House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Glen Pearson Liberal London North Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, a decade ago in Africa there were difficulties with certain Canadian companies that were operating under dubious means. What ended up happening was that a split developed between our foreign diplomacy efforts from Foreign Affairs as opposed to something like CIDA, which was a development effort. It was trying to do work in the region and the work was being undermined by some of these companies.

My question to the member would be this. How do you see that squaring up under this? I am interested in how those controls would work, so groups like CIDA, that invest in the areas where companies are having a detrimental effect, would be protected and their investments would be protected.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, that is exactly the kind of question we should be asking in the chamber and I thank the hon. member for a very fine question.

If we wind the lens back, Canada has a confused moral stance. We do not know whether we are doing development one day and defence the next. We want people to vote for us at the UN and we want to have our sphere of economic interests protected as well. For certain companies operating in Africa, our economic interests clash with our moral responsibilities. CIDA was discharging its sense of a moral responsibility. Yet, it was a corporation that was chartered in Canada, sold on the Canadian stock exchange, and was operating in a fashion which, frankly, lacked certain levels of morality.

By publishing these guidelines, everybody would be bound by them. CIDA would be bound by them, international trade would be bound by them, and Foreign Affairs would be bound by them. It would be the law of Canada. I think in some respects it would resolve certain elements of moral ambiguity.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I know the commitment that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood has to international affairs. I also know he is familiar with the NGOs and faith-based organizations that are involved. I wonder if he could run through some of the organizations like CCIC and others that would be supportive of this bill.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Just before the debate, Madam Speaker, I received an email from a Catholic-based organization for development and peace. It had delivered to one of the NDP member's 1,800 names on a petition to support this kind of initiative. CCIC, MiningWatch, even the World Bank and OECD have their own guidelines. I am expecting that there will be an enormous amount of support for this bill from a wide variety of sources.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to the issue of corporate accountability as it relates to the activities of Canadian mining and oil and gas companies operating in developing countries.

I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the member of Parliament for Scarborough—Guildwood, for introducing Bill C-300 today, and with regard to the opposition party, for their continued interest in this very important issue.

The Conservative government attaches a great deal of importance to the question of corporate social responsibility, often referred to as CSR. We encourage and expect Canadian mining and oil and gas companies working around the world to respect all applicable laws and international standards, to operate transparently and in consultation with the host government and local governments, and to conduct their activities in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Canada is, after all, a major player in the international extractive sector, a sector that has significant investments and operations in developing countries. Canada is a world leader in mining.

Between 1998 and 2008, the share of worldwide mining exploration attributed to Canadian companies increased from 30% to 43%. Canadian mining companies invested over $60 billion in developing countries abroad, including $41 billion in Latin America and Mexico and almost $15 billion in Africa. Total foreign direct investment in all developing countries is $80 billion.

The economic downturn that started in 2008 will likely decrease or delay further Canadian mining investments. However, the projected figures remain very impressive. For 2009-10, Natural Resources Canada estimates additional Canadian investments in Africa to be between $10 billion and $12 billion.

These investments play a very important role in Canada's economic development. Our companies not only drive prosperity here at home, they also provide jobs, opportunities, and other benefits in what are often small rural, indigenous, and isolated communities abroad. In many cases they bring vital infrastructure to communities that are without roads, hospitals, or even clean water.

As a member of the international trade committee I have had the honour of travelling to some of these communities, whether in Yemen, or last May, in Colombia, seeing the shanty towns and the displaced individuals, working with them, and seeing the Canadian companies and how they are bringing the corporate social responsibility method to the communities' tables, to bring the philosophy that a rising tide lifts all boats and all ships, and every individual has an opportunity to be a better individual with a more prosperous future.

Through global investment, this sector is making its presence and Canada's felt throughout the world in helping other countries to develop their own mining industries.

As Canadians, we recognize that with this presence overseas comes numerous social responsibilities for our corporations towards local communities and stakeholders. That is why our government actively supports CSR best practices for corporations based on internationally recognized CSR standards and principles such as the International Finance Corporation, otherwise known as IFC, and performance guidelines and the voluntary principles mentioned in the bill.

However, our Conservative government goes beyond that. We also look to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, otherwise known as OECD, the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and other leading standards around the world for inspiration. Indeed, Canadians want our companies to be a positive force in the communities in which they operate.

In fact, adopting CSR practices can be an important benefit to Canadian companies. It can improve their situation and facilitate the business climates in which our companies operate. It can promote trust and goodwill in communities and with host governments. It can also send a powerful signal to the world that Canadian businesses are upholding CSR principles and should be partners of choice around the globe.

Many Canadian companies from every sector already recognize these benefits. They have put in place voluntary CSR practices to help them manage the social, economic and environmental issues they encounter in their daily operations. They recognize that a commitment to CSR is a commitment to their own success. It makes them more competitive by giving them an enhanced social licence to operate in communities. It enhances the brand and reputation they have and helps them manage risks and therefore improve their access to capital and other financing and insurance opportunities.

Unlike these voluntary practices, Bill C-300 mandates ministers to issue guidelines that articulate corporate accountability standards but leaves the legal effect of these guidelines unclear. Therefore, our government does not believe this bill is the right approach to take. As mentioned, we support the voluntary nature of the internationally recognized CSR standards and principles.

Several Canadian industry associations and companies have been globally recognized for their leadership in CSR.

Our Canadian companies are doing their part, and the Conservative government is there to help them. Our trade commissioner service provides counselling and advice on local market conditions including local laws, risk assessments and advocacy through more than 150 offices across Canada and around the world.

The Canadian International Development Agency does tremendous work building the capacity of host governments to support economic and social investments aimed at promoting the sustainable development of rural populations within the areas of influence of the extractive sector operations.

Our partners at Export Development Canada, otherwise known as EDC, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board also believe that working with Canadian business to foster CSR best practice is more effective than creating a rigid and punitive legislative regime. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board already has a policy on responsible investing by which it engages the companies in which it invests. In defining this policy the CPP investment board has taken a broad view of the impact of environmental, social and governance factors on long-term investment performance.

Let me also say that while our companies clearly recognize that CSR is an inherent part of doing business, they have indicated that there is a limit to what they are capable of providing in the area of support for the social, health and educational concerns of the communities within which they operate abroad.

Responsible business conduct cannot substitute for host government responsibility for, and therefore governance of, social and economic policy.

It can already be quite challenging for our companies to do business overseas. Unpredictable business environments, limited services and protection for investors, ill-defined or unevenly applied regulations, legislation and property rights, and weak host government institutional capacity to manage extractive sector development and associated social and environmental considerations are only some of the challenges they face, particularly in developing countries.

In that sense, while environmental stewardship and successful community involvement is a shared responsibility, and Canada can certainly offer a range of assistance to help developing counties build their own capacity to manage CSR issues, host governments ultimately remain responsible for the transparent development of legislation that meets the needs of their citizens.

Following a 2005 report on mining and CSR by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Government of Canada organized the 2006 national round tables on CSR and the Canadian extractive sector in developing countries. The national round tables provided a unique opportunity to encourage a practical and solutions-oriented dialogue on ways to expand the knowledge and capacity of Canadian companies to conduct their operations in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner.

The government shares the view that more can be done to enhance the ability of the Canadian extractive sector to manage the social and environmental risks of its operations abroad and at the same time enhance the benefits arising from their investments for the local communities and the countries in which they operate.

While I know that some hon. members would prefer to address this issue by creating a punitive legislative regime and broadening the scope of our sanctions legislation, we believe it is far more effective to work with our companies and host governments to achieve these goals. Where efforts to work with host governments fail, we do have tools at our disposal. Canada has the ability to impose sanctions against foreign states in response to a call of an international body or when a grave breach of international peace and security has occurred.

In closing, I ask for the support of all hon. members, from both sides of the floor, as we continue to take steps to ensure that Canadian companies can make the most out of global opportunities while setting a high standard for CSR excellence in the communities in which they operate.

Since our government will soon be introducing and announcing a more comprehensive CSR approach for the Canadian international extractive sector, I trust that this bill is redundant.

Thank you, Madam Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House on this important issue, and I look forward to discussing it further with my colleagues.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Madam Speaker, I would again like to congratulate the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood for taking the initiative in presenting this bill. I had the opportunity to work with him on the Standing Committee on Finance and, although I do not wish to cast any aspersions, I would not put him in the left wing of the Liberal Party. This gives the bill even greater merit, because he considered the fact that it would be advantageous to the entire industry, as well as all operations in such countries, to move forward with Bill C-300, An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries.

I am rather surprised by the government's position, considering that March 27 is fast approaching, the second anniversary of the report on the national round tables on corporate social responsibility and the Canadian extractive industry in developing countries. The government member says the bill is redundant, but I do not think it is.

The members of this House want the government to take action on this. We are currently examining this bill, a motion will be debated next Monday and another bill is the subject of a notice on the same issue. It is therefore in our best interest to examine this bill, and the Bloc Québécois will support it, because we think it is a step in the right direction.

Here are a few facts: 60% of mining companies are registered in Canada; these companies contribute over 40% of global budgets spent on mining exploration; and it is estimated that approximately US $2.2 billion is invested every year by these corporations in exploration activities abroad. Thus, we see that this is a major economic force and that a great deal of investments are made abroad.

It is important to look at the social and environmental responsibility of Canadian firms abroad, especially Canadian mining companies. The Bloc has been concerned about this issue for a very long time, in fact, since 2001. At the time, we put forward motions to require companies to comply with certain criteria.

I do not believe it is possible to simply rely on companies' good faith. Most companies, like most people, are honest and do their work properly. Unfortunately, some demonstrated in the past that they had unacceptable behaviour, and it is our responsibility to discipline Canadian companies working abroad and give them the chance to behave in a way that is respectful of the entire industry.

Canada is a world leader in the mining industry. It has a huge presence in Africa in particular, where most companies are Canadian and American and are incorporated or listed on Canadian stock exchanges. Canada therefore has a vested interest in making sure that these companies behave acceptably, as its international image is at stake.

For a number of years, several companies have been directly or indirectly associated with forced population displacements, significant environmental damage, support for repressive regimes, serious human rights violations and sometimes even assassinations. We must put an end to this savage behaviour and have much more definite enforcement. That is why the Bloc Québécois has always defended the need to impose standards of social responsibility on companies that work abroad.

But the federal government has always defended the principle of laissez-faire, preferring a voluntary approach, which unfortunately is what the government representatives are still calling for today in this debate. We also defended the recommendations in the report entitled National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries. It is important to note that these recommendations were unanimously supported by civil society and the extractive industry.

I gained an awareness of this issue through Development and Peace, a NGO that is mobilizing citizens on the importance of ensuring highly ethical behaviour internationally. They conducted a post card campaign. Thousands responded to the appeal by Development and Peace. We must thank them for this initiative. Many thousands sent post cards asking their MPs and the government to promote this issue. The bill before us reflects this concern.

This bill does not contain all measures found in the roundtables report but it does seek to ensure that extractive corporations will act responsibly and respect international standards for human rights and environmental law.

The bill assigns responsibility for preparing guidelines to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Practices reflecting these standards are based on recognized documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each MP is to receive an annual report on the application of this law. In this regard, the bill is headed in the right direction. It is important to support it and to ensure that it will be studied in committee. At that point, we can take a closer look and determine whether the roundtable recommendations should be added to the report.

The report examined the social and environmental responsibility of Canadian corporations working abroad and issued 10 recommendations urging the Government of Canada to adopt a number of very specific measures to:

—ensure that Canadian companies have the necessary knowledge, support and incentives to conduct their activities in a socially and environmentally responsible manner and in conformity with international human rights standards.

Three specific committee recommendations proposed some concrete objectives relating to the Canadian government's assuming responsibility for follow up and more effective monitoring of Canadian mining operations.

The committee's recommendations were described by several Canadian NGOs as real breakthroughs. There was much hope of their prompt implementation. However, it was pointed out that problems such as those raised by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development would increase in number and severity in the years to come. So the present inaction of the government, its lack of response to the report thus far, is one way of contributing to the disorganization and this is unacceptable behaviour. It is therefore important, this finding and the government's insistence on voluntary measures with other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and the other OECD member countries notwithstanding, that there be a more specific legal framework for Canada and for Canadian companies.

We do not share the Conservatives' belief that the responsibility needs to be laid at the feet of the host countries or the industry. The issue for these countries and for the extractive industry is to ensure that natural resources contribute to reducing poverty and promoting economic and social development, and the mining industry does fulfill that function. The problem does not arise from economic development in the developing countries, but it comes from the way certain businesses behave, businesses that should be subject to more supervision and possibly more discipline.

I have referred to our desire to integrate a number of improvements into the bill. Among them, I mentioned the creation of an ombudsman position. We will need to look very seriously at the possibility of integrating all of the recommendations into this bill, even though it might need a royal recommendation in the end. I understand that the hon. member wants to see his bill passed. That is completely normal. But why not put some effort into giving it more teeth and making it more effective? The bill needs to contain as many possibilities and as much efficiency as possible. That aspect of the bill can be improved, and I am convinced that the hon. member will concur and we will be able to move forward with it.

In conclusion, despite these shortcomings, Bill C-300 is a step in the right direction. It fails to act on most of the round table recommendations, but a step in the right direction is still progress. That is why we support this bill in principle. We believe that the situation is so critical that we must act now to ensure that Canadian resource extraction companies comply with international human rights and sustainable development standards so that Canadian companies can contribute to economic development, social development and the redistribution of wealth worldwide, not just to exploiting natural resources with no concern for how they do it.

We can ask the Chinese and Indian governments to introduce environmental protection or worker's rights regulations, but the Government of Canada has to abide by the same standards.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Scarborough—Guildwood for introducing this legislation and for his general concern for the citizens in developing countries.

I thank the member while I note, and I am sure with his agreement, that corporate accountability for Canadian resource extraction companies operating abroad is long overdue. We know extractive industries are often able to take advantage of political cultures in developing countries that do not accept or respect our domestic principles of democratic accountability and transparency. Centralized decision-making at the executive level that can offer extraction rights in exchange for capital in many developing companies can greatly infringe upon human rights and environmental sustainability of localized populations.

Canadian companies, like those from other modern industrialized states, have at times taken advantage of political circumstances in their quest for new sources of revenue to the gross detriment of workers and local communities, which have and will suffer the devastating environmental consequences for generations.

I was sad to see that just this week a lawsuit was filed against a company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange for its alleged involvement in human rights abuses at a mining concession site in Ecuador.

I am sure all members, current and past, from the House will agree that legislation that enforces international rights standards and environmental best practices upon Canadian companies operating abroad is long overdue.

The member for Scarborough—Guildwood will know that New Democrats have long stood in the House in support of corporate accountability as a principle of international trade and economic activity among and between nations. He will also know that it was the former hon. member for Ottawa Centre who first sought to enforce this principle with Bill C-369 in the 38th Parliament.

Support from the New Democrat caucus on legislation that enforces ethical behaviour upon Canadian companies, including those operating abroad, has never been difficult to attain. As such and given that this bill merely seeks to encourage such behaviour rather than enforce it, I can only offer my qualified support for it at this stage.

The bill is imperfect legislation. It is too narrow in its scope and application and too weak in its enforcement. If the member is truly interested in ensuring that companies apply environmental best practices and the protection of international human rights standards abroad, he will promote or surely encourage three very important amendments to the bill.

First, the member should encourage an amendment to the bill that would see it apply to all corporations in Canada with operations abroad, and not just those receiving government assistance and that are operating in extractive industries, like mining and oil and gas. It is true that the very nature of extractive industries makes violations of these principles all too profitable and tempting for many, but violations are also likely to occur and be reported in manufacturing, agriculture and other labour-intensive and environmentally taxing industries. This would be a very important amendment.

Second, the member should encourage an amendment to the bill that would ensure the principles contained in it related to environmental best practices and international human rights standards would be enforced rather than simply encouraged. This could be achieved by adding a provision that amends the Criminal Code to punish the same undesirable behaviour abroad as it does at home. Such a provision was contained in Bill C-369 from the 38th Parliament, if members wish to explore this possibility.

Finally, the member should encourage an amendment to the bill that would create an ombudsman's office to help ensure the principles of it would be respected and to investigate any claims that may be brought against companies with respect to the provisions of the bill. An independent ombudsman would help ensure that our domestic and international politics would not interfere in the promotion and protection of environmental best practices and international human rights by Canadian companies operating abroad. It would also assist the minister, as well intentioned as Conservatives may be, so he or she would not be exclusively burdened with monitoring and enforcement of these measures.

It is important to note that this last amendment was called for in the Advisory Group Report in 2007, entitled “National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries”. I would like to thank all members of the advisory group and all participants of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility for their hard work. I encourage each and every member of the House to read the report and strongly consider its recommendations when deliberating on this legislation.

I also encourage the member for Scarborough—Guildwood to take a bold step by pushing for these three amendments, including the creation of an independent ombudsman, to be attached to this bill at the committee stage.

Parliament represents a rare chance for real change on a number of fronts, if only members could muster the political will and courage to stand in support of the principles they claim to respect and wish to uphold. The bill, for all its imperfections, is progress on the issue of corporate responsibility for Canadian companies operating abroad.

Given that the bill can be amended in committee, I offer my support to it at this stage and thank the member for tabling it.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:35 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am proud to second this important bill, particularly in light of the fact that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood who proposed it has a record of success in private members' business. We recall the way that he worked with Bill C-293, the overseas development act, to make sure that poverty was the focus of overseas development assistance.

I cannot help but react a little to my colleague from the NDP. I understand his concern, but we are trying to do something here. The member for Scarborough—Guildwood has been able to move legislation through the system. It does not happen all that often, as members would know, but he has done it twice now and he is going to work on doing it a third time.

We have to keep in mind that we have to present a bill that can actually pass the House. We want to make a difference; we do not just want to make a point. We cannot let perfect be the enemy of better. This bill will make things better.

Why is the bill important? I think we know why it is important. In Canada we have a unique position. Sixty per cent of the world's mining and exploration companies are listed. There are Canadian companies that have been implicated in practices which none of us would be proud of, both in terms of how they treat the environment and how they treat human rights.

Complaints regarding the impact of the overseas operations of Canadian extractive companies have been lodged with a number of international organizations, so there are problems and Canadians cannot just turn a blind eye to them. We have a responsibility to the people around the world. Canadian companies especially have a responsibility to give something back to the places where they take profit.

In 2007 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended that Canada take appropriate legislative or administrative measures to prevent acts of transnational corporations from Canada which negatively impact upon the enjoyment of rights of indigenous people outside Canada. We have a responsibility and I think we would all want to see something that would make it better.

As my colleague mentioned, in 2006 the Canadian government was involved in round tables to address corporate misconduct in the extractive industries. There is a whole list of recommendations that were agreed to. I will not bore everybody with the details, but a number of recommendations were agreed to by a wide range of stakeholders: industry, labour, academia and civil society. They agreed on these recommendations and they put them forward, but nothing has happened.

We recognize that there is an issue. We recognize that there are solutions, but we also recognize that the government has done nothing about this issue.

My colleague from the Conservative Party suggested that the Conservatives are going to come up with something that would make this bill redundant. I would suggest that we pass this bill and make whatever they are going to do redundant, if in fact anything is going to come down the pike when it comes to this.

I have had the chance to travel with my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood and see his commitment to people from other countries, particularly countries that have not been as fortunate as Canada has been. I had the chance to travel to Kenya with him, the former member for Halifax, and our colleague from Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. He is aware of organizations from Canada that are making a difference, and there are many.

There are many organizations from Canada that are making a huge difference in the third world. There are NGOs that are making a big difference. CIDA can make a difference. Right now my sister is working for WUSC, World University Service of Canada, in Sri Lanka. She is making a difference. We met Canadians on our trip who were with the Red Cross and they were making a difference.

Canada does a lot of very positive things in the world, but we also contribute to the problems that we then have to alleviate. Canadians expect us to do better. There has been some mining of public opinion which indicates that 90% of citizens believe that corporate social responsibility should be a top corporate priority. Sixty-five per cent of surveyed Canadians want companies to go beyond simply obeying laws and become fully accountable for any conduct that might undermine social and environmental health.

Canadians want us to do it. They see there is a problem. I suspect the average Canadian may not know what this means internationally to any great extent, but they have an expectation of Canada to do better. At one point in time Canada had a great reputation, and we still have a good reputation, but I would say it has been undermined to some extent.

I noticed that Canada ranked 10th in the 2007 Responsible Competitiveness Index 2007. A lot of countries ranked below us, but as usual our Nordic friends and many countries in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, are ahead of us in corporate responsibility.

It is possible to do better. My colleague mentioned that there are companies that do a good job for us. I know of one that is based in Nova Scotia, a company called Etruscan Resources. They had a gold mine, one that was not desperately profitable at the time, in Niger, which is very near the bottom of the human development index of the United Nations. At the time, I think it was 173rd out of 174.

There was a potential for mining, but they decided that before they took any profits out, they would make sure there was some social infrastructure there. They came to my father, who had just resigned as the premier of Nova Scotia, and asked for his help. He was delighted to help and very proud of the work he was able to do. They built a health clinic that exists to this day. They brought in the Rotary Club from Dartmouth. They have had some international assistance, and the Canadian government has helped a little bit. They have left a lasting legacy of Canadian goodwill and investment in that community. I believe they are now doing some business in Burkina Faso.

There are companies that take this responsibility very seriously, and I applaud companies like Etruscan Resources. I applaud people like Gerry McConnell, the president of that company, who has taken a responsible view. I say with some measure of pride that the health complex is named after my late parents, John and Margaret Savage. It is a source of great pride to our family. The people in that community have a very high opinion of Canada, and I think Etruscan Resources and other companies like it deserve an awful lot of credit.

That is how Canadians would expect a Canadian company to do business. If we are going to go overseas, make money and mine the land, we should do it responsibly. We should respect the environment. We have all heard stories of companies that have not been so respectful. More than anything else, we need to treat the people with the respect that we ourselves would want to receive. As an international player, I am afraid we are not the gold standard anymore, but we can do better. We should do better. We should live up to the expectations that the people in this country have for us, and we should go beyond them.

We should recognize the work that international aid organizations do in pulling all this stuff together and in keeping us responsible. I hope and expect that support for this bill will equal the support for my colleague's last bill. Organizations like the CCIC, which does so much good work in Canada, Make Poverty History, Development and Peace, the Micah Challenge, and the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund all believe that we can make the world better. Let us get behind this bill and encourage government members to support it. We can get it to the committee stage. We can work on it and do all the things our colleagues want us to do. However, let us remember that we are here to make the world a better place. We are here to make a difference, not just to make a point.

I applaud my colleague for bringing this bill forward. I am very proud to second it and I hope that all members in the House will support it.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for London West has about four minutes to begin his speech. He will be able to continue when this debate resumes in the second hour. I recognize the hon. member for London West.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:45 p.m.


Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Madam Speaker, being newer to the House, I must tell you that four minutes seems like an eternity at one level.

It is my privilege to rise in the House today to speak to Canada's role in promoting effective corporate social responsibility and socially responsible investing. Also, as a new member of the House and a rookie in the international trade committee, I take seriously the role that corporations must accept in their capacity as positive contributing members.

Let me thank the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood for introducing Bill C-300 on February 9 and all the opposition parties for their continued dialogue on this important issue, because their contributions make this House better.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the many constituents of London West who have taken the time to send me their opinions on the subject. I have received many postcards and emails from constituents, many of whom I do not know, who have expressed a desire to see Canadian companies demonstrate more corporate responsibility.

We all know that London is a growing hub for international business and that corporate success comes from serious responsibilities. I know Londoners care and business cares. That is why they are concerned about issues like this.

I consider my role as past president of the London Chamber of Commerce, which provides a thoughtful perspective on corporate social responsibility with companies in my city which are world class, a very personal insight.

The Conservative Government of Canada already encourages and expects Canadian companies working internationally to respect all applicable laws and international standards to operate transparently and in consultation with host governments and local communities and to develop and implement corporate social responsibility practices.

My concern is that Bill C-300 would impose a rigid legal framework of corporate social responsibility standards that has not undergone the necessary degree of consultation and analysis. The framework would abandon the use of multilateral standards and instruments that create a unilateral corporate social responsibility regime against which the Government of Canada would assess the activities of Canadian companies operating abroad, raising concerns of both privacy and extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Moreover, this legislative framework would affect the ability of the government departments, agencies and crown corporations to fulfill their mandates, and its compulsory nature would entail a rigidity that would not be beneficial in today's economic climate.

Londoners believe we can, and should always, encourage greater efforts toward corporate social responsibility, but unfortunately, I believe this proposal falls somewhat short.

Bill C-300 specifically addresses how two crown corporations and one government department encourage Canadian companies to act in a socially responsible and sustainable manner. The bill proposes substantive changes to the legislation that establishes Export Development Canada, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade without due consideration for the consequences, nature or enforceability of those changes. Those departments and agencies have already incorporated corporate social responsibility initiatives into their operations.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade actively promotes corporate social responsibility best practices to the companies it serves. As part of this commitment, trade commissioners in Canada and around the world work with companies to help improve their corporate social responsibility records.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade chairs Canada's national contact point for the OECD guidelines, an interdepartmental committee with representatives from a number of federal government departments whose role is to promote awareness of the guidelines and ensure their effective implementation.

At Export Development Canada, Canada's export credit agency, corporate social responsibility has become an integral part of the operations and risk management practices. It provides expertise to Canadian exporters and investors and its worldwide partners.

Export Development Canada recognizes that in the extractive industries, transparency and environmental responsibility are paramount to a project's sustainability.

Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries ActPrivate Members' Business

7:45 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member, but the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:50 p.m.


Bill Casey Independent Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow up today on my question about a $75 million equalization payment that was committed to Nova Scotia. I asked the minister, at the time the payment was promised, if he could table the details of the $75 million agreement. It seemed to be a verbal arrangement but I think that anything worth $75 million should be committed to paper when it is between two levels of government. I thought that was a reasonable question.

I also asked if the transition payment would only happen one year, this year, or whether it would happen for the subsequent years for the term of the agreement. The minister replied that they had made the arrangement and that Nova Scotia was happy. However, this is not Nova Scotia. This is the House of Commons and it is our job as opposition members to find out the details of these arrangements and these deals and hold the government accountable.

I am again asking the very distinguished parliamentary secretary, who is here to answer the question today, whether the $75 million arrangement is only verbal or has it been committed to paper and whether it extend for more than one year. All we have seen in the media is that it is just for one year. Had the changes not been made, we would have had that equivalent amount for five years at least and maybe even till 2020, which is the extent of the term of the Atlantic accord.

Could the parliamentary secretary tell us whether the arrangement has been committed to paper, what the details are of the deal and whether it will continue on to subsequent years or is it just a one shot deal?

7:50 p.m.

Macleod Alberta


Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I thank my friend and colleague from the other side for his continued questions and his passion for ensuring that his province is treated the same as every other province.

I just want to mention that today is a sad day for Nova Scotia. On this day, we mark with sadness the passing of a great Nova Scotian. I would like to convey my respect and condolences to the family and friends on the passing of the Hon. Michael Baker, Minister of Finance for Nova Scotia, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Our thoughts are with his wife, Cindy, and his sons, Matthew and Daniel, at this time.

On behalf of the Minister of Finance, I wish to read his statement on Minister Baker's passing:

I had the good fortune to work with Michael, both in cooperation with Canada's other finance ministers to address the collective challenges facing our nation, as well as directly in our efforts to secure a resolution to the long-standing Crown Share payment issue for the people of Nova Scotia.

In all cases, Michael advanced the interests of Nova Scotia and Canada with the utmost respect for his constituents and colleagues, a profound appreciation for our parliamentary traditions and a great sense of personal responsibility for securing his home province's prosperity. His passing marks a tremendous loss for his family, his friends, his province and our country.

I will now address today's question. I want to assure the member that Nova Scotia's cumulative best-of guarantee is untouched by budget 2009 equalization changes. This means that Nova Scotia will receive at least as much equalization and offset payments on a cumulative basis as it would have under the system that was in place when the 2005 accord was signed.

On top of that, it will receive $1.5 billion of equalization and offset payments combined for 2009-10, along with a $74 million transitional adjustment payment, ensuring payments to the province are the same as 2008-09, despite the fact that Nova Scotia's fiscal capacity has grown significantly. This payment is legislated through Bill C-10, the budget 2009 implementation act. It is referenced on page 335 of that document.

In subsequent years, total equalization payments under the new O'Brien based system will grow in line with GDP on a three year moving average. The amount each province gets will depend on its fiscal capacity.

For example, a province growing faster than the national average might see a decrease, while a province growing less than the national average could see an increase. However, Nova Scotia was provided with what has become known as the cumulative best-of guarantee. This guarantee ensures that Nova Scotia will do at least as well under the new O'Brien based system, which Nova Scotia has opted into on a cumulative basis, as it would have if it had remained under the old system that was in place when the 2005 accord was signed.

The cumulative best-of guarantee and the 2005 equalization and accord system are not touched by the equalization changes in budget 2009.

7:55 p.m.


Bill Casey Independent Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Madam Speaker, I still did not get the answer to my question about the ongoing transitional payment but I think it is just for one year, if I am not mistaken.

However, I want to slide into another issue that we talked about before. The October 10, 2007 deal had a 3.5% escalator clause for Nova Scotia when the fixed base formula based on the 2005 agreement was used. Each year, Nova Scotia was supposed to get a 3.5% cumulative escalator increase in its equalization payments.

In the budget it says that increases to equalization will be capped at the overall growth of the economy. In fact, I think the parliamentary secretary just said that again a moment ago. I wonder if he could confirm for sure that the 3.5% escalator for Nova Scotia will remain in place until 2020 as originally agreed to in the October 10, 2007 agreement.

7:55 p.m.


Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Madam Speaker, that is what I said.

However, I want to refer back once again to the expression of regret of the House. Two S. O. 31s today were read out in the House recognizing the passing of Minister Baker. As Nova Scotia's finance minister, he served in the most demanding portfolio in all of government, amazingly while courageously battling cancer. He realized Canada was facing one of the most challenging global economic periods that we have seen in recent history. Indeed, he attended the meeting of the Canadian federal, provincial and territorial finance ministers in Saskatoon this past December where he provided valuable insight and ideas that helped craft our federal budget. We thank him for that service and we thank him for his wisdom and his courage.

7:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:58 p.m.)