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Blog Entry

Bill C-300 – Private Member's Bill Promotes Industry and Government Accountability

Catherine Coumans

Ph.D., Research Coordinator and Asia-Pacific regional program coordinator.

On February 9, 2009, Liberal Member of Parliament John McKay tabled a private member’s bill in the House of Commons. Bill C-300, titled An Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries,1 would codify a number of key recommendations on accountability for Canadian extractive companies operating in developing countries from the March 2007 Final Report of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Roundtables.2

Bill C-300 would put in place standards for Canadian extractive companies operating overseas that receive financial or political support from the Canadian government. The “guidelines that articulate corporate accountability standards” must include the International Finance Corporation Performance Standards, related guidance notes, and Environmental Health and Safety General Guidelines; the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights; “human rights provisions that ensure corporations operate in a manner that is consistent with international human rights standards; and any other standard consistent with international human rights standards.”

Bill C-300 would also create a complaints mechanism that would allow members of affected communities abroad, or Canadians, to file complaints against companies that are not living up to those standards. Complaints would be filed with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. If accepted, the complaint would lead to an investigation of a company’s compliance with the guidelines and a public report on findings within eight months of receipt of the complaint.

A company that is found to be out of compliance with the standards may become ineligible for government support for as long as it is out of compliance with the guidelines. In particular, Bill C-300 refers to political and financial support that is provided to Canadian extractive companies by Export Development Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Canada Pension Plan.

While setting standards for Canadian extractive companies operating overseas, Bill C-300 primarily strives to put in place standards for Canadian taxpayer-funded agencies that support these companies financially and politically, to make sure that Canadian tax dollars are not being spent to support companies that have caused severe environmental degradation or abused human rights in their operations overseas.

Bill C-300 narrowly won a vote in the House of Commons on April 22, 20093 and is currently being debated in the parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. These hearings have provided a forum to give voice to a wide range of problems associated with Canadian mining operations in Latin America, Africa and Asia-Pacific, as well as a chance to look at how Bill C-300 would start to address these concerns. At the same time, industry associations, individual mining companies, the Chamber of Commerce, and lawyers who work for the industry have come out strongly against Bill C-300. Additionally, many government bureaucrats (Foreign Affairs, Trade, Canadian International Development Agency, Natural Resources Canada, and the new CSR Counsellor) have all expressed misgivings regarding Bill C-300. The webcasts of these hearings provide an excellent overview of the issues.4 The hearings have closed now. Unless an election is called, the Bill will be reviewed and amended by the Committee when the House of Commons starts its new session in March before going back to the full House for a final vote.

MiningWatch Canada strongly supports Bill C-300. We have prepared a Position Statement on Bill C-300 and presented before the Standing Committee on October 8, 2009. While the Bill has support from the National Democratic Party and the Bloc Québecois, the Conservatives are firmly against the bill and the Liberals are divided. We urge you to take action in support of Bill C-300! We have provided urgent action materials on our web site. During this break in Parliament, write a letter to you MP and express your support for Bill C-300.