Mr. Speaker, I always thought that economic development, economic growth and wealth creation were not meant to be an end in themselves, but a way to provide the best quality of life to the most people. I imagine that many of my constituents agree with me, since they gave me the honour of electing me in 2011. What is good at the national level should also be good at the international level. That principle underlies what I have to say about Bill C-584, introduced by my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île.
We are debating an extremely important bill, and I think it needs to be passed urgently. Corporate social responsibility is, without a doubt, a central element of our diplomatic arsenal and the image that Canada projects in developing countries, especially in the extractive sector.
First of all, I want to talk about a series of key points that can help us understand why this bill is so important. More than 75% of international extractive companies have their headquarters here in Canada. Furthermore, more than 1,000 mining companies are registered on Canadian stock exchanges. Canadian mining companies invest a lot of money abroad, and there are more than 8,000 exploration properties and mining projects in a hundred or so countries.
The government has a responsibility with respect to the activities of these companies, and it must ensure that their standards and practices reflect Canada's commitments in terms of international law, human rights and environmental law. Canada's responsibility is made even greater by the fact that the countries in which the extractive companies are working are all too often struggling with chronic political instability, high levels of corruption and, sometimes, military conflicts. Sadly, some mining companies are lacking in transparency and ethics, which aggravates the political instability in these countries and does not contribute to the economic and social development of the people. As I said earlier, that is what we want to accomplish.
However, civil society has not remained unmoved in the face of all this. A round table was as created, and NGOs and mining companies have been able to work together and discuss the need to create and promote a Canadian corporate social responsibility framework. One of their main recommendations, which was very simple but also very effective, was to create an ombudsman position, which would be responsible for corporate social responsibility, or CSR. The ombudsman position is covered in this bill, introduced by my colleague, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île.
The voluntary regulation of extractive activities is an obvious failure. In order to address human rights and environmental violations by extractive companies, the Conservative government came up with a wonderful process, a miracle solution known for its success: self-regulation. We have heard about this in many sectors, but I will not go into them. The Conservatives' approach led to the resignation of the first counsellor, Ms. Evans. Furthermore, if anyone is interested, it seems that the position is still vacant.
The Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor lacks the authority to investigate complaints and has no legal power to ensure that stakeholders participate in good faith in the arbitration process. In other words, it is a big empty shell. In short, the mandate of the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor is setting the stage for failure insofar as mining companies committing violations are not likely to be subject to a thorough investigation or economic sanctions encouraging them to adopt best practices.
In conclusion, you might say that the counsellor did not achieve the ultimate objective she was assigned, which was to strengthen the accountability of Canadian mining companies operating abroad. The dysfunction of the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor is leading us to introduce a more effective legislative mechanism by establishing a CSR ombudsman.
Before addressing the issue of the CSR ombudsman, I would like to give an overview of the NDP's contribution in this area. My colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa-Centre, tabled a bill to establish the duty of due diligence in respect of the activities of mining companies in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
Under his bill, companies working in this region of Africa would have to control their supply chain from the moment the mineral is extracted until it is incorporated into the final product. The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster introduced a similar bill, Bill C-323, which allows persons who are not Canadian citizens to initiate tort claims based on violations of international law or treaties to which Canada is a party if the acts alleged occur abroad.
Along with the bill introduced by the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, these two bills form the legislative backbone of the NDP's efforts to improve accountability and promote values such as respect for human rights and environmental standards.
Now, let us focus on the role of the ombudsman. Creating an ombudsman is a response to a recommendation made by the 2007 national roundtables on CSR and the Canadian extractive industry. I would remind the House that we are somewhere in 2014 and that there has not been much movement on that. The report was written jointly by civil society—meaning NGOs and major unions—and mining companies. The idea of creating an ombudsman is also a response to the characteristics of certain African mining sites.
In a 1992 report, the World Bank identified mining as a growth sector in the African economy. The African mining sector received foreign investment, a factor in economic development. Of course, opening up the mining sector to private investors unfortunately meant that governments withdrew their structural support.
The result of that withdrawal is that governments are no longer responsible for regulating mining activities. Instead, they focus on creating an attractive legal and tax environment for private investors. Consequently, amending mining and tax codes weakened the governments' ability to regulate.
Ghana is a perfect example. After a decade of draconian budget cuts, the government no longer has the human and financial resources to ensure that the development of the mining sector addresses the challenges posed by economic, social and environmental development.
The deregulation of the mining sector was not backed by a proper regulatory framework to support socio-economic development. Quite the opposite. The deregulation of the mining sector contributes to environmental degradation and human rights violations.
The extreme deregulation of extractive activities stalls development instead of giving local populations the kind of leg up they can and should be able to take advantage of. In Burkina, the mining code does not provide for environmental assessment during the exploration phase, nor does it give equally qualified local workers priority for employment in the mines.
A report from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative mentioned that financial benefits for African states following the deregulation of the mining sector were minimal. Mining companies almost all avoided paying income tax and capital gains tax. It is unacceptable that Canadian mining corporations should hinder economic development efforts in developing countries.
The CSR ombudsman would promote the institutionalization of a code of conduct for the Canadian mining sector operating abroad. The code of conduct would be based largely on standards set by the OECD and the International Finance Corporation. In addition, our proposal has the support of a broad coalition of stakeholders, including mining companies.
I still have so much to say, but I have run out of time, so I will stop there. I strongly support the bill introduced by my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île.