In the latest edition of Embassy Magazine (available only with subscription), NDP leadership candidates were asked to articulate their top foreign policy priorities. The positions were pretty similar; most of the six candidates that responded (Martin Singh did not respond) included elements of climate change, fairer trade, and a less militarized approach to diplomacy. Restoring Canada's role and reputation as a champion of human rights and peace were also common threads. Unfortunately, none of the candidates flagged what, along with our Fossil of the Year Award-winning climate change policies, could be one of Canada's most significant direct contributions to the ills of globalized and unaccountable capitalism - our role as home and financier to the global mining sector.
Canada is a global leader in the financing of "grass roots" exploration activities and is also home to a few of the world's largest mining companies like Barrick Gold and Goldcorp. Though the upper ranks have been hollowed out by international consolidation, we are still the home country to 75% of the world's mining companies (a Government of Canada statistic from 2008). For many years Canadians have been hearing how "our" companies have been running a foul of human rights and environmental standards. The most recent example was the assassination of an anti-mining activist in Oaxaca, Mexico, just last week.
The issue of corporate accountability and Canada's role in promoting problematic mining developments has been well and thoroughly documented at the national and international level. It has reached the United Nations in various forms - recently, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released a report pointing to the lack of progress on holding Canadian companies accountable for their international operations in regards to the abuse Indigenous rights. The committee clearly stated the need for binding regulations to address the problem.
From 2008 to 2010 the NDP supported a Liberal MP's private member's bill (C-300) that would have imposed some accountability on government support for mining companies and their operations in developing countries. The bill was narrowly defeated in 2010. NDP MP Peter Julian has another private member's bill (C-323) on the docket that would improve access to the Canadian courts for those suffering the abuses of Canadian mining companies. The NDP's 2011 election campaign also included a mechanism to address these issues.
Given the past support from the NDP and the relevance of corporate accountability to the common themes of human rights and environment found in the candidates' foreign policy platforms, it is surprising that none of them raised the issue in their top priorities.
Delving into each candidate's policy documents I did find reference to the issue in both Mulcair's and Nash's platforms. Both candidates commit to implementing measures consistent with the recommendations of an Advisory Committee to the National Round Table on the Extractive Sector. In Mulcair's policy it is not given a high profile, being a bullet on page four of five of his brief. Nash gives it more prominence, listing it as one of the three actions under her first heading.
The recommendations these two candidates reference are from a consensus report written by industry and civil society groups including MiningWatch. While implementing these recommendations would represent an improvement in the status quo it is hardly a bold or progressive position. The report is now five years old and doesn't recognise the distance that international agreements and expectations have moved since the roundtables concluded. It was also a compromise position for civil society groups - in order to reach consensus with industry members of the advisory committee. Bill C-323, by comparison, goes beyond the committee's consensus recommendations.
Given the close alliance of the NDP with the unions that represent most Canadian mine workers (Canadian Auto Workers and United Steel Workers), one might wonder if the lack of bold leadership is due to caution about reining in the industry. This shouldn't be the case, as both unions have supported efforts to curtail corporate abuses internationally, including Bill C-300, and it's hard to see how imposing some kind of standards internationally would undermine Canadian jobs. Given labour's support it's a mystery how the industry lobby and Conservatives succeeded in framing C-300 as a killer of Canadian mining jobs.
As the leadership campaign winds towards a climactic decision this weekend we encourage delegates to ask the candidates and their next leader for bolder and more visionary approach to ending corporate impunity, and ending the murders, rapes, evictions, and environmental devastation that are being caused or facilitated through Canadian support of the global mining sector.