House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-6.


The House resumed from March 9 consideration of the motion.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on Motion No. 283.

I sit on the Standing Committee on International Trade and the government has signed free trade accords and agreements, obviously. This element affects the mining companies that, obviously, do not realize their responsibilities. What is more, these free trade agreements contain nothing about the social role the companies should assume. These are conditions the Bloc Québécois feels are vital to its support of such agreements. Given the fact that the agreements have already been signed, all that we can do is to put a stop the implementation bill. I do not think that things will change as quickly as they should, or should have, changed.

To review the motion itself rapidly, it reads as follows:

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

There are Canadian mining companies in many countries—around 100 countries, I believe. Canadian mining companies have invested in some 3,200 or perhaps 4,000 operations abroad. What is more, these companies are heavily involved in such operations. The Bloc Québécois has long been concerned with the issue of social and environmental responsibility of Canadian companies abroad, and most particularly Canadian mining companies.

To all intents and purposes, Canada is one of the world leaders in the mining industry. It has a significant presence in Africa, where the majority of companies are Canadian or American, incorporated here or listed on Canadian stock exchanges. This is a sign that there is something going on. The majority—60% I think—of Canadian companies operating mines in other countries are of, course, listed on Canadian stock exchanges but have their origins elsewhere. In order to take advantage of the generous Canadian legislation, they get themselves listed on Canadian stock exchanges and then operate mines elsewhere.

For some years now, a number of Canadian mining companies have been directly or indirectly associated with forced population displacements, significant environmental damage, support to repressive regimes, serious human rights violations and sometimes even assassinations. I very clearly recall, during a committee visit to Colombia, we had the opportunity to visit villages where people had been displaced from their lands, from their homes, from their territory, specifically to make room for certain mining companies. Furthermore, some mining companies are even protected by armed paramilitary groups. And those paramilitary groups in Colombia are definitely not boy scouts.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has always defended the need to impose standards of social responsibility on companies when operating abroad. But the federal government has always defended the principle of laissez-faire, preferring a voluntary approach. Also, we have always defended the recommendations in the advisory group report entitled “National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries”, whose recommendations were unanimously supported by civil society and the extractive industry. The Bloc Québécois therefore supports motion M-283. We have frequently denounced the overseas activities of certain Canadian extractive companies that violate human rights and compromise the sustainable development of local populations.

I would remind the House that since the report of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries was released, the government has not taken it upon itself to implement any of the advisory group's recommendations. The government is not imposing any accountability measures on Canadian companies in the extractive sector and has not created an independent ombudsman office to examine complaints received about Canadian resource extraction companies.

As I was saying earlier, the issue of the social and environmental responsibility of Canadian companies abroad, especially Canadian mining companies, has been a longstanding concern for the Bloc Québécois. Canada and some mining companies maintain that mining operations in the southern hemisphere provide a means of fighting poverty and ensuring the development of these countries. The reality is altogether different. Canada has taken the position, and defended it since the 1990s, that foreign investment in the extractive sector brings development to poor countries and helps reduce poverty.

This type of investment strategy can actually produce wealth in poor countries and engender economic and social development. However, for that to take place, the state in those countries must be able to define medium- and long-term development strategies. That presupposes that the local state has the institutional and political means to do so as well as the necessary resources to negotiate and implement such development strategies and ensure that they run their course.

In the 1980s and 1990s, certain multilateral financial institutions imposed draconian debt repayment measures on these countries. These institutions imposed liberalization and privatization measures on indebted states to ensure repayment of the amounts owing. These structural adjustment policies forced the local state to withdraw from these areas of activity and to allow foreign investors to step in. Thus, local states lost the ability to regulate and monitor the existing practices necessary for social, environmental and economic development.

Time passes very quickly. I only have enough time to conclude my remarks, even though I could have identified tens, if not hundreds, of important aspects that we must remember and keep in mind. At present, the government is not acting as a good parent. It is allowing Canadian companies that operate mines in foreign countries to act irresponsibly by not respecting their social role and, above all, by not protecting the environment.

The Canadian government should take all important aspects into consideration in order to ensure that there is a real framework for the conduct of mining companies abroad and that these companies foster the development of the people and the countries in question.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the mover for this motion and also thank his colleague for the legislation he put forward.

I am going to start my comments by quoting an article that was written a couple of years ago by Eve Ensler. Her article, which was in Glamour magazine, sent shock waves through the world. It started off with, “I have just returned from hell”. Those words were conveying her return from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where we see horrific violence. What she had just seen was something no one should ever see, but for sure no one should ever experience.

She had been to the Panzi Hospital. She had seen girls as young as eight years old who had been gang-raped. She had seen the effects of gender war on a civilian population. What she had seen is something that is still ongoing.

Hundreds of thousands of women and girls, children, have been subjugated into something that is not just deplorable, but something that has been contemplated. What we are talking about is rape as a weapon of war. Indeed, it is rape as a strategy in war.

I say this because it relates directly to the responsibility of our corporations to make sure that when they conduct themselves in countries abroad, they follow every single humanitarian, labour and environmental standard that they follow here.

Right now, the machines that we all use on a daily basis, that we keep our calendars on and send emails from, these BlackBerrys, contain a mineral called coltan. A majority of the coltan that is used in our BlackBerrys comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Right now, the money that is being earned by some companies is directly connected to the war that is going on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Indeed, if we recall years ago the whole issue of blood diamonds, we are now having to deal with the issue of blood coltan.

Right now, over 80% of the mineral coltan that keeps our PlayStations going, that keeps our computers going, that keeps our BlackBerrys functioning, comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the exact place where we see rape being used as a weapon of war and the exact place where unscrupulous mining techniques are being used to actually fund and keep the oxygen going for the conflict, where we have three to four proxy armies absolutely devastating not only the geography but the humanity of the area, and that is the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This is not just about a nice piece of legislation that we should all pass. This is about our commitment to human rights. I have to say, it is not good enough to say nice things about corporate social responsibility. Indeed, we must act when it comes to corporate social responsibility, and the only way to do that is what is contemplated both in this motion and in the bill that was presented. We must have not just guidelines but absolute certainty in how companies behave abroad.

Further to that, members might not be understanding of the issue, perhaps, but what has been proposed by the government is guidelines, instead of absolute, strict adherence to protocol abroad. Also, it says we would have a counsellor instead of an ombudsperson to make sure that these practices overseas are actually adhered to.

If we in this country are going to stand on the world stage and say we are doing everything we can to end gender violence, to end rape as a weapon of war, to stop the ongoing absolute war against women in the Congo, then we must actually adopt this motion. We should adopt legislation like Bill C-300, and we must make sure that everything we can do is being done to end gender violence, to end the war on women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I would like to take a minute to give some historical perspective on this. My predecessor, Ed Broadbent, started this file when he asked that the government of the day conduct a study to have business and civil society work together to come up with recommendations about how companies should do their business abroad. It was carried on by Alexa McDonough. It is now in the House by a motion and by a bill by my colleagues in the Liberal Party.

This has been an ongoing project. It took the government two years to respond to a report that was done in concert, where we had civil society and business working together and what they came up with was that Canadian companies would adhere to the same laws and provisions that they adhere to here in Canada and that we would have an ombudsperson to make sure that would happen. My constituents would say that is a reasonable proposition. That is the proposition we have in front of us in the House.

The proposition that the government has put forward, after two years of having it in front of it, says we should have guidelines, which may or may not be followed, and a counsellor. It is not strong enough. If we are serious about Canadian companies, who by far have the largest footprint in mining and extractive industries of any other country in the world, we must adhere 100% to the laws that we have here in Canada. That means that no money goes to those who commit genocide. No money goes to proxy armies. No money goes to people who are using it to abuse the people who are supposedly benefiting from the presence of a company there.

Members should take the time to read the history of what is going on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo right now. There is a direct connection between what is going on there and what is happening with the investments of multinational corporations. These are things that Canadians are waking up to. Over five million people have been killed in the D.R.C. since the late 1990s. Most people are not aware of that. As I said, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped, and many of those are children. Many of those are women who have been raped multiple times. Why? It is a tactic that is used by militias, not only to use violence against women, but a strategy to clear out villages so that they can get to the economic bounty that is fueling this conflict.

In sum, if we in the House, as members of Parliament, are serious about having an effect on femicide, as some people are calling it, on what is going on in the D.R.C., if we read the words written by Eve Ensler a couple of years ago that she has just returned from hell and then try to do something about that hell on earth, we must pass this motion. We must pass Bill C-300.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased this evening to rise to speak to Motion No. 283. It is a privilege to join in this discussion on an issue that has such obvious implications for Canada's reputation around the globe.

All Canadians have pride in the Canadian flag. It means a lot to us and we care about what it stands for in the world, and we want it to stand for the best of everything.

In that regard, we want our Canadian companies to adhere to the highest standards in relation to human rights and environmental matters. So my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard is to be commended for bringing this motion before us in the House.

When he spoke to the motion on March 9 of this year, he did so with passion, commitment and intelligence. I know many members feel that way about these matters, but his commitment to the issue is clear to those who are fortunate enough like me to be in caucus with him, as is the commitment of my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, to these issues.

The member for Pierrefonds—Dollard noted in his comments the immensity of this task and the weighty responsibility it calls on us to assume, and it is a weighty responsibility, to examine this measure and find a response that will work effectively. He added that it is well within the capacity of Canadians, as well as in keeping with the values that best characterize this country.

Indeed I believe the issue of corporate accountability and corporate social responsibility is one that Canadians take seriously and one that the official opposition endorses.

In Nova Scotia, my province, we have a very strong mining sector. Of course, we have a history of coal mining, particularly in Cape Breton but also in Pictou County, as the Minister of National Defence would well know and as my two colleagues, the members for Cape Breton—Canso and for Sydney—Victoria could tell you more about.

Of course, that history of the coal mines is the stuff of song and legend, whether it be about coal or whether it be about mining for gold or tin. In fact, an ancestor of mine whose name was James Skerry, on my father's side, started the second gold rush, in the village of Waverley, Nova Scotia, in about 1869. So there is some history in my own family in that industry, but that was a long time ago. My grandfather, I gather, told my aunt when she asked about this history that no one ever made much money from those gold mines, even though he discovered some gold. So I guess none was left behind. No money was passed on.

I had the pleasure recently of attending a reception held in Halifax by the Nova Scotia branch of the Mining Association of Canada. They were clearly a very dedicated group of investors, innovators, prospectors and very proud business lenders. In fact, there was a fellow there who gave a demonstration of panning for gold and it was interesting to see how that really happens. It was, in fact, fascinating. I am not about to go out and start panning, myself, but I guess politics are sometimes like that. We are looking for the best things.

My impression is that they would support the intent of this motion. Most of them would be mining locally, domestically in Canada and in Nova Scotia. Of course, many of the cases we are talking about here are companies that mine elsewhere.

When the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard opened debate on this motion, he noted that, to understand the issues at play, Parliament must remember that Canada leads the world in resource extraction in developing countries. No less than 60% of mining companies concerned with these issues are Canadian.

In fact, one of my colleagues mentioned to me that he lives in the world's largest mining community, because he lives in Toronto. We do not think of Toronto as mining community, but in fact it is the headquarters of more mining companies than anywhere else. Something like over 500 mining companies are headquartered in Toronto. They are listed, in many cases, on the Toronto Stock Exchange or on the Canadian Venture Exchange and they raise their capital here in Canada. Toronto is a centre for raising capital for mining.

The mining industry is a global leader in innovation and technology in this sector and we have to make sure that Canada is also a leader in corporate social responsibility. This motion is an important part of that process.

Motion No. 283 calls for the creation of an independent ombudsman's office with the power to make sure that Canadian companies operating outside our country do so with the same degree of respect for human rights and the environment as we would expect of them in their domestic operations.

This recommendation flows from the March 29, 2007 report of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries.

A number of years ago, the Liberal government at the time established the national roundtables and they did a wonderful job. No doubt it was a challenging job with many different points of view. I am sure it was difficult to come up with a report on which they could all agree and there were probably issues on which they could not agree.

When former prime minister Paul Martin was in power, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade established a subcommittee on human rights and international development with a mandate to examine human rights throughout the world. Developing countries would be one of the key areas the subcommittee would look at. This led to the roundtables being put in place. Over the course of their hearings, the round tables received approximately 260 presentations, including the participation of 57 prominent Canadian and international experts.

In its March 2007 report, the advisory group brought forward a number of recommendations which promote significant measures for establishing standards for corporate social responsibility. The advisory group expressed the belief that all of the recommendations needed to be taken as a package. It discouraged the idea of cherry-picking from among those recommendations and suggested that they be taken as a whole and not one at a time. In the preface, the report states:

The recommendations in this report are the result of extensive discussions between all members of the Advisory Group. The recommendations contained in this report are intended to be read as a comprehensive package, each element building on the others.

That is an important statement for us to consider as we go through the report. I hope that my colleagues will take the time to do that, because if members are going to vote on this motion, they would want to know what the report says. However, it is true there are times when we rely on other teammates to examine some of the things we vote on because there are so many details to many of the issues that we deal with in this country, and I know that hon. colleagues would have to agree with it, whether they were keen on agreeing or not.

I think my colleagues would also agree that the establishment of an independent ombudsman as outlined in Motion No. 283 would be an important element in building a comprehensive corporate social responsibility framework for the Canadian extractive sector, particularly for those companies operating in developing countries.

Even the government has indicated that it agrees with the intent of the motion. This is a surprisingly enlightened position from our friends across the way. You are smiling, Mr. Speaker, so I think you must agree with that comment. Of course, you cannot agree because as the Deputy Speaker, you have to maintain absolute and total neutrality, and we respect that.

However, the Conservatives' lack of significant action on this file over the last two years speaks volumes about what their true position is. It is a bit like their lack of significant action on climate change. We have been hearing for three years a promise that they would bring in regulations, and there is no sign of any regulations whatsoever. Even though the six greenhouse gases were listed in June 2005 and they could have brought in regulations as soon as the following winter, they failed over that period to do that.

In view of the Conservatives' lack of interest in moving on this issue, and lack of action in general, we can see why this motion is necessary. That is why I am happy to support the efforts of my colleague from Pierrefonds—Dollard in bringing this issue to the House. Of course, I also want to express my admiration for my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to explain how the government's approach to corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is substantially better and ultimately would be more effective than what has been proposed by the opposition.

Let me first begin by thanking the dozens of Londoners who have written to me on this important issue. In London we are blessed with a great quality of life, but my constituents know this comes with responsibility. Our success cannot come at the expense of others. Their message to me on this has been heard loud and clear.

On March 26 the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's tabled in this House a new CSR strategy for the extractive sector that has placed Canada among the world's leaders in good CSR practice.

The opposition has tabled a variety of proposals in response to this complex issue seeking to ensure the behaviour of Canadian companies abroad is nothing short of exemplary. We share that goal, but I can assure members that the strategy we are implementing would be more comprehensive and more effective.

Our government's strategy encompasses many of the recommendations of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Sector in Developing Countries of 2006 and the report of the advisory group. It has been widely consulted and represents a balanced approach to the issues, taking into consideration the views of all stakeholders and the territorial limits of Canadian legislation.

Today I wish to elaborate on one of the most important aspects of the strategy and that will play a key role in encouraging Canadian companies overseas to implement CSR best practices. I am referring to the creation of the office of the extractive sector CSR counsellor.

I appreciate that Motion No. 283 being debated here today was tabled before the government announced its CSR strategy and that the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard had the best intentions in its drafting. It is now clear, however, that this motion has become redundant. Allow me to explain.

This is not simply a question of whether “counsellor” or “ombudsman” is the right title for this role. In the government's strategy, the counsellor, upon receiving a complaint, would open channels of communication to all of the concerned parties, seeking to engage in an informal mediation process. If warranted, the counsellor may also engage in fact-finding activities, including travelling to any region specified in the complaint. Dispute resolution models must operate in a permissive environment on the principle of engagement; otherwise, the situation could become more aggravated, thus creating more conflict between the parties involved.

On the subject of parties to a dispute, the government's proposed course of action would not limit the scope of eligible requests for review by the counsellor to communities in developing countries. Requests for review may be submitted by anyone affected by the operations of a Canadian extractive company abroad or its legitimate representative.

It is important to note that the counsellor model proposed by the government would focus on dispute resolution and mediation between such parties; that is to say, the counsellor would endeavour to work with the company in question and those affected by its operations to make things better. Moreover, the counsellor's ability to focus on the issues themselves and not just the parties involved would enable a wider variety of complaints to be addressed.

While in some cases disputes arise as a result of the activities and policies of an extractive sector company operating in a particular location, it is frequently a lack of information and dialogue that prevents the resolution of the dispute. The extractive sector CSR counsellor proposed in the government's CSR strategy aims to address that fundamental problem.

By and large, Canadian companies have solid CSR reputations. The opposition has said as much, and I agree. Our companies recognize the benefits of early engagement with local communities, strong environmental assessments, good labour, health and safety protocols, and other forms of CSR best practice, including reporting. They know that this is the key to securing financing, access to sites and what is often called a social licence to operate. It makes good business sense and, to be clear, it is the right thing to do. When I was in Peru recently, I saw that firsthand, speaking to extractive companies in terms of their direction to make Peru better.

Nonetheless, we recognize through all of this that problems can occur. This is why the government has developed a comprehensive CSR strategy to help companies better anticipate and mitigate the risks associated with their operations abroad. Instead of abandoning a company in a crisis situation, the CSR counsellor will have the ability to approach that company and work with it to ensure that it has the necessary tools and information to either prevent or remedy the situation.

We are of the view that if a Canadian company is in difficulty, this is precisely the time when the Government of Canada can be most useful.

It may be the opposition's intent to simply make an example of our companies, but we believe that lasting resolutions require constructive engagement with all parties.

In the models proposed by the opposition, if one of the parties to the dispute refused to participate or failed to recognize the legitimacy of the proposed ombudsman, then there would be no dialogue. One can imagine that the problem would not only endure, but would worsen.

However, with the active engagement of all stakeholders, the CSR counsellor we have proposed would be able to ensure that the dialogue established is meaningful and that it contributes to the resolution of the dispute. It is this question of buy-in that is essential to any dispute resolution framework.

One model proposed by the opposition and recently referred to committee would actually do the opposite of what was recommended at the national round tables by embedding the dispute resolution function deep within the government. That particular model would certainly not contribute to the perceived neutrality of the process.

The CSR counsellor, on the other hand, would not be housed within the government but instead would operate at arm's length. To increase the transparency of the office, the CSR counsellor would publicly issue a statement after each complaint received, whether it proceeds to formal mediation or not, as well as table an annual report here in Parliament.

This kind of transparency can be a powerful force to compel co-operation and should not be underestimated. As a businessperson, this approach is prudent and effective.

Moreover, the CSR counsellor would be able to follow up with the parties to monitor progress in the adoption of any recommendations made.

In addition to the dispute resolution role I have just described, it is important to add that the counsellor as envisioned by this government can undertake research and be proactive in trying to resolve issues through informal discussions before any formal complaint has been laid. This goes back to the fact that the CSR counsellor would focus on resolving issues rather than simply deciding who is right and who is wrong, as if that were a simple decision to make.

The proactive nature of the government's proposed model also distinguishes it from other dispute resolution models as they remain, above all, reactive.

Last, the CSR counsellor we have put forward in our strategy would be more inclusive than any of the other models being proposed by the opposition. Engagement on the issue will be what counts.

In closing, it is clear that the CSR counsellor the government announced in its new CSR policy this past March is more effective, more transparent, more proactive and more inclusive as a tool for both the resolution of disputes and for the wider promotion and adoption of CSR best practices than anything yet to be proposed by the opposition.

The motion is now unnecessary, and I urge all my colleagues in the House to vote against it.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to focus what time I have in this debate on some of the urban myths that seem to be developing around Bill C-300.

However, before I do, I want to commend my colleague, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard, for his tireless enthusiasm, following this issue over many years and his extraordinary knowledge about the issues of CSR. Liberals are, indeed, fortunate to have him in their caucus. We are fortunate that he is in the House as he has put forward and advocated this issue over a number of years. Bill C-300 and what is behind it would not exist except for the hon. member and the efforts he has made over these many years.

Last week, by a very narrow margin, Bill C-300 passed in principle. I want to speak to the issue that in the House we sometimes talk the good game, but we do not actually legislate the good game. We speak favourably at great length about the principles of CSR and environmental responsibility, but when it comes to actually putting some legislative teeth behind what we say we believe, we sometimes degenerate into some hand-wringing and raise, so to speak, a certain level of bogus concerns.

I thought I would take an opportunity to address four, five or six of these and see whether I can put to rest some of what I call urban myths. The first has to do with our companies being at a corporate disadvantage. The logic, apparently, is that if other countries are doing atrocious things in developing countries to people and/or environments, then our companies should not be prevented from doing the same things or be subject to new, onerous, unclear and unnecessary rules if others are not.

I am not quite sure how to handle an argument that if another country or company is not adhering to CSR or environmental standards, somehow or another our companies should be able to compete at that level. I do not think that is in the best interests of Canadians or, indeed, of companies that fly the Canadian flag.

I would like hon. members to take note that in Bill C-300 the IFC's policy on social environmental sustainability, performance standards, guidance notes to those standards and environmental health and safety guidelines, et cetera, are standards that are neither new or unclear nor are they deemed to be unnecessary or onerous. Indeed, the previous speaker spoke about the minister's March 26 statement wherein the minister in fact referenced some of those guidelines in his statement. If the minister references them in his statement, how could they, therefore, be new, unclear, unnecessary or onerous?

The second complaint we hear about Bill C-300 in particular but CSR in general is that we are in an era of financial instability. That is true. There are financial difficulties around the world and we are in the down part of the economic cycle. It follows, therefore, that apparently we should only introduce legislation when times are prosperous.

If that is true, then the government missed a wonderful opportunity in the last two years to respond to the round table reports and introduce legislation which would, presumably, encompass an ombudsman, as was suggested in the reports. Unfortunately, the government, for whatever reason, chose not to respond to the round table reports.

The third criticism that we hear is that Bill C-300 has massive sanctions. It is one of those criticisms that is so over the top that it reduces the credibility of the critics. Whatever the sanctions are in Bill C-300, they are hardly massive.

All that Bill C-300 proposes is that in the event that a finding is made and gazetted, the offender be cut off from the government's credit card. A lot of people, in fact hundreds of thousands of Canadians, do not want their money used in that way. If in fact these companies want the public dime, then they should be prepared to meet public expectations. The public has clearly set forth its expectations in subclause 5(2) of the bill.

The only sanctions that are contained in Bill C-300 are that the company, if it is gazetted, would not be entitled to access EDC or BDC or CPP or government promotional activities. Those are hardly massive sanctions. It is quite reasonable on the part of the public to say that if companies cannot adhere to corporate social responsibility guidelines and environmental standards, then do not ask us, meaning the taxpayers, for financial support.

The fourth complaint we hear is about frivolous and vexatious complaints. At present, good companies are actually subject to trial by media. Anybody can file a complaint about company X doing activity Y, and the company, particularly good companies have no effective recourse.

Companies that actually are doing these activities, however, appear to prefer taking on lawyers and public relations experts and spending massive sums on them rather than actually addressing the activity or in fact having an alternative dispute resolution process.

For companies that routinely breach CSR and environmental standards, hiring lawyers and hiring PR people may in fact be a preferable process, but for companies that actually value their reputation, this process that is proposed in Bill C-300 is a complete and full answer to frivolous and vexatious complaints.

The fifth issue is foreign and domestic standards, as if there might be some conflict between foreign and domestic standards. There is no conflict if in fact a local country has good CSR standards and good environmental policies, and therefore there would be no conflict between the guidelines set out in Bill C-300 which are internationally recognized and accepted guidelines.

If the jurisdiction exceeds those guidelines, we then have a happy situation and Bill C-300 certainly does not apply. If, however, the local jurisdiction does not meet or enforce its standards, then Canadian companies should surely be expected to adhere to something of a higher standard.

There is some complaint that somehow or another this is an imposition of Canadian law on foreign jurisdictions. Nothing could be further from the truth. International law 101 says that Canada cannot project its law onto other jurisdictions. Bill C-300 cannot be characterized as doing that regardless of how desirable it may be to impose Canadian laws and standards in a jurisdiction where maybe the laws are not adhered to as rigorously as one might hope. Extraterritorial application of Canadian law to another jurisdiction is not only beyond the scope of a private member's bill but is certainly beyond the scope of the government, as well.

The sixth criticism is that there is no consultation. I would suggest the critics take a look at the round table reports in 2007 and look at the signatories on those round table reports. It reads like a corporate who's who of Canada. Included in there are Enbridge Inc., Petro-Canada, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Shell Canada, Talisman Energy, et cetera. In addition, as one speaker referenced, there are well over 200 other witnesses, many of whom come from the corporate who's who of Canada. There has in fact been massive consultation.

When the government repeatedly refused to respond in spite of the re-tabling of the report, Bill C-300 was something of a response to that report. The government issued a press release in March 26 proposing an investigative process which is dependent upon the consent of the corporation involved. It is a little like being subject to an assault, and we can only investigate the assault if the person who is accused of the assault consents to the investigation. Rightly, many others have criticized the response of the government as inadequate and untimely.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to respond to those urban myths.

In the event that there are others who wish to enquire about Bill C-300, I then commend my hon. colleague for his energy and enthusiasm in his motion.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. There being no further members rising, we will go to the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for his five minute right of reply.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, on March 9, I introduced in this House Motion No. 283 on the social responsibility of the Canadian extractive industry in developing countries. Since then, we would have been entitled to expect the government to finally not only shoulder its international responsibilities, but also make good on the formal commitments the Prime Minister himself had made more than two years previously at the G8 summit in Germany.

I would have been very happy to stand up today to celebrate the eagerly anticipated honouring of a ministerial commitment on an issue that, as enlightened individuals will readily admit, goes far beyond partisan considerations. Narrow partisanship has no place in this debate, which, in addition to having an obvious moral dimension, also concerns our national interest, in that Canada's credibility and international image are at stake.

As I said in my speech on March 9 in this House, Canada leads the world in resource extraction in developing countries. No less than 60% of the mining companies concerned are Canadian. Canada therefore has only one valid, logical option: it must become a world leader in the social responsibility of the extractive industry in developing countries.

But there is another important reason why partisan logic should play no part in this debate. The vast majority of Canadians feel a moral obligation and a sense of justice toward the peoples in the countries where our resource extraction industries operate. In my frequent and regular discussions with people who are concerned about this issue, I have also found that most people understand that the duty to do the right thing goes hand in hand with promoting our best interests abroad, particularly when it comes to economic investment.

In addition, the national roundtables on corporate social responsibility and the Canadian extractive industry in developing countries advisory group is calling for the creation of an independent ombudsman office, which would have the power to receive and investigate possible complaints. It could work within the appropriate legal framework and would have the necessary material and financial resources. This requirement is merely a reflection of what most Canadians who are interested in this issue want. Indeed, it is the result of a consensus that is not only strong, but is without any ambiguity on the part of the various contributors to those very roundtables, in other words, the Canadian extraction industry itself, as well as various qualified experts, numerous NGOs and other civil society organizations.

The fact that such a consensus finally emerged after long negotiations and discussions among the roundtable participants constitutes a huge step forward and extremely significant progress. The roundtable participants showed tremendous leadership, and it is now up to the Canadian government to follow suit. That was the thrust of the introduction to motion M-283, and that is also what I would like to emphasize more than ever in closing this debate.

So what has happened since we began this debate on March 9? The current government has not done anything particularly impressive. After waffling and waiting two years to respond to a request that was perfectly justified in light of the facts, the Conservative government finally produced a response that was so vague it could not but disappoint Canadians and everyone involved. Once again, the government chose to play with words, the better to fool Canadians while breaking its own promises.

The Conservative government came up with a plan to create an advisory position for mining companies. How nice. I should point out that the advisor in question would have no powers, according to the terms set out by the Conservative government, so his or her role would be completely useless. Moreover, the government deliberately ignored the very important fact that the mining industry itself, as a stakeholder at round tables, agreed to the creation of an independent ombudsman with the authority necessary to carry out his or her duties.

That is why, in my final speech today, I am urging my colleagues in the House to put Canada's national interests abroad before everything else and vote in favour of the motion we are debating. I am asking them to do so because I believe that Canadians expect nothing less of their elected representatives.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The time provided for debate has expired. Accordingly, the question is on the motion.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members



Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members


Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing CountriesPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 83, a recorded division stands deferred until Tuesday, May 6, 2009, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

6:50 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am taking part in this evening's adjournment debate because the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development did not reply to my question concerning an increase in the Guaranteed Income Supplement. What is more, she is totally insensitive to a proposal to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement by $110 a month.

Her answer was that there was a $1,000 tax credit. However, that credit applies to people in a position to pay income tax because they have incomes higher than the clientele we are referring to. The minister's answer was therefore off topic and she is misleading people by saying that she is concerned about the worries of those with low incomes. The people we are talking about do not pay income tax. A person who benefits from a non-refundable tax credit has an income over $12,675, but the ones we are concerned about have less than that. We know that housing expenses are now around $550 to $600 at the very least. If a person wants to wear clothes, eat food, and also have some sort of quality of life, a minimal income is needed. The minister's answers do not apply to that clientele.

This evening I would like to urge the government to do more, and to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement. People who are eligible for the GIS receive a pension from the Old Age Security program and must have an income of under $12,675, if single, and between $20,000 and $35,000 if a couple, depending on age and certain other criteria.

The minister's insensitivity as shown by her answers here in the House is flagrant. FADOQ, the Quebec federation of seniors, is calling for the same amount for seniors. Furthermore, there should be retroactivity. A number of people were entitled to the supplement but did not apply for it because they did not know how to go about it and how to fill out some of the rather complex forms. There are still close to 24,000 people in that situation.

This government has made about as much effort as the Liberals did when the Bloc Québécois rang the school bell to say play time was over, and that it was time for a publicity campaign. The Bloc Québécois stirred up the various organizations that deal with seniors' rights. That resulted in close to 25,000 people being convinced to apply for the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

I hope that the Conservative government member who responds will be able to tell us whether the government will finally agree to increasing the guaranteed income supplement by $110 per month, as requested by FADOQ.

A number of initiatives could be implemented, such as automatically registering people for the old age security program. The government should synchronize information from various departments, such as the Canada Revenue Agency.

Right now, the responsibility lies with older people who, in many cases, do not know how to proceed. They think that the government will contact them. We should make things easier for older people, but that is not at all what is happening now.

April 29th, 2009 / 6:55 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I can certainly understand the enthusiasm and passion that the member for Québec has on this issue. What I cannot understand is why the member and members of her party voted against a number of initiatives that we put forward to help seniors in significant ways.

I would like to highlight the government's commitment to all older workers and seniors in Canada. Canada has one of the lowest rates of poverty among seniors in the world, lower than the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden.

The percentage of low-income seniors in Canada has declined sharply from more than 21% in 1980 to less than 6% in 2006, and those are clearly significant steps of progress. It is good news but, of course, we will not stop working to bring that number down even lower. That is why, since coming to office, this government has been taking action to improve the well-being and quality of life of our seniors.

I remind the House that since taking office our government has increased the guaranteed income supplement, referred to as the GIS, by 7% over and above regular indexation to compensate for increases in the average wage. In fact, the average income for seniors in that time has doubled. We have increased the GIS earning exemption for working seniors from $500 to $3,500. As a result, pensioners eligible for the GIS can now keep up to another $1,500 in benefits. That is a significant amount.

We also passed Bill C-36, legislation that makes it much easier for seniors to apply for and receive their GIS payments. This change allows seniors to make a one-time application for the GIS and receive it year over year as long as they are eligible, provided they file annual tax returns. To help encourage seniors to apply for GIS benefits that they may be entitled to, we sent out application forms to low income seniors identified through the tax system. These efforts alone have helped to put benefits in the hands of more than 328,000 additional seniors.

Canada's economic action plan also clearly underscored our government's commitment to seniors. Among other things in our economic action plan, we invested an additional $60 million over three years in a targeted initiative for older workers and we have expanded the program to include a number of additional eligible communities. The age credit was also increased by $1,000, allowing low and middle income seniors to receive up to an additional $150 in annual tax savings.

Furthermore, we have allocated $400 million over two years through the affordable housing initiative to construct housing units for low income seniors,. However, our support for seniors goes much further. In 2007, our government created a National Seniors Council to advise on issues of concern to seniors. Our creation of the position of Minister of State for Seniors speaks volumes about our determination to promote the interests and protect the well-being of Canadians.

We have instituted a number of projects across with regard to combatting elder abuse in all its forms, physical abuse, financial and emotional abuse. These projects are funded under the new horizons for seniors program, another important federally funded initiative that has funded over 4,200 projects across Canada helping seniors to bring their leadership, energy and skills to benefit our communities.

I have had the opportunity to deliver some of the funding to communities across my constituency and the funds were very well received and put to very good use. It is a great way of respecting our seniors, what they have done for us and our country and how they have built our country through the many years of their hard contributions. We can only pay that back by investing in them.

7 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am getting answers that do not apply to the people I am talking about—people who earn less than $12,675.

I would like to mention two other numbers to the member who responded on the government's behalf. We should raise seniors' income from $14,034 to $15,534. That is what the $110 per month would do. Their income would then be above the poverty line instead of below it, as is the case today.

I have another number for the member. Currently, 1.1 million people over the age of 65 live in Quebec. Half of them, 515,000, receive the guaranteed income supplement and a pension from the old age security program. That means that half of those 65 and older receive—

7 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

7 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the member's energy and passion but I would once again question why the member did not support the many initiatives that we have taken over the course of our government.

There is no question that we all share the aim of doing all that we can to help our country's seniors enjoy a better quality of life. We owe a great deal of gratitude to our seniors across the country. We understand that there is always room for improvement. Our government will continue to work to ensure the needs of seniors, including low income seniors, are adequately met.

I am extremely proud of our government's track record in looking out for our seniors. I am disappointed that the Bloc member, including members opposite, voted against the measures that I spoke about earlier and the measures that have been put forward before the House.

We will continue to ensure that the interests of seniors are looked after and protected.

7 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this debate to ask further about a question I raised with the Minister of Finance regarding the equalization changes that were made unilaterally by the Government of Canada in this year's budget.

These budget measures, which were buried in the budget, hidden, and found only by Newfoundland and Labrador government officials in examining the details, robbed Newfoundland and Labrador of approximately $1.5 billion in payments that it would have received through the equalization formula and offsets that were supposed to come to Newfoundland and Labrador under the Atlantic accord.

The Atlantic accord was the agreement between the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Government of Canada, when the Progressive Conservatives were in power in the eighties and Prime Minister Mulroney was the author of that document on behalf of the Government of Canada, that guaranteed that Newfoundland and Labrador was to be the primary beneficiary of its offshore oil and gas resources.

That was a commitment made by the Government of Canada and a commitment that was reiterated by the current Prime Minister in 2006 when he was asked whether he would adhere to that principle. He said yes in writing that he would do that by making changes to the equalization formula to remove the natural resources.

Changes were made to that formula by the government and put into place about a year or so ago. These changes were designed to provide predictable and stable funding for provinces and to respect the accord. They were imposed by the Government of Canada and they were to provide and would have provided significant dollars to Newfoundland and Labrador.

In fact, since the government came to power in 2006, the equalization payments to Newfoundland and Labrador have now been cut in half. That would not have happened if the formula that was put in only a year ago had not been changed. This year alone, $414 million were removed from payments to Newfoundland and Labrador by the government. Over the next number of years that formula would reduce Newfoundland's payments by about a billion and a half dollars; $3,000 for every man, woman and child in Newfoundland and Labrador.

We voted against that. I voted against that. All of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party voted against that because we thought it was unfair and a dastardly deed by the Government of Canada.

I will read from the throne speech that was delivered on March 25 in Newfoundland and Labrador and read by the Hon. John Crosbie, former minister in the government that signed that deal. It reads as follows:

Buried in the 2009 federal budget is a deep cut in funding to one province and one alone: ours. The cut will cost us more than a billion dollars the province ought to be receiving from offshore revenues from an agreement negotiated by a Progressive Conservative Government a quarter century ago. Only a year after changing the equalization program to give it stability, they have changed it again to punish Newfoundland and Labrador.

The people of my province are outraged by this action by the Government of Canada. We expected the Liberal Party of Canada to support that. The reaction, unfortunately, by the Leader of the Opposition was very lukewarm saying in fact, when he first was talking about this, that “I'm not in the business of carrying Premier Williams' water”. Eventually he allowed the six Newfoundland Liberals on one occasion only to vote against the budget. However, on every other occasion, the Liberals from Newfoundland and Labrador and the rest of the country voted with the government and imposed this dastardly deed on Newfoundland and Labrador.

There is no justification for this and I would like the minister's representative to acknowledge that this was what was done by the Government of Canada.

7:05 p.m.

Macleod Alberta


Ted Menzies ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, before continuing further, I have to take exception to the member's previous statements suggesting that budget 2009 was not welcomed in Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, budget 2009 brought key benefits to the province and continued our government's strong support for Newfoundlanders.

Indeed, for Newfoundland and Labrador, federal support will total $1.1 billion in 2009-10. This support includes $372 million through the Canada health transfer and $164 million through the Canada social transfer.

This long-term support will help ensure that the province has the resources required to provide essential public services. It contributes to shared national objectives, including health care, post-secondary education, and other key components of Canada's social safety net.

Budget 2009 also brought key tax relief to the people and the businesses of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Over this and the next five fiscal years, tax reductions in budget 2009 will provide the province with tax relief of nearly $270 million, including over $100 million in personal income tax relief in the form of increases in the basic personal amount and the tax exempt threshold of the two lowest personal income tax brackets.

Budget 2009 also included key initiatives that will especially benefit Newfoundland and Labrador, such as over $80 million to accelerate the cleanup of federal contaminated sites like Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay or nearly $2 million for wharf construction at the Belleoram Harbour. That is key support for Newfoundland and Labrador and the member opposite should have supported that, but the member did not.

Even before the member and the NDP read one single page of the budget, they announced that they would oppose it. Does that sound bizarre? Yes, and indeed it was bizarre, and people across the country thought so as well.

People like the editorial writers at the Waterloo Record wrote the following on January 19:

Indeed no one, no matter how much a genius that person is, knows any of this today because of one, undeniable, unavoidable fact: The budget has yet to be finished and presented to the public. All this explains why federal New Democrats' dogged commitment to defeating the Conservatives over a Conservative budget the NDP has not even seen is ludicrous. It is either the irrational condemnation of something unknown to the NDP, or part of a self-serving power grab that places the party's interests ahead of the country's...What arrogance...These are extraordinary times that demand extraordinary measures. Politicians of all stripes need to work together for the common good of us all. To their discredit, the New Democrats seem hell-bent on working for their own narrow interest...Few things in this world are uglier--.

I wonder if the NDP member would like to respond to that, or better yet, apologize for it.

7:10 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, fiscal transfers to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador for health and social transfers on a per capita basis are only what is expected from the Government of Canada as part of our due. Every other province gets them so this is no special deal. There was a special deal that would have ensured that Newfoundland and Labrador was the principle beneficiary of its resources.

The per capita debt in Newfoundland and Labrador as of March 31, 2008, was the highest in Canada, $22,000 per capita, almost $12,000 more than the Canadian average. That is because we have been struggling to meet our obligations to our citizens, to look after them, and provide the kind of services they need.

The revenues that we should have received from our offshore resources instead are now going to the Government of Canada and not being offset as was agreed. We are still struggling to try and provide those services. That is the problem with this.

That is why the people of our party and our province have no confidence in the government. It is not surprising--

7:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance.