Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak in strong opposition to Bill C-300.
Bill C-300 is entitled “An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries”. Without actually looking at the content and implications of the bill, in other words, just looking at the substance of the bill, it sounds good. It has good optics. It is laudable. We all support corporate social responsibility. Every Canadian wants to see our companies follow the highest standards when it comes to the environment and human rights, especially if the company is representing Canada abroad.
My past is rooted in the mining culture in Cape Breton, and I believe this country's future truly depends upon prosperity in the great resources we have, especially in the north. I strongly support CSR, or corporate social responsibility, but the substance of the bill will not help the issue of corporate social responsibility.
Bill C-300 is more than just a nice title, and as parliamentarians, we are called to carefully consider the implication of legislation. So I implore parliamentarians that we cannot vote in favour of the bill simply because we agree with the title of the bill. We need to look at the text. We need to look at the implications of the bill. We need to consider the substance of the bill and we need to listen to experts if they warn us about the shortcomings in the legislation.
The member for Scarborough—Guildwood is attempting to create an international political circus around his bill. His witnesses are well meaning and they all speak in favour of the optics of corporate social responsibility in general, but he refuses to address the specific concerns that have been raised on the substance of the legislation.
Also heard as witnesses in opposition to the substance of the bill are Canadians with expertise in the area: Export Development Canada, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the Canadian Bar Association and the entire mining industry.
All these people, all these groups, believe in corporate social responsibility, but the bill is a clear example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is imperative to give context to the mining, the oil and the gas sectors in Canada, because it is so important. Canada's extractive industries have been, continue to be, and will be a hugely important factor in Canada's economic growth and its recovery.
Domestically, we have the vast resources of the north and we have responsible people there who will develop it. Internationally, we are a world leader in exploration and mining. In fact, Canada is home to over three-quarters of the world's exploration and mining companies. We lead the world. We are respected. Indeed, we are revered, and this is a crucial sector of the Canadian economy. In substance, Bill C-300 guts our competitiveness for this crucial sector and it is done all for optics.
I will speak to two reasons that Bill C-300 should be defeated here in this chamber. One, essentially and fundamentally it is a badly drafted piece of legislation and it has extremely poor implementation mechanisms. Two, it has a very politicized complaints process, and that is the one I will focus on right now.
One witness testified before the committee that all it takes is one person writing a single letter to initiate a ministerial investigation, which puts a political official as the police in charge of the investigation, as the judge weighing the evidence, as the jury making the decision and maybe even the executioner in meting out the punishment.
When the National Roundtable on Corporate Social Responsibility came forward with recommendations on this issue of implementation and on the issue of a complaints process, it was adamant that the complaints mechanism must be independent. So the government responded by establishing the independent Canadian corporate social responsibility counsellor, who was appointed in October of last year and whose mandate is to review corporate social responsibility practices of Canadian companies that are operating outside of Canada.
Dr. Marketa Evans is available to receive complaints regarding the conduct of Canadian companies, and in contrast to what Bill C-300 proposes, Dr. Evans is at arm's length from political interference.
While the author of Bill C-300 claims that his bill would increase accountability for corporate social responsibility, the complaints process that he is actually proposing is a partisan political mechanism that is fraught with difficulties associated with ministerial investigation in a foreign jurisdiction, when Canada already has in place an independent process.
The fact that it is a political complaint process is a major red flag, but the problems with Bill C-300 continue.
The complaints process itself in the bill is irresponsible because it would offer no protection for responsible Canadian companies that are faced with false allegations. I will say it is completely disingenuous to suggest that there is no risk of false claims and I will tell members why.
CIBC has indicated that it believes that Canadian mining companies deal with thousands of stakeholders on an ongoing basis across almost 10,000 different projects in 100 countries. It is more likely that several thousand complaints would happen per year.
Throughout the world, there are offices that investigate allegations of corporate abuse. The World Bank's investigator throws out countless false allegations every year.
However, Bill C-300 has no filter for false allegations. As soon as an allegation is received, the bill would require that the allegation be made public and for a Canadian minister of the Crown to investigate the allegation in a foreign jurisdiction. During the investigation, until the cabinet minister concludes that the claim was actually false, the claim would have undeserved credibility and could damage the international reputation of our responsible companies.
However, under international complaint mechanisms and in the current Canadian system, false claims are filtered and the reputations of responsible companies are not attacked.
In Bill C-300, this issue is so obvious that even several prominent Liberals have put partisan politics aside to voice concern about this bill, stating that foreign governments could end up withholding or actually taking away permits from Canadian firms, citing the minister's ongoing investigations of allegations, investigations that ultimately conclude that the allegation was completely false but still render the permit being taken away.
Both Jim Peterson and Raymond Chrétien provided expert testimony against this bill.
One of the facts about Canadian mining companies that I am very proud of and that I have been witness to is their track record on cleaning up mines they have bought from other companies. I am talking about mines that were owned by people who did not respect the environment, abused local populations, did not hold to the same high standards as Canadian companies and were dangerous.
Currently, Canadian companies are able to purchase these mines, and in the process they bring Canadian principles of labour safety, environment protection and human rights to the local community. There are countless examples of Canadian companies doing that around the world. I was very lucky to be able to witness this first-hand in South America, travelling and speaking with both local officials and union groups who assured me that Canadian investment and Canadian leadership is hugely important.
If Bill C-300 passes, many of these Canadian companies would have to think twice about investing in countries like this. We cannot jeopardize our Canadian extractive sector and allow them to shy away from investing in a particular region because of the potential for false allegations.
This bill ignores Canada's current system on corporate social responsibility and our great work on labour co-operation agreements.
In conclusion, there is a big difference between supporting the optics of the bill and supporting the substance of the bill. The optics of the bill try to make things look good and the author claims it would force Canadian companies to follow acceptable rules and standards.
I would say that respecting our mining sector and the work it does in the world and support for the sector as we come out of this economic recession means that we vote against Bill C-300, because I can tell members that, as was said by the CIBC, I believe the only remedy that responds to the passage of Bill C-300 is for companies in mining and oil and gas to relocate to any other jurisdiction in the world so that they can remain competitive.