That, in the opinion of the House, the government should act immediately to implement the measures of the Advisory Group report “National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries” by creating, in an appropriate legal framework and with the funds needed, an independent ombudsman office with the power to receive and investigate complaints.
Mr. Speaker, the motion the members of this House have the privilege of debating today concerns nothing less than our country's responsibility and honour on the international scene.
The time has come to end inaction that, in addition to going on for too long, is helping to seriously undermine our country's credibility in the eyes of the world and the government's credibility in the eyes of Canadians.
To understand the real issue behind this motion, we must remember that Canada leads the world in resource extraction in developing countries. No less than 60% of the mining companies concerned are Canadian.
In addition, I invite my colleagues in this House to bear in mind as they engage in this debate that a 2006 United Nations report shows that most of the human rights abuses perpetrated by transnational corporations can be attributed to mining, oil and gas companies.
I therefore urge members of all parties in this House not only to be aware of these facts, but also to shoulder the responsibilities we have as elected representatives without further delay, not just because the eyes of Canadians and the international community are upon us, but because I believe that it is in our national interest.
I would remind this House that in March 2008, Michael Casey, executive director of the Canadian NGO Development and Peace, rightly stated that “people living in the global south are counting on Ottawa to ensure that Canadian mining companies are called to account” for their activities.
In recent years, my own discussions with numerous parliamentarians from other countries and representatives of international civil society have made me realize that what Mr. Casey said is true and relevant. And I am convinced that I am not the only member of this House to have heard such concerns.
It is up to our country to set an example starting now and to lead the way for the rest of the world, especially in terms of formally prohibiting Canadian companies operating internationally from using practices that are banned, and for good reason, here at home.
This means that, when it comes to respecting human rights and the environment, we must reject the double standard that allows companies to do things in other countries that are prohibited by law and common decency here in Canada.
Basically, when it comes to human rights, justice and the environment, double standards are not and must never be the way we do things in this country.
I think that now is a good time to ask the members to bear in mind a particularly relevant message from Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez, president of Caritas Internationalis, to Canada's government during the November 2006 national round tables.
Cardinal Rodriguez emphasized that increasingly frequent conflicts in many parts of the world between mining companies and the communities affected show that we can no longer act according to the narrow-minded notion that the market only works on a low-investment, high-profit basis.
The cardinal added, and rightly so, that we must adopt regulatory mechanisms to ensure that these industries are held responsible for their actions and behaviours not only in the countries in which they operate, but also in their home countries.
Cardinal Rodriguez delivered his message to the government two and a half years ago.
A year before that, in June 2005, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which I had the honour of chairing at the time, submitted the report of the sub-committee charged with studying issues related to promoting respect for international human rights and setting sustainable human development goals for Canadian mining companies operating abroad.
That report led to the creation of the national round tables I just mentioned, and its conclusions justify the motion I moved here today.
The situation we are debating today has existed for many years. And so I must impress upon my colleagues in this House that the government cannot afford to wait any longer and that it must commit itself to action.
We are calling on the government to show leadership. If Canada leads the way, it will be in the best position to encourage other countries in turn to pass the necessary legislation so that extraction operations in developing countries will be conducted under fair and humane conditions with respect for the environment and social justice.
Given the circumstances that led to our debate today, I feel I am justified in saying that the government has a moral obligation to act without further delay because nothing can justify the status quo in a situation that is becoming more and more intolerable.
In fact, it has been almost two years since the national round tables' report was tabled in March 2007. The objective was to examine corporate social responsibility and the Canadian businesses engaged in the extractive industry in developing countries. It was pointed out at the round tables that mining activities in some developing countries have had a detrimental impact on local communities, especially in cases where mining industry regulation is weak or non-existent, or simply not enforced. Those present also spoke about the effects on the economic and social well-being of employees, local residents and the environment.
This report also noted the consensus reached between the industry, experts, NGOs and civil society, which represents considerable progress. The report has also suggested concrete, realistic and significant measures such as establishing Canadian standards for corporate social responsibility that respect and promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; creating an ombudsman office to receive complaints from both Canadians and non-Canadians about the Canadian extraction business activities in developing countries; and withholding government services to companies in cases where there is serious non-compliance in terms of social responsibility standards.
As we can see, not only are these proposals morally necessary, but they are also entirely clear, realistic and in line with our values and our national interest. The current Prime Minister even seemed to agree with these requirements. At the G8 summit in Germany, shortly after the report was tabled, he said:
Implementation of the recommendations from this process will place Canada among the most active G8 countries in advancing international guidelines and principles on corporate social responsibility in this sector.
I should point out that the Prime Minister had even greater reason to make this formal commitment, since Canada officially supports the voluntary standards of corporate social responsibility set out in the UN global compact and in the OECD's guidelines for multinational enterprises. We must now face the facts and look at what the government has been doing all this time. Unfortunately, I am very sorry to say that the answer is nothing, absolutely nothing. And we should all condemn this, since Canada itself is the first to lose out.
On April 8, 2008, about a year after the Prime Minister made that statement at the G8 summit, seeing that there had been no follow-up, I rose in this House to ask the government when it would finally honour this formal promise made by the Prime Minister himself to the entire world. The minister of natural resources at the time, our colleague, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, responded by saying that they would have “something very good to announce shortly to the Canadian people for the extractive sector”.
I must admit, I was encouraged by the minister's response at the time. However, five weeks after the minister's promise, the government was unfortunately still dragging its feet.
On May 13, 2008, the NGO Development and Peace presented a petition signed by more than 190,000 Canadians, calling on the government to act by immediately responding to the round table recommendations issued more than a year previously.
The day after the presentation of this lengthy petition reflecting the opinions and concerns of a great many Canadians, I urged the government in this House to finally respond to the wishes and concerns that members of the public had so clearly expressed.
By way of response, the Minister of International Trade at the time said that the government would “have a strong response to that report very soon”.
“Very soon”, the minister said. But nearly 10 months have gone by since that promise was made, and it has become one more in a long list of promises that have not been kept. The government still has not taken any action.
In light of the facts, we are forced to conclude that, unfortunately, we have before us a government that does nothing but shirk its responsibilities and make every effort not to keep its promises.
That is why we can say that this government's inaction and the fact that it has repeatedly gone back on its word have become unacceptable.
I scarcely need to repeat that the recommendations of the round tables, as I said at the outset, are the product of an established consensus resulting from concerted efforts by all the concerned stakeholders, that is the industry itself, the NGOs and civil society, which in turn have direct connections to hundreds of thousands of Canadians concerned about seeing our country live up to the social, environmental and democratic values it professes to hold.
I could not go any further without mentioning the remarkable and tireless efforts of an organization such as Development and Peace, which has dedicated itself and its partners to the energetic and competent search for solutions that are both fair and reasonable. Solutions that are fully reflected in the report of the round tables.
It is therefore incumbent upon the government to do its own job now and not keep on trying to justify its inaction, now that there is no way it can be justified any longer.
That is why this House must make its opinion clearly known, and must require the government to immediately implement the highly reasonable measures that have been recommended by the advisory group.
In short, the spirit of this motion we have the honour to debate today calls upon us to assume our responsibilities as parliamentarians and to urge this government to at last assume its own responsibilities in connection with this issue. Our national interest and the credibility of our country in the eyes of the world is at stake.
We are all the more justified in calling upon the government to finally take action because, while the round table recommendations are clear, sensible and reasonable, our country is faced with an immense task, particularly with respect to coordinating with the other countries involved and reinforcing the capacity for governance as far as corporate social responsibility is concerned.
The immensity of this task and the weighty responsibility it calls upon us to assume is, however, well within the capacity of Canadians, as well as in keeping with the values that best characterize this country.
It is therefore with full confidence in ourselves as Canadians that I have the honour to seek the support of my colleagues from all parties in this House for this motion, a motion which, once incorporated into our public policies, will enable this country to be all it can be, not only in the eyes of its citizens, but also in the eyes of our international partners, who expect no less from us.