Northern Miner Editorial: Bill C-300’s Defeat

The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry. This editorial is reproduced with permission of The Northern Miner and is from the November 8-14, 2010 issue.

The last week of October was a satisfying one for Canadian miners, with Canada’s parliament voting to defeat the anti-mining Bill C-300 by an unsettlingly close 140-to-134 margin.

As Canadian miners are well aware, Bill C-300 was a private member’s bill sponsored by backbench Liberal Member of Parliament John McKay, representing Toronto’s suburban Scarborough riding.

Superficially innocuous, Bill C-300, had it become law, would have given the federal ministers of foreign affairs and international trade new responsibility to hold Canadian resource companies accountable for their corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in developing countries by submitting annual reports to the House of Commons and Senate for review.

The ministries could then sanction delinquent companies by keeping money from lending arms such as the Export Development Canada and the Canada Pension Plan.

However, the bill was so naively constructed that, as law, it would have led to a flood of frivolous, obstructionist and defamatory complaints coming in from all corners of the world from anti-capitalist agitators, shakedown artists and covert foreign mining competitors.

Without a doubt some miners would have relocated out of Canada to avoid these inevitable and costly hassles.

For the benefit of our foreign readers, McKay is a typical fuzzy-headed, sheltered suburban progressive more interested in making grand gestures and getting adulation from his voting base than taking practical steps to improve Third World poverty.

To give an example of McKay’s buffoonish self-importance, after his bill went up in flames, he repeatedly compared himself to William Wilberforce, the 19th century British politician and abolitionist leader.

Of course, that not so subtly makes all Canadian miners the modern-day equivalent of slave traders.

It’s the standard leftist playbook these days in North America: if you’re losing in a debate of the issues, then turn to personal insults and accusations of racism.

We even had Barrick Gold chairman Peter Munk – who’s done more to alleviate Third World poverty than McKay can ever conceive – chipping in with a letter to the left-wing Toronto Star, wherein he said the paper should actually “be celebrating those MPs who had the courage” to vote down the bill, since its passage would have driven Canada’s mining industry out of the country step-by-step, adding that, “in the process the mines we lose would have been taken over by foreign operators with far, far lower CSR standards.”

McKay duly responded, calling Munk’s views “very dubious moral arguments.”

Remarkably, this toxic little bill had already made it through committee unchanged and was in its third reading in the House of Commons. Passage last week would have sent it to the Senate for rubber-stamp approval.

Miners can thank Liberal Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff for the bill’s failure. As The Globe and Mail’s Jane Taber reported, the party whip told enough Liberals to stay away from the vote to ensure its defeat.

Ignatieff himself did not vote, nor did a sprinkling of socialist New Democratic Party and socialist-separatist Bloc Quebecois members. (Check here to see how individual MPs voted: http://tinyurl.com/25axyy2 )

Prior to the vote, Ignatieff told reporters the bill was intended to “send a message” about CSR, and that he’d “said for six months that there’s some problems with the bill.”

We should add that in September, The Northern Miner attended, as a non-partisan observer, an elite federal Liberal fundraising event at the private Toronto home of a wealthy mining executive, with a couple dozen prominent mining executives and mining-related merchant bankers and brokers in attendance.

At that event, Ignatieff profusely praised the Toronto mining community for being world leaders in their field and mocked the Conservatives’ recent theatrical hostility towards Toronto’s “urban elites.” There was no mention of Bill C-300.

Instead, Ignatieff is proposing that the federal government adopt more recommendations from a 2007 CSR advisory group.

The approach of the ruling Conservative party has been to push forward with its newly established Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor’s office in Toronto, and to encourage work within existing laws, as well as such frameworks for major global lenders as the Equator Principles.

With a post-vote backlash certain to come, Canada’s mining industry needs to keep up its efforts to make this latter approach work, and sideline irresponsible members of parliament such as McKay, leaving him to his abolitionist fantasies.

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