Dec '10/Jan '11

Voices from Industry

Bill C-300 was defeated…now what?

By Tony Andrews, executive director, Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada

 Tony Andrews

Bill C-300, which has been laid to rest, served as an immense distraction to the mining industry, but did not result in any constructive or substantive progress on the subject of accountability or corporate social responsibility (CSR). Still, it did serve as a wake-up call to our industry and as we breathe a collective sigh of relief, we need to realize the legislation’s defeat leaves us little time to celebrate.

With C-300 gone, many think that now there is no accountability for the mining industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are multiple levels of accountability. Companies are held accountable by host country governments and a plethora of international institutions. Local communities also hold companies accountable. And then there are investors, partners and civil society in general that keep a close watch on mining company activities.

However, we must recognize that Bill C-300’s demise has created a legislative vacuum that needs to be filled. If we are not proactive, someone else will again try to determine our fate for us.

Here is what I propose we do:

  • Support and strengthen the Canadian government’s CSR strategy.
  • Create a council of eminent persons to deal with complex, difficult issues related to CSR, such as accountability when they arise.
  • Continue Canada’s CSR leadership and continuous improvement in CSR performance.
  • Create a new mechanism for improving industry’s communications about our leading CSR practices and our good CSR works.

First, the federal government must devote sufficient time and resources to its Building the Canadian Advantage strategy. The office of the CSR counsellor for the extractive industries has been set up and is operational, with a review process that is accessible, effective, independent, responsive, transparent and predictable. However, the government has not done nearly enough on one of the most crucial parts of its strategy — host country governance capacity building. Industry can do all the CSR it wants, but if there is no parallel progress in host country governance capacity building, it is going to be of limited success. Government and industry must work together on this. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Canadian International Development Agency need to prioritize. Rather than spreading limited resources over a broad range of initiatives, would it not make sense to focus more on resource-rich countries most in need of governance assistance and where there is a significant Canadian exploration and mining presence? Why not focus on the sector where Canada is a world leader? Using this approach, government and industry can really make a tangible difference in improving governance.

My second proposal would serve as an alternative to using the arena of partisan politics for making progress on serious, complex issues. We should establish a council of eminent persons, to seriously and objectively consider and debate on subjects such as accountability. Governments, the mining industry and stakeholders would then have a basis of knowledge based on experience and expertise on which to make substantive progress.

My next suggestion has to do with industry’s leadership in CSR. No matter how far we have progressed over the past few decades, the mining industry carries on the burden of its fundamental contribution to society being little understood. Many people look at the industry’s activities over their shoulders. But today, Canadian mining companies play a large role in some of the poorest areas of the world, building capacity, enabling education, creating social services and infrastructure and stimulating economy and employment.

We must strive to become even better as leaders in corporate social responsibility. The PDAC has created e3 Plus: A framework for responsible exploration to help companies continuously improve their social, environmental, and health and safety performance. The knowledge component of it exists and we are now developing the accountability portion, including performance objectives, reporting guidelines and the verification system. We hope to have the first version in place by March 2012. We are also planning to implement a global training network around e3 Plus.

A key lesson that emerged from Bill C-300 is that the Canadian mining industry needs to communicate more effectively. There is no shortage of negative narratives on mining, despite the fact that Canadian companies have an impressive track record operating abroad. We just tend to focus on doing the work instead of talking about it. Some companies have unfortunately learned the hard way that tooting their own CSR horns can attract a negative pushback from anti-mining NGOs.

Finally, I propose that the mining industry should establish a vehicle for communicating more effectively with key influencers, such as government ministers and policymakers, about its CSR programs and practices. We must make government and others aware of the good work that we have done and continue to do.

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