Madam Speaker, first of all, I want to say welcome back to all of my colleagues, to you, and to the House staff.
I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-300 on this first day back. The Bloc Québécois will support this bill, because it is a first step in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are not currently any mechanisms to adequately regulate the activities of Canadian mining, oil and gas companies abroad. This is a senseless situation that must be changed. We know full well that Canada is a world leader in the mining industry, and Canadian companies must set an example.
The vast majority of Canadian mining companies that operate abroad are respectful of the local populations and the environment. However, it is clear that for several years, Canadian mining companies have been directly or indirectly associated with forced relocations of communities, major environmental disasters, support for repressive regimes and serious human rights violations. Some companies even hire armed groups, such as militias or security agencies, to protect them.
Far too many conflicts still exist between communities and mining companies, and far too many human rights advocates are still being abused psychologically, kidnapped and sometimes even murdered.
Extraction practices need to be regulated so that they pose no threat to the sustainable development of local populations or their health and safety.
Those are several reasons why Canadian companies should be held accountable for the impact of their overseas activities. The Bloc Québécois is recommending a clear, independent and transparent process to ensure accountability and to monitor Canadian companies' compliance with accountability standards.
We are debating Bill C-300 and its amendments today because we need to act quickly. There are far too many people affected by the negligence of some Canadian companies to ignore such a serious issue. Yes, there are currently some serious gaps. And we did not make them up: numerous people spoke to this on a number of occasions before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Like many of my colleagues, I repeatedly met with many individuals and with members of civil society organizations working in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia and Africa, where the people have been affected by the questionable behaviour of some Canadian mining companies. Their testimonies were all marked by deep distress, great suffering and injustice.
Bill C-300 is a rudimentary legislative tool, and while it is debatable, it is still high time that Canadian parliamentarians pass legislation to regulate the activities of Canadian mining, oil and gas companies working overseas. The Canadian government has its head in the sand if it believes that the voluntary measures it has proposed are effective deterrents. This government is refusing any form of legal regulation of Canadian companies, saying that monitoring is the host countries' responsibility, even though they do not possess the resources needed to manage the situation.
These countries and the mining industry need to make sure that natural resources help reduce poverty and promote economic and social development. The government should exert more control over these companies' practices and give Canadian investments abroad the tools they need to ensure that these companies' activities truly benefit the people of these countries.
The government should recognize that this situation is serious and adopt measures that require mining companies to operate responsibly. The government appears to be downplaying the social, environmental and human rights impacts that these companies' practices and activities have.
This debate has been going on for too long. In 2005, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development released a report entitled “Mining in Developing Countries - Corporate Social Responsibility”. Three of the recommendations in the standing committee's report proposed specific objectives relating to the Canadian government's responsibility to monitor and exert greater control over the activities of Canadian mining companies abroad.
Two recommendations concerned the importance of establishing clear legal standards for accountability and developing mechanisms to monitor the activities of Canadian mining companies in developing countries.
At the time, a number of Canadian NGOs called the committee's recommendations “a real breakthrough”.
As we all know, the then government's response was deeply disappointing because it was interested only in voluntary measures.
In its response, the government agreed to organize a series of round tables to study in greater depth the issues that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development raised in its report. Four round tables were held from June to November of 2006 in four different cities: Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal. Participation levels were high: 104 briefs were submitted, 156 oral presentations were given and 57 experts were invited to participate. Members of the public and experts spoke for a total of 101 hours.
Following this extensive consultation, the members of the advisory group, the Canadian and Quebec NGOs, and the experts managed to come to an agreement with a good part of the Canadian mining industry. They published a report on March 29, 2007, in which they asked the Canadian government to immediately adopt a set of standards establishing a corporate social responsibility framework for Canadian mining, oil and gas companies operating abroad. These recommendations are the result of a consensus between civil society and the extractive sector.
The report recommends the establishment of a corporate social responsibility framework for the extractive sector.
In addition, it recommends the appointment of an independent ombudsman to handle complaints about the activities of Canadian extractive companies abroad, the establishment of a tripartite committee—consisting of members of government, civil society and the extractive industry—to monitor compliance with standards, and the establishment of an advisory group to provide advice to government on improving corporate social responsibility.
The report recommends that offending companies no longer be entitled to tax benefits, loan guarantees and other forms of government assistance.
It took the Conservative government two years to respond to the round table report. The Conservative government chose to ignore the recommendations made by the parliamentarians and advisory group members who took part in the round tables and instead set up a bogus agency that will not impose any rules or consequences on companies that pollute or infringe on human rights. The government's decision to rely on voluntary measures and its refusal to adopt effective sanctions make the communities affected by mining projects even more vulnerable.
The Bloc Québécois has always defended the need for social responsibility standards for corporations working abroad and for that reason we are in favour of the principle of Bill C-300. We have frequently denounced the overseas activities of Canadian extractive companies that violate human rights and compromise the sustainable development of local populations.
In closing, Bill C-300 makes it possible to continue the debate about the social responsibility of Canadian mining, oil and gas companies abroad. A number of groups have mobilized to voice their support for Bill C-300. Civil society has taken this opportunity to inform parliamentarians and the public of the need to monitor the overseas activities of mining companies.