Hon. Jim Abbott (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC)
Madam Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to stand and rebut the bunch of stuff that just came from the other side. I rise today to speak in strong opposition to Bill C-300. I had the opportunity to be fully engaged in the committee process and discussions. My presentation will lay the expert testimony and facts we heard onto the record for all members of the House.
The debate on Bill C-300 has been constantly muddied by partisan division and a cliché of anti-business rhetoric. I must say that was a great exhibition we just had. The partisan division is along party lines on the frivolous premise that one party is more virtuous in protecting human rights than others. It should be made clear right from the beginning of this debate that all members of Parliament, Canadians, indeed Canadian companies, want to ensure that human rights are protected. We all agree with corporate social responsibility.
It should be noted that we are very fortunate in Canada, in a country where the big bad corporations that the member has tried to make out just do not exist. There is no Avatar planet full of blue people and mysterious trees being destroyed by the big bad mining company. We live in a country where everyone realizes the value of human rights and corporate social responsibility. Canada has an independent corporate social responsibility counsellor who works with NGOs and companies to ensure that Canada is a world leader in respecting human rights abroad. Around the world Canadian companies are noted leaders, practising corporate social responsibility, contrary to what the member just said.
Bill C-300 should be defeated in the chamber for the following reasons. It is badly written legislation and it has extremely poor process in its implementation mechanism.
I want to be clear. The MPs who are voting against the bill are not voting against corporate social responsibility. None of us would vote against corporate social responsibility and human rights. Canada has its own independent CSR program, which involves consultations, public reporting, third party verification. Bill C-300 dismisses the existing collaborative approach and promotes an open-ended punitive one.
Bill C-300 would harm our businesses, which are already world leaders on corporate social responsibility. The bill is often referred to as the product of the national round table on corporate social responsibility. It does not deserve that title. The bill does not represent the round table.
The round table was very successful and it involved representatives from civil society, corporations and the bureaucracy. All participants were happy with the result of the discussions, but not all are happy with the bill.
As previously noted, the government response to the national round table was the establishment of Canada's independent corporate social responsibility counsellor. In contrast to the thoughtful government action, Bill C-300 was hastily drafted with no consultations, as we heard time after time during the committee process. The product we see before us is sloppy. The bill, if ever enacted, would have drastic consequences that were never ever envisioned by the round table.
In the bill the complaints mechanism is placed in the hands of the ministers of the Crown. Bill C-300 converts a process that should be fair and independent into one that is entirely partisan. The complaints mechanism should be run at arm's-length by an independent individual, who reports to the government and that is precisely the existing rule of Marketa Evans, Canada's corporate social responsibility counsellor.
In comparison, the bill would promote soapbox partisan antics on the issue. No minister would be able to deem a claim frivolous without that decision being derided by the opposition's partisan political agenda. However, the same claim could be deemed frivolous by an independent corporate social responsibility counsellor because he or she would be independent from politics.
Unfortunately, the problems with the complaints mechanism go further. Any claim will automatically be perceived as having credibility because of the involvement of ministers of the Crown. Even the most frivolous accusation could be perceived as legitimate. Bill C-300 does not have any mechanism to protect the system from frivolous claims and therefore even the most facetious claim could be given false credibility when the minister so-called investigated.
This issue is so obvious that several prominent Liberal politicians have put partisan politics aside and expressed their concern about the bill, stating that foreign governments could end up withholding or taking away permits from Canadian firms citing the minister's investigations. This could happen in spite of the fact that at the end of the investigation there still might be no evidence of wrongdoing against the company.
When Bill C-300 was in committee, scores of expert witnesses came to testify against the bill. Many of the witnesses had voluntarily participated in the national round table discussions. We heard from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Export Development Canada. These two organizations are representative of the leaders of the Canada's economy and the fact that they are strongly opposed to the bill should not be ignored.
We heard from countless Canadian companies that have outstanding reputations and are examples for the world when it comes to investing in the communities in which they operate. We even heard from the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, who appearing on a different topic, spoke of the immense contributions that Canada's private sector was making in his developing nation.
If we collect the committee witnesses, placing them onto a scale, those opposed to the bill on one side and those in favour of it on the other, the scale will overwhelmingly tilt in opposition to the bill. We cannot ignore the qualifications of the witnesses who spoke out against the bill. They are experts and came with precise concerns about specific details of the bill.
I will not deny there were witnesses in favour of the bill. However, they spoke in favour of corporate social responsibility in general and could not rebut the concerns about specific sections of the bill.
Let me restate that around the world Canadian companies are noted leaders, practising corporate social responsibility. Canada has its own independent CSR program, which involved consultations, public reporting and third party verification.
Bill C-300 dismisses the existing collaborative approach and promotes an open-ended punitive one. The bill would harm our businesses that are already world leaders on corporation social responsibility. In fact, it is important to note that many witnesses stated that the bill would jeopardize the ability of Canadian corporations to purchase mines from less reputable operators.
Frequently Canadian companies will purchase mines that were previously run with little regard for human rights and Canadian companies will correct the problem. Canadian companies invest heavily in local communities and bring mines up to acceptable standards. If Bill C-300 were to be enacted, we have been advised this will no longer be possible because the bill does not protect a company from the allegations of abuse that occurred before it acquired the mine in question.The Canadian corporation could be in jeopardy of liability for prior actions by previous owners.
If Canadian companies are unable to purchase previously poorly run mines, then the local communities will be left at the mercy of the less reputable companies from countries with lower human rights standards than those in Canada. We have also been advised that it will be difficult for Export Development Canada to partner with any mining operation overseas.
Mines are not entirely financed by one organization, but are a collection of international investors. This typically include Canadian companies, Export Development Canada, private investors from around the world and other investment sources. International investment partners would not agree to invest if EDC were at the table and C-300 were to become law. The bill would force EDC to walk away from its investment if any claim were made against the project.
This is highly problematic because Canadian direct investment abroad in the mining sector was $66.7 billion in the last two decades. Putting this at risk would cripple our Canadian companies. If international investors feel that the EDC is default-risk due to the poor complaints mechanism of the bill, they will only invest in EDC if other public organizations are not involved.
Canada's mining sector is a world leader. We have every right to be proud of the work that our companies do. Our companies have an excellent economic track record and have incredible corporate social responsibility programs that operate in communities around the world.
Canada is well positioned throughout the current worldwide economic crisis, but we are not out of the woods yet. The economic recovery is still fragile. Our commodity sector has led the way for our economy and we must not hinder its progress now. We must not cripple our strongest economic sector.
Supporters of the bill will argue that we are saying that if the bill is passed, there will be a mass exodus of companies from Canada. These are the same people who twist the debate into cliché anti-business arguments.
For every reason, the bill is sloppily written, does not reflect the national round table, does not create an arm's-length independent process, creates a partisan political process, has an inadequate complaints mechanism, hinders reputable—
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act