Mr. Speaker, today we are talking about Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries, which is supposed to ensure that Canadian mining companies behave responsibly in terms of human rights and the environment.
Social and environmental responsibility is very important to Quebeckers. Unfortunately, it seems that Canadian mining companies operating abroad often fail to respect these principles. In 2009, the mining industry itself produced a study for internal use only. The study contained plenty of evidence. Leaks revealed that Canadian companies were responsible for two-thirds of the 171 environmental and human rights violations recorded. Naturally, these companies do not want the bill to pass. They say that it is not necessary and would make them less competitive.
The Bloc Québécois has long been concerned about the fate of populations and ecosystems affected by these companies' abusive activities. In 2001, my colleague, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, introduced Bill C-332 to enable the Government of Canada to take action against companies engaging in abusive practices. The private member's bill did not make it past first reading.
Despite our concerns, the government continued to espouse the laissez-faire principle. This attitude is irresponsible. In fact, the Conservatives say that mining activity in underdeveloped countries is a means of fighting poverty. However, that assumes that developing countries have the means to establish long-term development strategies. But such is not the case.
In reality, foreign investment can benefit certain disadvantaged countries if they have the institutional capacity to properly manage the new capital. Given their economic situation, such regions obviously lack the political and administrative means and are unable to benefit from the presence of the mining companies. That is the case for a number of developing countries that are being shamelessly exploited by the industry because of their inability to negotiate acceptable terms for their resource operations. This results in irreparable damage to the environment, the displacement of people from mining sites and the destruction of historical sites, not to mention the industry's use of armed groups that violate human rights.
There are a large number of Canadian mining companies operating abroad. More than 60% of the world's mining companies are registered in Canada. Thus, the phenomenon is very widespread. We must ask ourselves whether such registered companies are taking advantage of Canada's legislative shortcomings and generous tax incentives to further exploit developing countries. At the end of the day, the benefits for countries that host these companies are very few, even non-existent. In fact, these countries often pay dearly for the industry's presence on their land.
In Peru, 97 conflicts between communities and mining companies were reported in 2004. The Honduran mining act does not take residential, environmental or tourist areas into consideration and only gives communities 15 days to appeal the granting of permits.
At present, Canada is a legal paradise for these companies. They benefit from investment conditions that are not well regulated abroad and they are accountable to no one. These Canadian companies continue to post huge profits. The cumulative value of their direct investment totals more than $50 billion annually. Therefore, we wonder why the government refuses to regulate this industry and puts the onus for monitoring them on disadvantaged governments.
The member for Kootenay—Columbia stated that Bill C-300 would put Canadian companies in danger. However, it seems that we should no longer be surprised that the government answers to mining, oil and gas companies.
Bill C-300 is a step in the right direction because it forces the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Trade to establish minimum standards. However, the bill is void of any restrictions that would get at the root of the problem. It does not put appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that the established framework is respected. In fact, the bill does not provide for an advisory committee, made up of industry representatives, dedicated to helping the government create a framework. It is critical that companies be involved; otherwise, the government cannot count on their co-operation.
Similarly, the bill we are discussing today does not propose an ombudsman. It is essential to have an independent procedure for receiving complaints. Finally, Bill C-300 proposes few penalties for offending companies.
In September 2009, my colleague from Laurentides—Labelle introduced a bill that reflects how important we believe respect for human and environmental rights to be. Among other things, it would create a Canadian extraterritorial activities review commission to receive complaints, conduct investigations, issue recommendations to the government and draft a code of Canadian standards for corporate activities.
Although we would rather debate a stricter bill, such as Bill C-438, we support Bill C-300 in principle. Right now, dozens of countries are suffering because of our mining companies. Canadian companies operating abroad simply must respect international standards.
The bill before us today would set minimum standards, which is better than the distressing absence of rules that the government would like to maintain. The Conservatives' dishonest tolerance for the blatant exploitation of people in other countries must end now. I hope that the Conservatives will have learned their lesson following their defeat at the UN Security Council. I hope they will finally honour their international obligations.