Harper should not be promoting mining interests in Peru – by Gerald Caplan (Globe and Mail – May 31, 2013)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Here’s why Stephen Harper was in Peru last week instead of in Parliament trying to end the crisis that’s destabilized his entire government. The Prime Minister has two great economic passions. The first, of course, is building pipelines to enable ever more quantities of oil to flow from the Alberta tar sands.

Passion number 2 is the promotion of Canadian mining interests across the globe, not least in Africa and Latin America. Why? Okay, you support the oil giants because you think global warning is hooey. But mining? How does it help Canada to have our PM personally advance the interests of our multitude of mining companies in relatively poor foreign countries? How does it help the people of those countries?

In Peru, Mr. Harper announced $53-million in “aid projects” over the next six years, most of them related to extractive industries. But why aid booming Peru when the government is ending all aid to several truly needy African countries. The answer is simple. As pointed out by Ian Smillie, one of Canada’s most thoughtful development experts, the projects Canada is to fund will likely “make life easier for the 75-odd Canadian mining companies operating in Peru”.

Ottawa Citizen reporter Elizabeth Payne, who also follows these issues, makes a similar point. Canada, she reminds us, “is not simply a neutral player whose sole interests are in helping Peru work better to benefit its poorest people, but a country that has tied its foreign policy to the success of Canadian mining and other companies abroad.

That has resulted in billions of dollars of Canadian investment in Peru…..Canada’s interests in Peru are resource companies interests, but what happens when those interests conflict with the best interests of Peruvians?”

In fact there is already considerable social unrest in parts of Peru, much of it related to pollution from mining, Payne writes, “where Canadian mining companies have a large presence.” Indeed, says former Peru cabinet minister Jose de Echave, cited in The Tyee, “Many of Peru’s historic and current mining conflicts are related to Canadian companies.” Does our PM know – or care?

In fact, Mr. Harper in Peru was simply echoing Mr. Harper in the Congo last year, when he also unabashedly plugged the interests of Canada’s many mining interests there.

Don’t doubt the significance of this stance. The PM has now reversed 50 years of bipartisan Canadian aid policy by turning a good chunk of our foreign aid into props for the resource extraction industry, despite its dismal record in many poor countries, not least of course Congo. But Harperland doesn’t get hung up on the evidence thing.

For those who follow these issues, however, and especially for those wise enough to subscribe to Mining Watch Canada’s vital updates, the Harper policy of backing Canadian mining companies, regardless of their wealth or record, is little less than tragic.

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