Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Newmarket—Aurora, because I am forever standing in this place saying that we should be working together, sharing information, and trying to make bills better. I hate to use the word “conflict“ when we are talking about this issue, but oftentimes, between the two sides of the House, there is more conflict than co-operation.
I would like to commend the member for the speech she gave. Now, after saying that, I take issue with a couple of points, but I will address only one. Perhaps the sponsor of the bill, the member for Ottawa Centre, will discuss later with the government other areas they seem to have concerns about.
When we say “voluntary”, to me that fails the test of true due diligence. I come from farm country, and that is like saying to the fox that we trust it not to come near our henhouse. It would likely not work there.
Again, it is very important in the House, especially as this session is winding down, that there be a glimmer of a possibility that all sides will work together on an important issue.
For the viewers who are just joining us now in this important debate, I would like to reiterate the fact that Bill C-486, once passed, would require Canadian companies using minerals from the Great Lakes region of Africa to practise public due diligence. I stress that word. It would ensure that no armed groups that are engaged in illegal activities would benefit from the extraction, processing, or use of these minerals.
In my past speeches I have often referred to Hollywood versions of stories. There was a movie made in the last five to eight years called Blood Diamond. It highlighted in a very personal way the particular problems in that part of the world.
The most important feature of Bill C-486 is that it would allow Canadians to know whether minerals that may have contributed to funding or fuelling a conflict are in the products they have purchased. It would empower them, as consumers, to make an informed choice. It would not order them to do anything, but it would be guidance that an awful lot of responsible Canadians would appreciate having.
This bill would continue the NDP's agenda on corporate social responsibility. It would have an important role in enhancing, as I said, consumer knowledge and control of purchasing choices. As the critic for international human rights, I can tell the House that New Democrats have long supported transparency and accountability by Canadian industry abroad.
I will step back for just a moment. The member for Newmarket—Aurora mentioned the Dodd-Frank bill. I had the pleasure a couple of years back of spending two hours with Barney Frank in Washington and listening to his passion. The member was fairly critical of aspects of his bill, such as the length of time and the delay. That would be an area I would suggest the member for Ottawa Centre discuss as well. If there is a better way of doing it, we would certainly want to look at it.
I remember that not that long after I was elected in 2006, we had Bill C-300. There was excitement in our activist community about the potential the bill had for holding Canadian companies to the same standards in foreign countries they are held to in Canada. As I recall, sadly, the bill failed by about 12 votes. More sadly, there were 15 Liberals who did not come into the House to vote. That bill was sponsored by a Liberal at the time, so there was significant disappointment.
Because Canadian extractive companies are among the most successful in the world, a fact that we are proud of, we believe that it is important that they lead in responsible, sustainable, and transparent management practices in the world's extractive sector.
In my role as the critic for international human rights, I met, in a three-week period, indigenous groups from five countries. They were from the Philippines, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. When they came before me, they made suggestions that bordered on accusations that Canadian mining interests in their countries were complicit in pushing them off their lands.
I do not think Canadian companies would do that with deliberate intent, but certainly the governments they deal with in their daily business often have people in charge who are prepared to do nearly anything for money, for greed. Therefore, when something comes before us that would make sure that Canadian companies are responsible and do not allow practices such as pushing people off their land, that to me is very satisfying.
Bill C-486 at its best is part of an international trend toward due diligence and corporate responsibility. Again, the member opposite, in her speech, referred to the OECD, the United States, and other countries. If legislators enforced regulations, it would no doubt lead to a more level playing field for all Canadian companies.
One of the fair arguments that could come from the government side is that if we put restrictions on Canadian companies that are not put on other international companies in that part of the world, that could be seen as handcuffing them and holding them back. Now that there is a broader consensus out there about the need for this particular type of legislation, there is less possibility of that.
Further, I believe that this bill would go far in ensuring environmental, labour, and human rights protections of which all Canadians can be proud. We know that when we talk to Canadians and listen to them, their expectation is that in Canada our corporate citizens will abide by all these laws, and for the most part they certainly do. However, they also expect that these companies will do the same thing abroad when they are working in other countries.
At its worst, the international illegal exploitation and trade of minerals from the Great Lakes region of Africa is funding and fuelling one of the deadliest armed conflicts, I would say, since the Second World War. Canadians are just now coming to understand that many of these conflict minerals, as various speakers have mentioned, end up in many of their products, such as cellphones and even tin cans and medical devices. One of the things I kind of smiled at was that they are in jet engines. I do not know quite how they would wind up there, because they are certainly not technically inclined in that area.
Clearly Canadians need support and guidance if they are looking to understand what products they should avoid.
Members no doubt know that mineral profits in the conflict zones provide revenues from trade, taxes, bribes, and fees imposed by armed groups, and those are substantial. Conflict minerals account for up to 95% of the revenues of these groups. Clearly, those minerals literally keep some armed groups in business.
More than half of all the mines, and all but one major mine in the eastern DRC, are controlled by armed groups that may also impose illegal taxes on minerals transported through the territory they control, which brings to mind what is happening in Iraq today. The insurgency in Iraq has taken over part of an oil field, and they are actually selling that oil and getting money, even though they illegally took it over. It is being reported in the news.
Much of the DRC's mineral output is smuggled into countries. Again, that goes to the heart of what the member across the way asked. Where do we do the audit, upstream or downstream? That is something to consider.
One of the things I am pleased to say is that virtually all the main technology companies are now watching where they purchase their materials, such as BlackBerry—a good Canadian company that I hear today is doing a little better than it had been—Microsoft, Apple, and Nokia. These companies are starting to take steps to avoid using conflict minerals in their products. As was said, the OECD also made moves, I believe, in May 2011.
It is very important that a country like Canada maintains it international reputation and takes a lead in this area.