these companies go bust or are sold—something you alluded to—to a Chinese owner with a different philosophy on aid. Do we need to have these companies post a bond?

I'm just thinking overall. We've had this problem with pension plans from mining companies when they go bust. Now we have public money doing these initiatives. How do we protect the communities to ensure that they are being taken care of? Should there be a bond by the company to make sure they fulfill the commitment they said they were making?

4:05 p.m.

Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University , As an Individual

Dr. Sabine Luning

There are the long-term commitments that companies have to make. One of the problems you see occurring in countries such as Burkina Faso is the contingency of the mining sector as such. I said in my introduction that I have been working particularly on Canadian exploration countries in Burkina Faso. We have known, in particular over the last few years, that this is a sector with a lot of failing and buying of companies and joint ventures.

This is a very tangible problem on the ground. Communities are confronted with an exploration company coming in and making big promises that they're going to build a mine and that the communities are going to get jobs and water facilities, etc. Of course, they only explore in the beginning, and then they may move on if they do not find any possibility to going to the stage of building a mine. That happens more often than not.

In that sense, I think you're very rightly pointing to the fact that the sector is one that has many changes and changeovers, in the sense that they make promises and then people just disappear, which I've seen happening a lot, and they don't know where they have gone. Then another company comes in at one point and starts making new commitments, but perhaps to the neighbouring village. You can see all sorts of conflicts easily building up.

In that particular context, I think it's very important that companies that enter a particular site and make promises should be controlled, or at least should formulate what these promises are and should be able to live up to them. That also refers to what will happen after they leave. There should be something like a rehabilitation bond or an institutional way of organizing things such that it is assured that livelihoods that were there prior to their arrival are still in place or at least guaranteed after they're gone.

I think that would be a very good—

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Doctor, I'm sorry, but I have one more question for you. It deals with companies.

We can only expect so much from them because they're mining companies—

4:10 p.m.

Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University , As an Individual

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

—but dealing with the governments at hand, Botswana, I hear, is doing a fairly good job of getting the royalties from their mining and investing back into their communities. How do we create that bridge between new governments that are coming into democracy and encourage better governance in these countries so that the royalties from mining could be used for the public good?

Do you see examples? We can only ask our mining companies to do so much if they're embarking on this. Should we play a role in that as a government?

4:10 p.m.

Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University , As an Individual

Dr. Sabine Luning

I think so. I think that's why I'm insisting that the environment has to improve.

Of course, we know there are many conflicts, including examples in Burkina Faso. I've just heard President Compaoré being mentioned, but of course he is also identified as being a dissenter of what is called the hegemonic government.

In that sense, I think there is a very important task for the government to reinforce and connect with the government in Burkina Faso to see if you can put in place a better framework and ways of monitoring and organizing the commitments that companies engage in with communities, as well as monitoring the government itself so that it is working better and more efficiently—not embezzling, but locating money where it should be—

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

But CIDA would have to have a hands-on approach to make this happen.

4:10 p.m.

Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University , As an Individual

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Canada would have to have a hands-on approach and make sure this is happening. You couldn't just totally rely on the mining companies to make—

4:10 p.m.

Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University , As an Individual

Dr. Sabine Luning

Exactly.

In my presentation, I really tried to insist that it is very important for the companies to do the job right at the sites where they operate, and to be careful and be aware that they are working in an environment that is very often difficult to operate in. They should stay away from tasks that should be done by the government. That's what I'm trying to argue is a task for the companies.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

4:10 p.m.

Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University , As an Individual

Dr. Sabine Luning

On the other hand, there is indeed a task for public-private partnerships and bilateral partnerships in order to reinforce the institutional capacities of the host government that has to manage the companies and also operate itself in a better way.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dean Allison

Thank you, Doctor. That's all the time we have for this round.

We're going to start our second round, which will be five minutes of questions. We will go back to the government side and Mr. Van Kesteren.