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article imageOp-Ed: An open letter to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff: Bill C-300

By Michael Werbowski     Nov 5, 2010 in Environment
Ottawa - An open letter to a Canadian politician who was not present at a key vote in Parliament this week, which might have started to rein in Canada's extraction industries (mining, oil, gas) abroad: Bill C-300.
Dear Honorable Member and the leader of Her Majesty's loyal opposition,
Firstly, this week in Montreal, I had the distinct pleasure to listen to your speech which eloquently outlined the Liberal party's foreign policy agenda for the future. I was indeed impressed with what seemed to be, your speech's principled content and tone. You are quite right, that the failed bid to attain a non-permanent seat at the UN for Canada, was an embarrassment, historically speaking, on a colossal scale. But in my view, another highly embarrassing (which might also go down in the history books) or abjectly compromising event for the country, was the defeat (scrutinized by your legislative colleagues abroad, and by foreign diplomatic envoys to Ottawa) on Oct. 27th in the House, of Bill C-300.
This private member's "responsible mining" bill tabled before Parliament, was undoubtedly, a most laudable legislative initiative, and proposed with unflinching conviction and intrepidity by your distinguished Liberal Party colleague, the MP Mr. John McKay. Yet you, most regretfully, did not support it.
You apparently were, or according to the official opposition leader's office (and most disappointingly to me, and perhaps any other Canadian who is concerned about this great land's diminishing role and reputation globally) absent or abstained from this crucial vote. Possibly, you had better things to do, or more important places to be (up in the air maybe?) than to partake in the vote at that time.
As you know, the legislative proposal was defeated by only a very slight margin or majority (140 against 134). Your indispensable presence, clout , or more modestly (if that's possible for a politician) even a single extra vote in favour of passing this bill, would have certainly made a crucial difference in the final outcome. To the ire of the mining ,oil and gas industries in this country, it might have even passed. It was nevertheless inevitably defeated, thanks to the Conservatives' blockage but in a most dignified manner.
What is most irksome is this : Your abstention during the vote, like the unseemly conduct of prime minister Harper towards the UN, is yet another, huge embarrassment for Canada and further tarnishes its besmirched reputation in the world.
The slight margin which defeated the bill, only shows it had an overall substantial support in the House of Commons ( it had no chance in a Conservative controlled Senate); including among many members of your own party. You, however chose (if I may say, in a somewhat craven manner) to cave into the interests of the energy and extraction lobby, and thus conveniently sat out on the important occasion, to make mineral, oil and gas companies more socially and environmentally accountable and responsible. Bill C-300, would have provided some urgently needed oversight over the domestic based "precious metals", and petroleum industry operating trans-nationally.
This is indeed a great shame and an abysmal moral dereliction of duty on your part.
Especially for an academic, author and opposition leader, who claims to be an outspoken champion of human rights (and children's as well) around the world. So why didn't you step up to the plate and vote to get the bill passed? It seems that, like the the failed UN bid for Canada to accede to the Security Council, "the burial" of Bill C-300 was another "lost opportunity," to restore our tattered international image. With all due respect honourable leader, I consider this indeed, to be deeply disheartening, or rather, a patent lack of leadership on your part. And you lost my vote in the next election because of your apparent expedient "neutrality" on this issue. If you stand for human rights and social justice as you claim, then there was no credible excuse for you not to have been at the vote, nor to both publicly endorse the bill (and at the time of the vote) to support it as well.
You maybe aware as an avid traveller and former global reporter (as I definitely am, as a reporter and anti- mining activist ) or anyone else who flies about these days, or opens a newspaper in Mexico, Turkey, Colombia, or works for Canadian NGOs, that in the case of mining, Canadian companies have one of the most deplorable records when it comes to respecting labour, environmental, legal standards, and constitutional restrictions on mining operations. From Papua New Guinea to the Congo , from Argentina to Mongolia, there is not a country on the face of this earth, which has not yet been blighted by the predations of this mega-industry. Many mining conglomerates, but not all, (both minor and major) are an embarrassment to this country, due to their corporate malfeasance (which is highly documented and reported on here and internationally at the UN, and by the media) and are notorious for their reckless disregard for local laws and foreign mining regulations.
Many of us (Canada pension fund recipients, mutual fund owners etc.) are aware that mining is an essential part of our economy (70 percent of all mining stocks are listed in Canada) and indispensable to our long term prosperity. It's a "no- brainer". The issue however, is not mining per se, but how ( usage of highly toxic chemical and substances such cyanide or mercury , and vast quantities of fresh water) the natural resources located in the developing world are extracted, and where the mining operational sites are located ( that is, often in critical eco-system regions such as in the Andes mountains, or protected national parks etc.), or the way these mining companies forcibly and violently displace villagers from their homes; (often using armed thugs or para-military troops) or even going so far as hiring hit men to permanently "neutralise" local opposition, to their often unwanted presence.
This is the issue. The passage of Bill-C300 would have been a small, but not an insignificant step in making mining and exploration companies based in Canada more transparent , more accountable and more palatable to invest in, in the eyes of billion dollar New York , London and Singapore based "ethical funds" managers. It did not pass, and Canada has been disgraced, as it was at the UN in the process.
In conclusion, your apparent ambiguity and tergiversation in this matter, and barely credible explanation (almost mischievous school-boy like) for not being there when it mattered most, has not gone unnoticed among socially conscious voters, human rights groups here, CSR- minded investors and above all, victims of destructive and conflictual corporate mining practices abroad.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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