Corporate Social Responsibility of Extractive Corporations Outside Canada Act

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House tonight to speak to Bill C-584. This is a bill that has tapped a number of themes that keep surfacing from the opposition members from time to time, who show a profound lack of understanding of the extractive industry here in Canada and globally. That should not be surprising, coming from a party that is essentially opposed to private sector job creation.

I am going to use my time before the House to talk about what Canada is doing in terms of corporate social responsibility and to point out a few of the fallacies in the ideas behind the all-magical ombudsman with a magic wand that many of the members of the NDP seem to think will eradicate problems that have not even been shown to be rooted in operations of Canadian companies around the world.

Several years ago, in 2009, our government announced an ambitious program on corporate social responsibility. This came as a result of industry and NGO feedback on company operations around the world generally and on the extractive industries of mining and oil and gas specifically.

Canada has many leading operators in these areas, and Toronto is the global centre for mining finance. In many ways Canada has a tremendous, robust, and diverse economy, and although we are not world leaders in a lot of things, I am happy to say that our capital markets in Toronto have a long history of being the centrepiece of financing for such operations and that they do so in a way that is transparent and accountable to investors here in our markets.

The strategy the government embarked upon was based on four pillars for Canadian operators working internationally.

The CSR strategy’s first pillar is capacity-building within countries internationally to make sure that the investment is not just in a mine or an operation but that capacity is built around the economic activity generated by the investment in that country.

We have to remember, as witnesses have told us at committee and as I have been told in my consultations, that in some of these countries there is massive unemployment and a big disparity in wealth. Some of the employers end up being some of the largest investors and employers in the country.

As part of my outreach on the corporate social responsibility program, the government heard from groups such as Engineers Without Borders that capacity-building, in terms of a local supplier or a local procurement network in that country, can actually have a multiplying effect. It is not just the mine or the exploration efforts; people in the country are being employed in the supply, logistics, transport, and geo-engineering aspects of these projects. That capacity-building piece is the first pillar.

The second pillar is promoting international corporate social responsibility guidelines. There are many of these guidelines in operation right now that many corporations in Canada and abroad use to try to bring best practices to their own operations. The World Bank has guidelines. In Canada, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada has published its guidelines. Those guidelines are among some of the most ambitious out there, and they try to encourage their members to follow them.

The third pillar of our strategy was the creation of the corporate social responsibility counsellor. The first counsellor was Dr. Marketa Evans, and I will speak a little more about her work in a moment.

The role of the counsellor was not only to help educate people and review practices that industry was adopting with respect to corporate social responsibility but also to play an important function in conflict resolution through dialogue. If time permits, I will try to show the hon. colleague who brought this bill forward how that goal is far more attainable and far more pragmatic than the suggestions in her bill before the House today.

Conflict resolution through dialogue can be the goal of the CSR counsellor.

Finally, the fourth pillar was to try to build a centre of excellence here in Canada around corporate social responsibility. That plays well on our strengths that I already referred to: Canada as a centre of excellence in terms of the financial capital markets for mining and the extractive industries, and some of our Canadian players that are also large employers in our economy.

In my role as parliamentary secretary for international trade, I had the distinct pleasure of reaching out in our five-year review of the corporate social responsibility platform our government embarked upon in 2009. That review involved direct consultations. I had direct consultations with civil society organizations and NGOs, direct consultations with industry players and industry associations. As well, I had consultations with Dr. Marketa Evans, the CSR counsellor who is no longer in the role, but helped open the office through her work.

I would like to thank Dr. Evans for her work. She had 100-plus engagement sessions with industry on CSR practices and their operations globally, bringing the second pillar I referred to earlier, that international CSR performance guideline, and bringing that approach to industry. Beyond that, Dr. Evans also tried to bring some of the best practices she had from her experience in the NGO world prior to becoming the CSR counsellor. She followed directly, in many cases, the World Bank policies with respect to corporate social responsibility and practices worldwide.

It was interesting that in the consultations I had with civil society groups, they saw there was great potential with a lot of the elements of CSR programs that some players and industries are doing. The biggest I found in my consultations was this capacity building, our first pillar, where the investment of a Canadian company into another country, particularly a developing country, is the opportunity for this local procurement and supply network. Groups like Engineers Without Borders and others found that not only did it have a multiplier effect, meaning more jobs for men and women on the ground in these countries with huge unemployment, but also over time, if the investment of development or exploration of a mine ended, in a lot of cases that peripheral work and that local supply network could lead to a vibrant local economy.

We also heard from some of the NGOs, such as World Vision, that have worked on some of our approaches trying to bring together industry, DFATD, the international development of our foreign affairs, and an NGO actor on the ground in these countries. That is important because somebody in Ottawa, be it a senior civil servant or an ombudsman, is not on the ground in these countries, but in a lot of cases the NGOs are. The NGOs in some cases, like World Vision, have decades of experience operating on the ground. If we can work with their development expertise and have a multiplier from government and a multiplier from industry, why would that not be good?

When the member introduced this bill on June 3, she said, “We are not talking about the Smurfs here…. We are talking about people whose rights are being violated, people who are displaced without their consent…”. Certainly there is a lot of concern about crime, displacement and troubles in a lot of these countries, but this is a serious issue and our CSR policies are serious approaches.

The final thing I would add is in regard to an ombudsman, which the member is proposing in this bill. She said an ombudsman would have real powers to investigate. Someone in Ottawa does not have investigative powers in foreign countries, and never would.

Our four-pillar plan is a prudent approach, and I would ask the opposition to support it.

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