House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.

Topics

Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, entitled “Consideration of Proposed Amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act”.

I am pleased to report that the committee has agreed to the government request to undertake consultations in order to amend or develop a new navigable waters protection act. The committee has made eight recommendations to that effect and looks forward to holding broader consultations once the government introduces a proposed bill.

Criminal Code
Routine Proceedings

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-562, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (right to die with dignity).

Mr. Speaker, I am moved this morning when I think about all of the people who supported the first version of this bill and were so eager to see it implemented.

However, my thoughts go especially to all those who are suffering, who meet the conditions in this bill and who could choose to die with dignity. As long as the Criminal Code is not amended—and I am proposing that it should be—they will not have this choice.

I hope that this Parliament will make it possible for these people to exercise this ultimate freedom.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

June 12th, 2008 / 11:30 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

moved that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development presented on Thursday, June 5, 2008, be concurred in.

Mr. Speaker, at the outset I would like to note that I will be sharing my time with the member for Victoria.

The need to adopt effective standards of corporate social responsibility, particularly insofar as greater sensitivity to and engagement with the interests and concerns of affected indigenous communities, has been a point of focus for me and my NDP colleagues. My colleague from Halifax has worked tirelessly on the whole issue of corporate social responsibility.

As the Canadian government expands its foreign policy and trade ties in Central and South America, Canadian corporate behaviour should be examined much more closely.

Already, Canadian extractive companies are responsible for billions of dollars of investments in projects throughout Central and South America.

I had some experience in the case of Central America. I am familiar with this subject. In the 1980s I was a project organizer for a development project there, and on the ground, investments can have a significant impact for good or ill upon the communities in which they are made.

Canadian mining companies account for $50 billion of cumulative direct investment around the world. That is a lot of economic activity and that means the lives of many people in other countries are tied to these activities.

Canadians want to know that Canadian companies are improving the lives of people touched by their work, not ruining their livelihood and trampling on their human rights.

Resource riches can be used to prop up corrupt and repressive regimes, like in Zimbabwe and Sudan. Canadian investments in places like Burma have been contributing to the junta, the regime there, and its oppression of the Burmese people. These are Canadian company that are having a direct effect, in a negative way, on people around the world.

Worse still, many Canadian companies have not held themselves to the same human rights, labour and environmental standards that they are required to abide by right here in Canada. We think that should change. The report on corporate social responsibility that the government has would require them to do the same.

It is interesting to note that this report was a joint project between business and civil society. It was a consensus report. The government has had it for over 400 days.

Last year, after the consensus report was delivered to the government, the government said, “We will respond in due course in a short period of time”. It has been more than 400 days since the government has had this report, which was an amazing feat. My predecessor, Ed Broadbent, was the one who pushed for this to happen, working with the member for Halifax.

Many said it could not be done, that business and civil society, those who are pushing for more human rights and standards, both labour and environment standards, could not agree. They did agree. Business and civil society came up with a comprehensive report.

What does that report say? In a nutshell it says the following: That Canadian companies would follow the same standards as they follow here in Canada; that there would be reporting of their activities abroad; that there would be compliance with the framework agreement; and that there would be an ombudsperson to oversee this activity.

It is 2008. The standards that citizens enjoy here in Canada should be exported around the world.

Stephen Lewis has said many times that the whole notion of globalization has benefited disproportionately the north developed countries over the south, and that it is high time we globalize human rights, environmental standards, and the appreciation that the wealth that is created in the south should be something that is honoured by the wages we pay.

The government has an opportunity to move forward international standards on human rights and environmental rights, and Canada's place in the world by adopting the corporate social responsibility framework that was agreed to by business and by civil society.

If the government has been pressured by companies like Barrick Gold or other special interests, and we know there was activity in Tanzania and Chile when the committee travelled abroad, it should listen to the voices of many, instead of listening to the voices of some. The government should listen to the voices of Canadians who unequivocally have called on it to adopt corporate social responsibility. It should join the majority of Canadians

The government should adopt this corporate social responsibility report, do the right thing, show us proud, and make Canada stand tall on the world stage.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the member and I have similar views on this issue and we have worked on it at some meetings together. I have convened some meetings with people who are interested in doing this.

I would like to emphasize an excellent point my colleague made. This is one of those rare occasions when civil society and the business community agreed on a report. When there is a controversial report, it is not surprising for the government not to reply, but when all bodies agree, a rare situation, one would think it would be incumbent on the government to reply quickly. Obviously, the government does not have to agree with everything, but when there is such consensus, it could certainly move forward on a lot of fronts.

One thing that I am particularly interested in, and the member could clarify this for me because I was not prepared for this debate, is with respect to an ombudsperson who would look into these cases internationally. Quite often we get letters concerning situations that need investigating. It is a lot harder for us to find out the facts in other countries but an ombudsperson could give us an unbiased, neutral view on a situation, and help us perform our functions as members of Parliament.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his work on this issue. Right now we have a regime of voluntary compliance for corporate social responsibility. It is kind of analogous to having voluntary human rights. We cannot have that. A company either has corporate social responsibility or it does. To have voluntary, it may as well not bother.

Let me be clear about the position of the ombudsperson. He or she would oversee compliance, verify facts or complaints brought against Canadian companies by individuals, and determine if a complaint relates to the set out standards. The ombudsperson would really pull everything together and provide a framework and objectivity so people could understand. That is important for both companies and for those people concerned about standards being broken. I think it is an excellent way to go. The government should adopt this report and the framework.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Ottawa Centre for moving this motion and for sharing his time with me.

In my opinion, this motion is long overdue. It is very important for me to speak to this issue because I am keenly aware that in my riding of Victoria, the business community has been exercising leadership on this front by forming what has been called a values based business network through which they promote a triple bottom line approach in business. The business community develops business cases for sustainability. It works, learns and promotes ethical business practices. It collaborates on marketing and branding. It develops projects that strengthen the micro-economy.

This is an issue that is particularly important to me. I have seen how it can work. It is beneficial not just for the bottom line, but in promoting social justice.

My colleagues in the NDP caucus and I have been calling for such measures for a long time. My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster has presented Bill C-492 which would begin to address the issue of basic human rights and environmental abuses by Canadian corporations abroad. This is a continuing problem that received extensive national attention in 2007 with the release of the advisory report from the National Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility. The report's recommendations to enhance Canada's social responsibility standards were inevitable, given the disturbing accounts by round table participants on human rights abuses, allegedly perpetrated by Canadian companies while operating overseas. A year and a half later, the federal government has yet to adopt these recommendations designed to prevent such injustices. It is the responsibility of the government to give leadership and to ensure that the standards set out in the report's recommendations are met.

The basis of this report offers a pragmatic and comprehensive series of recommendations for the Government of Canada to implement toward developing the world's most progressive framework of corporate social responsibility. The report recommends standards based on existing international best practices, voluntary frameworks topped up with additional made in Canada standards that put as their focus assurances that Canadian extractive corporate practices enhance and protect human rights and the environment. This is not just good for social justice, but it is good for the bottom line as corporate social responsibility practices are increasingly being recognized.

Recently, Niall FitzGerald, former CEO of Unilever said:

Corporate social responsibility is a hard-edged business decision. Not because it is nice to do or because people are forcing us to do it...but because it is good for our business.

Companies are beginning to realize that a business has a responsibility beyond its basic responsibility to its shareholders, a responsibility to a broader constituency that includes key stakeholders, customers, employees, and in the case of corporations functioning abroad, to the people, the foreign nationals in that country and the aboriginal people.

There seems to be an irony between the government's inaction on this file and its historic apology to the aboriginal people of Canada yesterday. The government continues to allow for exploitation of aboriginal people in other countries through unsustainable and harmful corporate business practices, as has happened in Suriname or Tanzania where the labour practices of Barrick Gold, a Canadian company, caused conflict.

We have begun to see the cracks form in bottom line capitalism with the demise of huge multinational corporations such as Enron and WorldCom and with the trials of Conrad Black or Ezra Levant. It has opened our eyes to the need for corporate social responsibility standards.

As the global food crisis increases, these discussions are broadening and suggest the need for a paradigm shift. Business must find new ways to contribute to society. The emphasis on free trade must give way to the promotion of fair trade principles. Doing business must no longer mean exploitation of people or devastation of the habitat.

The implementation of measures to ensure corporate social responsibility is anything but a business as usual approach. Rather, a corporate social responsibility is effectively part of what I would call a new social contract between business and society. Government must stand up, take note and look at these recommendations that were made through a consensus report. The government must begin to consider these more seriously and implement them.

Throughout Canada successful businesses have taken on the challenge toward corporate social responsibility. One such company in Canada at the forefront of this new way of doing business is Mountain Equipment Co-op. Former CEO Peter Robinson, one of the new thought leaders, has remarked, “Ethics is the new competitive environment”. Companies like MEC believe that corporate social responsibility is not only good for business, but it also offers a net competitive advantage for their businesses. In my own city, as I said, the values based network is comprised of hundreds of small businesses. They are exercising leadership by recognizing a triple bottom line approach to doing business.

The Conservative government must follow the lead of businesses across the country. Canada's brand as a democratic country that respects human rights depends on it. We must make corporate social responsibility a part of Canada's policy.

Today Canada can take action to ensure that we do not continue to exploit aboriginal people in other countries through its corporations. The recommendations that were proposed in the report stress that corporations operating abroad have a responsibility not only to follow the rules of the countries where they are operating, which in many cases especially in some developing countries are not applied, but they should follow the standards of corporate social responsibilities and the laws as they are in Canada.

This is what this report attempts to do. I do not know if the business community in Canada is leading. This is what Canadians expect. Yesterday the Conservative government itself expressed regret and apologized to first nations people for the exploitation that has occurred over the years. Now it has the opportunity to prevent that kind of exploitation in other countries by taking action on this report.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, Canada has the greatest mining industry in the world and is the biggest exporter. We are all over the world. By and large we do a fantastic job but every once in a while a rogue company comes up.

In my international work I had to travel to one country to solve terrible local laws that were going to be passed against Canadian investment in general. It would have hurt all sorts of Canadian companies because of one operator. In another country there was a cruel dictatorship. Once again a Canadian company was implicated. There are only a handful of these type of operators sometimes causing problems for us and for our great mining industry which is a world leader. I am sure that is why the industry signed on to this report. It would help companies as much as anyone else to get this in place so that we did not have these rogue operations.

My question is a little off topic. One of the complaints I hear is that the local government is not enforcing the rules. Primarily these companies should be caught by local legislation and enforcement but that is not occurring.

Could the member comment on Canada's foreign policy and our place in the world? In my view we have reduced the investments that we are making in diplomacy. We have reduced the investments that were helping the democratic evolution of new countries, of fledgling democracies. If we were to put more effort into some of these countries, they would be able to protect themselves not only from rogue investments from Canada, but from all the companies in the world that may try to exploit aboriginal and other people in a country that has not yet developed sufficient laws and enforcement of its own. I think that is the type of role Canada has traditionally played.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised extremely important issues. I will try to address some of them.

The question that Canada could do more in terms of overseas development aid to help countries build capacity is excellent. It certainly is what we on this side of the House have been calling for. We have been asking the Government of Canada to meet its millennium development goals. We are still far from that. Although development aid has increased, it has not in comparison to GDP. We are falling behind our own promises in terms of our responsibilities to the world.

It is absolutely understandable that countries in the developing world often do not have the capacity to implement some of the laws that are in place in those countries.

We only need to look at some of the agreements that were made, for example, in Suriname. Agreements were made with Canadian companies in the extractive sector with very little, if any, benefit to the aboriginal people. We know that by definition the extractive industry is finite. It is important that Canada do everything possible to ensure there is some social justice. We know that these trade deals are often coercive and unequal and we need to have more equitable trade.

The whole point I tried to make earlier is that there are many companies in Canada and business leaders in my own city that are giving leadership and showing the way. They are demonstrating to the government that they would like the government to take a stand on that, to make it easier.

As my hon. colleague just said, it would facilitate the task for those companies that want to uphold these higher standards.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this important subject about corporate social responsibility and the round table conferences that were held.

First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development for their hard work on this issue and for the motions that were brought forward. I can assure everyone that the motion was passed unanimously to be tabled in the House.

I would like to highlight some important points. Canada is a major player in the international extractive sector. We are very much a world leader in mining. Between 1992 and 2006, the share of global mining exploration attributed to Canadian companies jumped from 25% to 43%. In fact, investment in the energy and metalurgic sector reached $121 billion in 2006, making this sector the second largest component of Canadian direct investment abroad. As I understand it, 24 mining companies are planning to invest $11 billion in Africa alone.

Although Canada has been doing this voluntarily, it has been a leader because Canadian companies have all been doing very well in maintaining the high standards that are expected from Canadian companies. As a matter of fact, Transparency International recently released a report in which it evaluated 42 petroleum companies on the basis of the public disclosure of three types of information: all payments to government on a country-to-country basis, other financial information pertaining to operations and anti-corruption programs. I am proud to say that Canada's Nexon, Petro-Canada and Talisman Energy consistently scored very well in those categories, often ranking high or very high above country averages. Therefore, it is very clear that our companies are doing very well.

However, this still means that we can move forward and see how we can improve. To that effect, the Government of Canada initiated the round table conference that was done. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated in the round table conference and for the recommendations that were made to the advisory group's recommendation. I would like to thank the hundreds of people who attended all of these sessions and who took time to present their views.

We remain committed to consulting with key stakeholders and we will move forward in addressing these complex issues in a time of need. However, when we do that we want to get it right so we are taking the time to get this right and very soon.

During the committee of the whole debate, the Minister of Foreign Affairs assured my colleague that he would be responding to the recommendations soon. However, we want to ensure we respond in a proper and rightful manner and that it is right for Canada.

Some of my colleagues have stated what Canada needs to do. I want to quickly say what Canada has been doing. Canada has been a signatory to OECD's guidelines of multinational enterprises that promote the adoption of effective CSR principles. Also, Canada strongly supported the international extractive industries transparency initiative, EITI, aimed at building the capacity of countries to increase the transfer of companies' payments and corresponding government revenues from the extractive sector.

Our partnership with mining associations and the aboriginal organizations is to develop a mining capability to help aboriginal people evaluate and participate in the opportunities offered by the mining sector. This has been adopted in many countries including the Philippines, Australia, Norway and Peru. Those are just a few examples of how we are moving in the right direction.

As the Minister of Foreign Affairs has stated that he would be responding soon to this report, I move:

That the debate be now adjourned.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.