Mr. Thomas Shrake (Chief Executive Officer and President, Pacific Rim Mining Corp.):
Members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to appear.
I'm the president and CEO of Pacific Rim Mining Corporation. My purpose in coming here today is to set the record straight on a very disturbing and fictitious allegation made here in a prior committee meeting by Mr. Richard Steiner, who has made similar allegations elsewhere. I will document our experiences to demonstrate to you why the bill you are considering simply will not work.
Pacific Rim began a new business initiative in 2001. In this initiative, management sought to build a cutting-edge company that set the highest standards for environmental protection and social responsibility. Our strategy is to explore and develop only a certain type of gold deposit called low sulphidation epithermal deposits. These are among the most environmentally clean metal deposits on the planet. Our El Dorado deposit in El Salvador is such a deposit.
El Dorado currently has a resource of 1.4 million gold ounces, a resource that was growing steadily until we were forced to discontinue our work as a result of a program of systematic expropriation by the government of El Salvador. In December 2006, former President Saca ordered the Minister of Economy and MARN, the environmental and natural resources ministry, to stop granting concessions and environmental permits respectively. Slowly the existing concessions are falling off the books, using an obviously planned strategy. With no environmental permit, there's no way a company can fulfill its work program and maintain its mineral rights. Eventually they expire. Every mining company in El Salvador has been damaged.
El Salvador has a relatively new mining law, a competitive investment law, and a new environmental law. We have obeyed and/or exceeded the requirements of all these laws. We entered into El Salvador at the invitation of the highest levels of government. Our $80 million investment created an asset with a market value of hundreds of millions of dollars. Today our market cap is $20 million. Obviously our company has been severely damaged.
We submitted an application for an exploitation concession in late 2004, almost six years ago. Included in that application was a feasibility study for an underground mine, which sets new precedents for environmental protection in the Americas. In our numerous community consultations, we determined that water was a major concern for the people of Cabañas. With this knowledge, we designed a system to collect water in the rainy season for use during the dry season, making extensive use of recycling. This runoff would otherwise flow into the Pacific Ocean.
Mr. Steiner states that the El Dorado impacts include competition for surface water resources. In reality, we will increase the availability of surface waters in the dry season when they are most needed, as we discharge cleaned waters. Water that will flow into this reservoir has been sampled and analyzed for years. It is currently polluted with bacteria, fertilizers, defoliates, pesticides, and detergents. The water leaving the operation will be cleaner than the water that arrived.
The cyanide content of the tailings water is less than the cyanide content of the average cigarette smoker's blood, in sharp contrast to Mr. Steiner's claim that the mine impact includes water contamination from cyanide. The ores in our El Dorado deposits are alkaline. Mr. Steiner incorrectly states that there will be acid mine drainage from this mine site. The waters from the historic workings are alkaline, and our extensive chemical testing demonstrates the lack of acid potential, as is typical with low-sulphidation deposits. The El Dorado ores have a very low accessory metal content. Mr. Steiner incorrectly claims that El Dorado impacts will include contamination by heavy metals.
As exemplified by Mr. Steiner's misinformation, grossly exaggerated statements, if not outright lies, are commonly used in the opposition to extractive industries by certain NGOs—not all, but certain NGOs. These rogue NGOs use the environmental argument as a tool to increase the political cost of a mining decision. Many are ideological groups who oppose foreign investment in developing countries, and their opposition is not limited to mining.
Worst of all, Mr. Steiner testified that Pacific Rim is involved in the murder of anti-mining activists. This accusation is simply outrageous. It is contrary to everything we believe and practise. There are suspects in jail awaiting trial for these crimes, and there is no known connection between the criminals and our company. A three-page investigative piece in the local paper concluded that there was no connection. These allegations are completely unfounded, but through repetition they have gained traction. They have served their designated purpose of increasing the political cost of the mine permit and damaged the good reputation of the company.
Mr. Steiner has made the same murder accusations in El Salvador--Gold, Guns, and Choice:, a report he wrote while being hosted by a local Salvadorian NGO, ADES. ADES is a rogue NGO with a long and disturbing history of violence against our company. They are also the originators of these groundless murder allegations. In fairness to Mr. Steiner, we have no knowledge that he was aware of ADES's violent history, but he did rely on their testimony in his reports.
We attempted to mediate this violence when the first signs of it appeared in 2006. ADES was passing out flyers that read “Death to the Canadian miners”. We met with a well-known American NGO, who is a primary source of funding for ADES activities. We suggested that perhaps we could work jointly to look at a way to improve the social and environmental quality of our project. The response was a cool, “Do you know who we are?”
We then turned to the flyer and we expressed our hope that violence would not be used in the debate. Unfortunately, violence has become a commonly deployed tool. I'll provide a few examples of this violence, almost all of which has occurred not at El Dorado, our development project, but at our Santa Rita exploration project, whose remoteness makes it an easy target. On one occasion, a local water quality NGO and a company environmental scientist were fired upon while sampling a spring.
We sponsor an eye care NGO for the extremely poor. While providing a free clinic, the eye doctor and his team were threatened and forced to leave the community without providing the free eye care. Company employees were held against their will, while others fled on foot in panic.
On two occasions while drilling on our private property at Santa Rita, we were invaded by armed gunmen, some with assault rifles, some hooded, and almost all of them from well outside the community. Mobs damaged the property as well as hacked down the trees we planted as part of our reforestation effort that now totals 50,000 trees. ADES was responsible for planning and executing all of these violent attacks.
We anticipated confrontation early on and continued to meet with our workers on a regular basis to reinforce our policy that confrontation of any kind is strictly forbidden: if you confront, we lose. Our people are instructed to behave like Mahatma Gandhi. They may speak to the issues, but always in a passive manner. At none of these violent incidents have company employees retaliated or confronted their aggressors.
NGOs play a valuable role serving an important balance in the investment and development process. We support the right of NGOs to oppose, to demonstrate, and to lobby. Unfortunately, there are bad actors who spread fabricated lies and operate under the credo of the end justifies the means. There is little in the way of checks and balances for NGOs. They are beyond reproach, and rogue NGOs take full advantage.
Let's not forget who else has been victimized. Cabañas is the single poorest department in El Salvador. Two years ago we reduced our activities, and 200 direct exploration jobs were lost, as well as hundreds of indirect jobs. Our polls clearly show that the vast majority of the people in the area of the El Dorado mine favour the mine. In August 2008 only 25% of Salvadorians were opposed to mining, in general.
El Salvador has been hard hit by the global crisis. U.S.-based foreign investment has plummeted by 60%. Unemployment approaches 40%. Those living in extreme poverty constitute 40% of the population. Our company would be the single greatest taxpayer in the country. Not only would our operation provide desperately needed employment; it would set the bar high for environmental standards for future mine development. Additionally, it would send the message to future foreign investors from all economic sectors that El Salvador obeys the rule of law and is open for business.
Our company has been damaged beyond repair by rogue NGOs. Our mine has been made to appear as an environmental disaster when it is the opposite, a model for environmental protection. We've been cast as demons, responsible for violence, when in reality we are the victims of the violence. There is no place for violence in the mining debate.
To use our company as an example of why this bill is needed turns the truth on its head. The truth is that we attempted to raise the bar for environmental and social responsibility, but we have been victimized by a planned strategy of misinformation and intimidation. The bill before you will create a gridlock. It will add further delay to the already lengthy development process. The business will suffer and the consumers will pay.
Professor Audrey Macklin (Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, As an Individual):
I've been asked to comment more broadly on Bill C-300, so I will not be responding directly to Mr. Shrake's remarks.
I was a member of the national roundtables on corporate social responsibility and the Canadian extractive industry in developing countries. I was also a member of the Harker mission in 1999 that went to Sudan to investigate allegations with respect to Talisman Energy in that country.
What I want to say today about Bill C-300 is fairly straightforward. Let me begin with this point. I think we would all agree that the Canadian government has a legitimate interest in how its money is spent--that is to say, how its financial support, or investments, or tax incentives are used by those who are the recipients. This is true whether that money goes to support domestic or international projects, or whether the recipient of government funding is a non-governmental organization that is part of civil society or a corporation.
In other words, the Government of Canada, I hope you will all agree, has an interest in accountability for how its money is spent, and Bill C-300, in short, is nothing more or less than a mechanism for accountability. That is to say, the government supplies export credit and investment and undertakes promotional activities for Canadian corporations in their activities abroad. Bill C-300 is, I think, directed at ensuring that the financial support that the government provides is not spent on conduct that would run contrary to Canada's public policy commitments or international human rights obligations.
It seems to me that in the government expenditure of funds for overseas projects, whether that's through CIDA or the IDRC, there too the government has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the money it provides is used for purposes that are consistent with Canada's own obligations and its public policy with respect to, say, international development in the case of CIDA.
So, really, Bill C-300 is no more or less than simply a mechanism for holding those recipients of government financing—corporations—accountable for how they use government money, and a way of saying, “We, the government, the taxpayers of Canada, don't want to spend our money on activities or conduct that we think are inimical to Canadian public policy or our international human rights obligations.”
I hope that by saying that, I've made one point very clear: in no way is this bill about extraterritoriality, any more than Canada acts extraterritorially in deciding whether CIDA is going to fund some project in another country. We don't say that's an act of extraterritorial regulation, and neither is this; this is about how the government is going to spend its money. No company, no corporation, has a legal entitlement to that money, and there's nothing wrong with holding it accountable for how that money is spent.
Now, what does this bill suggest or indicate will be the criteria for accountability? Well, it indicates a couple of codes of conduct, most notably, I think, the voluntary principles on security and human rights and the International Finance Corporation's policy on social and environmental sustainability, performance standards on social and environmental sustainability, etc.
These are codes of conduct that many companies have voluntarily signed on to--though not all companies. These are also standards or principles that the International Finance Corporation, which is the commercial branch of the World Bank, uses to decide who it's going to lend money to. These principles also form part of what are called the “equator principles”, which private lending banks around the world have used as criteria for deciding to whom they will lend money.
So for the Canadian government to bring these principles to bear in assessing accountability for recipients of government support is not to stray far beyond and is not to extend its reach beyond what we already see in play among financial actors worldwide.
These principles are evidently not so vague that international banks can't apply them or that the companies that want loans from these international banks can't meet them. They're not so vague or general or devoid of meaning that companies are unwilling to sign on to them for fear that they are signing on to principles they cannot understand or operationalize.
This is a way to bring those same principles and standards of accountability to bear on the forms of government support that Canada provides to companies. In so doing, I think Canada is simply acting in a way that is consistent with what the special representative of the Secretary General, John Ruggie, proposes as a good way to ensure corporate social responsibility worldwide. It encourages individual states to use instruments within their jurisdiction and authority. So it's consistent internationally. It's not inconsistent with what host states can do or will do. In the end, then, it is just a mechanism for Canada to take part in the global trend toward ensuring accountability for how transnational corporations engage in their activities in various states.
I think that you have already heard my colleague Penelope Simons' response to a concern that this form of accountability will somehow drive Canadian companies to incorporate elsewhere, that it will encourage corporate flight, so I won't reiterate what she said. I will only say that all over the world countries are adopting various mechanisms for holding their corporations accountable for their activities abroad. They aren't identical to what Bill C-300 does; some are much more interventionist. The United States, for example, has in place a whole system of tort liability.
This statute in no way creates a new ground of civil liability. It's not as if anybody can use this statute to go and sue a Canadian company in a Canadian court. Nor does it create any kind of criminal liability, an even more significant form of regulation. It doesn't do any of those things.
Some people, some organizations, take the position that perhaps Canada should await the outcome of special representative John Ruggie's report sometime in 2011 before taking any steps. I would simply point out that John Ruggie has in fact come out in favour of home state regulation. Some people take the position that if states are the ones to regulate it should be the host states and not the home states of corporations that do the regulating.
There are three responses to this. First, not all host states have the rule of law infrastructure to effectively regulate themselves. Second, they do not necessarily oppose or find a conflict between a mechanism like this and the actions they may take. These are not substitutes; they may be complementary. Third, it's important to realize that a claim that companies will flee Canada if they are held accountable in the way that Bill C-300 proposes is in a sense a threat. It's a mechanism of intimidation that companies use. If you regulate in this way, they say, firms will leave. Canada's a pretty strong country. It's a fairly financially secure country. If those kinds of mechanisms of intimidation are used against a country like Canada, imagine what corporations are saying to the host states, which are weaker, less able to regulate, and more desperate for investment. They might ask a host state to sign a contract that exempts them from their national regulation. They might demand that a foreign government sign an agreement not to pursue disputes against them in their national courts.
I'd encourage members of the committee to be mindful of these strategies of intimidation that are used to discourage home state regulation. If your view is that it is appropriate for the host state to regulate, you should know that they, too, are being subjected to similar kinds of challenges and they are even less able than a country like Canada to deal with them effectively.
Hon. John McKay:
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you both for coming. I particularly thank you, Mr. Shrake, for coming and talking to the committee about a real live situation.
I want to direct my question to Professor Macklin, because Mr. Shrake does, in effect, put a live example in front of the committee. He talks about his company putting $80 million in, and that at one point it was valued at several hundreds of millions. Now he's written it down to $20 million. He's being effectively forced to withdraw his company's presence in the community because the government isn't renewing its licences.
They've got pretty serious allegations--which he describes as gross misstatements, if not outright lies--about murder and various other activities. It's a bit of a difficult situation, to say the least. And he's come here to defend his company's reputation, which is one of the things the mining companies are very concerned about, their reputation, and the ironic effects of a country with 40% unemployment having a significant employer withdraw from activity in El Salvador.
Ironically, as I was listening to his testimony, I was thinking this is actually the case for Bill C-300, because there's no place for Mr. Shrake--or for that matter Mr. Steiner--to go. These kinds of allegations will go on and on and on and on because there's no resolution to these allegations. And whether the NGO is motivated by good motives or motivated by bad motives, or something in between, it just carries on.
So using Mr. Shrake's I think heartfelt presentation to this committee, make the case as to why Bill C-300 would actually be good for Pacific Rim.
Prof. Audrey Macklin:
I recall that when I was part of the mission to Sudan there were certainly conflicting reports from Talisman Energy and from non-governmental organizations about what was going on there. Sitting in Canada, it was difficult to know what was really going on.
If a company is, as Mr. Shrake suggests, the victim of wrongful accusations and allegations that have a detrimental effect on its reputation, it would seem advantageous to have a forum within which those allegations can be considered in a reasonable and attentive way. It seems to me that what Bill C-300 does is provide a forum for that. Rather than being judged in the court of public opinion, which as I understand from Mr. Shrake's assessment is deeply damaging to his corporation, it might be beneficial--indeed it might well be more than beneficial--to have a neutral forum where allegations that are brought can be tested against the response the company would make and dealt with in a constructive way. I could imagine that under this legislation, if one got to the point of devising regulations under it, you would want to establish a process by which that could be done.
Ultimately, if Mr. Shrake is correct that there is no basis for these allegations, then presumably the outcome of this process would vindicate his corporation in a way that cannot satisfactorily be done at present.
There is provision in this for a rapid disposition of what is termed here to be frivolous and vexatious complaints. I have no view, obviously, on the complaints that are brought with respect to this corporation. But I would note that if Mr. Shrake is correct that they are merely frivolous and vexatious, this provides a mechanism for disposing of them quickly. If it turns out there is some evidentiary basis to them, it provides an opportunity by which they can be fully ventilated. So in either case I would think it would be to the benefit of all concerned to provide that forum.
Again, if Mr. Shrake is correct that there are organizations whose actions are not motivated by good faith, then I would think a process like this would discredit them ultimately and thereby deflate their potency, all of which would be done to the benefit of Pacific Rim or other corporations in his situation.
I say this, of course, taking no position on the allegations that were made against his company, or indeed Mr. Shrake's response to them. I'm in no position to assess that.
Mr. Thomas Shrake:
First of all, let me backtrack a little bit on your statement. We are not just throwing our hands up and walking away. We are in the process of international arbitration at the World Bank through ICSID in a CAFTA filing, which started last week. I was in Washington, D.C., last week for the preliminary objection phase of the CAFTA hearing. So we're not throwing up our arms and walking away.
Another important point here is that I'm an American economic geologist. I'm really not that familiar with Bill C-300. I came here just so that you can understand and see what life is like for us out in the field. I know this inside and outside, because I've lived this nightmare for five years. So I can answer any questions specifically that relate to what is going on in the field.
It's not unique to El Salvador. I've done systematic exploration programs in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Mexico over the last 25 years. While the tone of the opposition has changed dramatically in the last 25 years, this is not a very unusual event. Armed mobs have taken over exploration camps in three countries that I know of. Basically, the idea or design is by the same group of people.
I do not oppose regulation at all. I think there's a place for responsible regulation. Again, I have limited knowledge of your bill, and I apologize for that. I only found out I was testifying here on Friday, and I spent my entire weekend preparing my statement. Because of CAFTA, I must have lots of lawyers involved as well.
I don't think any company is afraid of oversight. I think what we're afraid of is providing a tool to irresponsible NGOs to just stop the process. I think there is a concerted effort.... I don't want to sound like I'm a conspiracy theorist, but I think there are certain groups out there that are ideologically opposed to this, and will basically do anything they can to slow the process and thereby stop the process. If the time value of money reaches the point of being ridiculous for investing in the minerals business, then nobody is going to invest.
Mr. Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent—Essex, CPC):
Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for appearing before the committee. We believe on this side—and I think there are others, too—that the bill has some serious flaws. For instance, we all have a colleague who formerly was an international trade lawyer. He looked at the bill and his interpretation was that it's going to be challenged under international law. Those are some of the areas.
The other thing that concerns me is as a law professor, Professor Macklin, I'm sure that you teach your students the law of unintended consequences. We hear that a lot here. You know, it's right. Oftentimes we'll think of a law that really sounds good, and the opposition will come back and they'll say, “Listen, this is what could happen”. That's an area we have some real serious concerns about too. The other, which hasn't been mentioned at all and it should be mentioned, is that the CSR counsellor is in place to do a lot of the things you've talked about.
I appreciated your presentation. I thought you gave a balanced approach. You mentioned, too, that the intent—again that intent—is fairly obvious. But what about the argument that the bill doesn't go far enough? For instance, could it be argued that a shipping company that takes the extracted minerals would also fall under this as well? That's directly responsible.
Just let me finish my thought. I guess the point I want to make is what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If we're going to encourage our way of life, the very things we hold dear, the things we cherish, and our rights in the democracy we live in, why wouldn't we take that further? Why wouldn't we include, for instance, the service sector, which is I believe at this point the largest part of our economy, or what about telecommunications in a country like Saudi Arabia, which has serious human rights violations? Wouldn't that apply as well? I'm asking you generally. If this is right for the mining industry, why wouldn't it be right for all those other industries?
Prof. Audrey Macklin:
In terms of the reach of this statute—and you mentioned something about shipping companies--I'm not entirely clear. Let me give what I think might be an answer based on what I think your question was about.
On the issue of what might be called the relationship of intent--how close, is it enough, do you have to intend to do things that are in breach of the voluntary principles--is it enough if you know there's a risk that you might come into violation? What happens if you are connected to somebody who's connected to somebody who might be violating them, and so on?
So those are issues that I think certainly warrant attention, and those are the sorts of things that typically in government legislation of this sort remain to be worked out, both through the level of regulation, through the Governor in Council, and then through guidelines and policies that are developed by the body implementing it.
So I don't deny that one has to give thought to those issues, but as I understand it—and I speak to you, as a parliamentarian, perhaps of greater expertise in this—when I teach administrative law, I say “Here is what the statute says; there are many things that remain to be worked out through regulation and guideline, levels of specificity that are perhaps beyond the level of detail that parliamentarians want to deal with”. On the one hand I agree, you would want to address those. But I think that the statute itself probably is not the place where you need to do that. You would need to do that in regulation and then in guideline, and that's something that certainly the government of the day has some control over.
On the point of where you stop with all of this, I'm not sure I agree with you about the advantages of that kind of reach that you suggest. But if you think that's good, I would say that if you think that's where this leads—again, I'm not sure that would in fact be perfect—I would just say it's important not to let what you see as perfect be the enemy of the good. If this is good, the fact that there is something you think might be logically better or perfect is not a reason not to make a move on this.
Would it require further movement? No, of course not. You legislate as you see fit. You don't have to legislate any further than you do. You're never forced into legislating.
Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):
Thank you, and thank you to our witnesses today.
I guess, Mr. Shrake, I want to start with you. I just want to get at some background. So you presently receive support from EDC, from the Export Development Corporation. No? Okay.
Have you had time to go through the whole bill? Have you read the whole bill?
Mr. Thomas Shrake: No.
Mr. Paul Dewar: I think that's important, because I understand why you want to be here, because of some of the things that were stated at committee, but our focus as legislators is the bill in front of us. Maybe to help you with this, I think you've already got a sense of where we're going. This is not about over-reaching the grasp of saying we're going to dictate terms. I think it was put forward quite correctly by the professor. We're actually looking at how we can put accountability into taxpayers' investment in the extractive industry.
I find it a little strange--maybe a bit of a non sequitur--and I'm not sure if all government members believe this, when they say, “Well, what about other sectors?” The fact of the matter is that Canadian mining companies have the largest reach in the entire planet in terms of their activities, so we think it's relevant to look at that. In fact, the government agrees, and their counsellor doesn't talk about the service industry. It doesn't talk about shipping. It talks about the extractive industries. That's their own policy. So presently they have a counsellor they've put in place.
Our predicament is that if you wanted to go to the counsellor right now, and it would be up to you to do so--the office is still getting set up, and that's another issue--you could go to Ms. Evans and say, “Look, we're being attacked by NGOs who have these outrageous allegations and we'd like you to look into it”. The problem for you is--as would be the problem for NGOs--you'd have to have compliance of the other party.
What we want to see, and where the professor is absolutely right, is that this bill says the minister. What everyone on this side believes should happen is what the round table proposed: to have an ombudsman who is outside of that ambit, so someone who can look at it, which is what industry and civil society agreed to. I guess what I want to say to you in terms of the context of this bill and where the spirit of the bill is and where we think it should be going is not about over-reaching in terms of our ability to dictate terms; it's about setting up the criteria for accountability.
In fact, in your case you can't have your situation dealt with by the counsellor who they've put in place unless the other party agrees to it. In other words, if you go to the counsellor right now and say “I'd like this to be looked into, because it's affecting our company's reputation”, they have to go to the other side with whom you have the quarrel, and they can say “No, I don't want to talk to you”, and the counsellor can't do anything, has no power. What we want to see--and this bill is the first step in contemplating and hoping that the government would adopt an ombudsperson--is to allow them to investigate independently. If the NGOs say “I don't want to look into this”, then you're shut down. We want it to be open.
I'm just wondering if you're aware of that process. That's the spirit of what we're talking about, at least from my perspective, and that's why I support the bill.
Prof. Audrey Macklin:
Let me finish my answer.
Under Bill C-300, as I read it, there is a space between complaint, investigation, and outcome that is available to be developed through, as I read it, the regulations and guidelines.
So it's not, as I read it, self-evident, as you suggest, that if a company is non-compliant, therefore these consequences must immediately follow. I could well imagine, and it appears to me just as a matter of statutory interpretation, that there is room in this legislation for saying, “You are falling out of compliance, so what is it you can do at this point to bring yourself back into compliance?”, or, “We will grant you this period of time to bring yourself back into compliance, and if you do not do so, certain consequences may follow.”
But it is not obvious to me, on reading this, that it is complaint, assessment--
Hon. John McKay:
I just wanted to pick on the voluntariness of the CSR counsellor, because I don't think there is anybody around this table who wouldn't agree—well, maybe the government doesn't agree—that an ombudsman would be preferable. As I've said publicly, and I'll say it again, I'd withdraw my bill in a heartbeat if in fact the government introduced legislation that would implement the provisions of the round table. And then there would be a forum for the issues that Mr. Shrake and others would like to raise to be dealt with in a fair and open and transparent process that is consistent with the principles of natural justice.
Rather than being a pile-on or outrageous or all of these sorts of things, this actually then becomes a forum, if you will, a clearing house.
The problem—and I will ask you specifically, Professor Macklin, to comment on it—is with respect to the CSR counsellor, because no matter how well resourced she is, no matter how well intentioned she is, she still has to get Mr. Shrake's company to volunteer to an investigation. And while Mr. Shrake may be of good faith today and say he'll permit an investigation, he may have different legal counsel who would say “No, there is nothing in it for us”. Or the investigation may commence and at some point or another the company may withdraw its consent. Or the CSR counsellor gives a draft report to counsel for Mr. Shrake, and they don't like what they see and the consent is withdrawn.
So it seems to me that what the CSR counsellor is mandated to do is substantially at variance with what Bill C-300 proposes.
I'd be interested in your comments. And perhaps you could relate it to Mr. Shrake's situation, because I don't think there is anybody around this table who doesn't sympathize with his situation. And certainly Professor Steiner, when he made the comments he made a few weeks ago, I view them as comments made in good faith. He's not off-the-wall wacky.
Hon. John McKay:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As you know, this bill has been around since January or February of 2009, and because of prorogation we've had this before this committee somewhere in the order of at least a year. I'm sure members are getting heartily fed up with this bill. Nevertheless, it is a bill of great significance and of tremendous importance to a lot of people.
I dare say we've had pretty well as much testimony as the committee needs to hear, and frankly minds have been made up. The government has made it abundantly clear that it will not support this bill in any way, shape, or form. I could amend this until the cows come home and there still would be no area in which I can amend this bill to satisfy the concerns of the government.
We also have a drop-dead date of Friday, June 11, and my preference would be to give the committee an opportunity to amend the bill so it is stronger, so it does reflect some of the testimony we have heard. I'm sure, Mr. Chair, you've read the various amendments I propose, two of the most significant of which have to do with a grace period for the companies.
I think, given the testimony of people like Mr. Shrake and others, that my preference as a proponent and those who support Bill C-300 is that there be a grace period for companies to bring themselves back into compliance. We're proposing an amendment to create a grace period so that could happen.
The second most significant amendment, Mr. Chair, has to do with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. I do take the testimony of CPPIB at its face, which is that legislation cannot be unilaterally amended by this Parliament because it is joint legislation of the provinces and the federal government. Therefore, we have amended the legislation, Bill C-300, to reflect that testimony.
Effectively, Mr. Chair, we have responded, I think, in some manner, but the government has given its unequivocal view that there is nothing we can do to amend this bill in any way, shape, or form and will use whatever parliamentary procedures to prevent it coming before us to do a reasonable clause-by-clause--to wit, Mr. Abbott's latest motion in his attempt to jump precedence.
I'd ask, Mr. Chair, that we go to a vote more quickly than less quickly, because we are running out of time. There are about 25 minutes left in this session to deal with these clauses, so I'd ask for a vote at this point.
Mr. Peter Goldring (Edmonton East, CPC):
I tend to agree with the member when he says we're fed up with this bill. But I want to expand on a few of the reasons why. I'm not alone in this. I note a number of former Liberals from the other side, such as Mr. Don Boudria, who works as an expert on federal parliamentary procedure for Hill and Knowlton as a strategic communications consultant and as vice-president of the firm. On his blog he has a posting entitled Bill C-300. He happened to be out in the hall before this meeting, and I talked to him. He confirmed to me his concerns about this bill and how it might kill the mining industry. He related the example of Talisman. When Talisman moved out, China moved in. That same scenario could happen again and again.
Also, we had before us the Honourable James Peterson. He spoke against the bill here in committee and said it was flawed in its construction. It is highly prejudicial to Canada's mining sector. We have Bill Graham, another member, co-chair of the Canada-Mexico Initiative, a think tank led by Canadian Foundation for the Americas, FOCAL, which has said that Bill C-300 has to be in the running for the worst piece of legislation before Parliament. These are significant people commenting very negatively on this bill.
If we review the bill, we can see why these concerns would be put forth by even some of the former Liberals themselves. We can start with the title of the bill. I believe it had been suggested and talked about before. In question is the relevancy of why we would want to have something so constrictive affecting only one portion of industry, while leaving other types of industry wholly out of account. If you're going to have a bill on corporate social responsibility, I believe the operative word should be “corporate”. It should apply to any corporation that would be engaged in other parts of the world, not just mining, oil, and gas corporations. I think it was suggested that it could be the service sector, the shipping sector, the forestry sector. I would make the argument that the forestry sector would—
Mr. Peter Goldring:
Thank you very much.
Furthermore, there's another issue that arises from what I would say is the narrowness of approach to this. Have we had a discussion on how it relates to the charter? Is there a form of discriminatory action here? This is certainly a restriction against one segment of our corporate society, and it leaves the rest of corporate society alone. So do we have an additional problem here that it is too narrowly focused and impinges upon the charter of rights of corporations to be able to function and operate? It's an additional concern I have that I don't think has been addressed.
Another statement that was made that's a real concern is about the NGOs in some of these countries. They were described as “rogue NGOs” that have little or no accountability. So we're setting up a process here that is very restrictive and constrictive on our corporations. But at the same time there is little application of what to do about what is really causing a lot of the problem, which is that a lot of the NGOs in various countries are viewing this as a reason to hold up the mining process.
I suppose one could ask about the motivation behind these NGOs, but there is nothing here in the bill that would be able to control, limit, or legislate, and I'm not sure how that could be done anyway in another country. The suggestion here is not about how to look at the NGOs to see whether there's credibility or a simpler process in order to be able to eliminate some of the problems.
Simply bringing all of this back here to the minister's office and department to look into what could conceiveably be tens of thousands of initiations could wear down these companies, as has been suggested. It could make them want to decide, like Talisman did, whether they even want to be in the business with a Canadian company, or go into another country to deal with these--maybe another country that doesn't have these tight constrictions.
I think it goes back to the heart of the matter that in the economics and period of time today, it behoves us to be very careful that we're not working on legislation that would restrict one of our major industries internationally, and our reputation internationally as well.
So I have concerns about going through it, as the member opposite has said. We can go through a litany of other issues. The very difficult one that I don't think has been discussed very thoroughly is how do you compel organizations to comply with international human rights standards when our Canadian government doesn't comply with some of them itself? How can you compel companies to be compliant with all international laws? We could possibly put another international law forward too, which would be sharia law, for example. How do you compel companies to adhere to different laws and procedures that our Canadian government itself possibly would not be too quick to adhere to?
So the member opposite is right that many of us are fed up with this bill, but I think it is so important to our industry and our economy that we need to have these types of discussions on each and every part of it.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I will conclude my comments. I'm very thankful to be able to make them, as I wanted to make some of those comments a little earlier too.
Hon. John McKay:
Thank you, Chair.
It's a shame that the CEO or the president of Barrick weren't able to come from Toronto to Ottawa today to directly refute whatever allegations they wish to refute, unlike the CEO for Pacific Rim, who I suspect flew in all the way from Vancouver to refute allegations made about his company.
Nevertheless, Mr. Chair, I see no materiality, no relevance to reading into the record something that is already part of the documentation that this committee has received.
In my final point, Chair, I wish the record to show that we have made every effort to go to clause-by-clause, that we have made every effort to put forward the amendments that I would like to put forward--and anyone else who wishes to put forward amendments--and that when this bill goes back to the House that we have every opportunity to present the amendments when it comes to report stage at third reading.
If members could keep their remarks somewhere remotely, approximately, close to the motion in front of us, I'd appreciate their support in that.