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Aid groups, mining industry, informed recommendations on CIDA, private sector

Published: Wednesday, 11/14/2012 4:31 pm EST
Last Updated: Thursday, 11/15/2012 9:16 am EST

Aid groups and the mining industry used committee testimony, meetings with public office holders and sponsored travel to help inform a committee report that recommends a larger private sector role in international development, the groups said.

Last week, the House foreign affairs and international development committee released a report called “Driving Inclusive Economic Growth: The Role of the Private Sector in International Development.” Between November 2011 and June 2012, a number of groups and companies testified before the committee, including mining companies Goldcorp and Teck Resources, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC), Scotiabank, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, and representatives from British and American international development agencies.

The report said the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) should develop a strategy for increased engagement with the private sector, including “an updated and comprehensive policy position on the role of the private sector in achieving Canada's international development objectives.”

This policy should include public-private partnerships and a special office within CIDA “dedicated to communication and engagement with the private sector.” CIDA should consider offering loans to enable private-sector led growth in developing countries and recruit more staff with private sector experience, the report said. It called for CIDA to help developing countries establish “regulations and policies that provide an enabling environment for sustainable economic growth” and foreign direct investment.

Goldcorp's senior vice-president for corporate affairs, Brent Bergeron, said in an interview that, if adopted, the report's recommendations could help maximize the benefits of mining activities in foreign countries.

The company has been telling decision makers and the committee that “building capacity in the different governments in other countries” helps to provide a safer environment for private sector investment and foreign governments' regulation and monitoring of companies' activities, he said. Goldcorp won't lobby the government to adopt any specific policies, he said.

“Will we continue to meet with government officials? We continue to meet with them on an ongoing basis simply because we're always being asked to provide information with respect to the challenges we have at the international level,” he said.

Bergeron said a trip to Guatemala that Goldcorp sponsored for four MPs and a senator was an opportunity to share that kind of information. Conservative MP and foreign affairs committee chair Dean Allison, fellow Conservative committee member Dave Van Kesteren, Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti, independent MP Bruce Hyer and Liberal Senator Mac Harb visited Goldcorp's Marlin mine in August.

The three-day trip, organized by Hill and Knowlton Strategies consultant Don Boudria, involved visits with Guatemalan ministers and mine staff and to a medical centre the company developed near the mine. Bergeron said the trip provided information on Goldcorp's international operations.

“I don't think that it had an immediate effect. I think it's just a way for us to continue providing an environment whereby we can be transparent and just demonstrate how Canadian companies are operating,” Bergeron said. “In the long run, this may have an effect in terms of how the government decides to do some of their partnership strategies. We'll see how the current government will adopt the report that's being put forward by the foreign affairs committee.”

Three Hill and Knowlton consultants are registered to lobby on Goldcorp's behalf on funding for the medical program in Guatemala and government policy on corporate social responsibility, according to the federal lobbyist registry.

Consultant Ryan Kelahear contacted Neil Desai, the international development minister's chief of staff, and parliamentary secretary for CIDA Lois Brown on the subjects of “mining” and “international development” in June, the registry shows.

Since the August trip, Boudria has contacted Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, NDP MP and foreign affairs committee member Hélène Laverdière, and Allison, the registry shows.

Development organization Results Canada sponsored a six-day, $5,400 trip for Allison to Ethiopia, according to Allison's report filed with the ethics commissioner. Jean-Francois Tardif, Results' executive director, said the trip had a micro-finance component—another focus of the committee report—and that he hopes it showcased Results' program.

“Dean Allison has professed to be a strong defender and promoter of micro-finance and he's spoken very much in favour of this,” Tardif said. “I think as a small entrepreneur himself, before becoming a parliamentarian, he understands the challenges and the importance and the significance of what small entrepreneurs can bring to their communities.”

Tardif said the report was balanced given the “mine field” of private sector involvement in international development. Development activities such as micro-finance, which Results promotes, are better done by private companies, he said.

Tardif said his organization met with government a few times on the issues and encouraged like-minded groups to participate in the hearings. Tardif testified before the committee last November.

Results officials contacted Allison six times since the committee started its hearings in November 2011, the registry shows.

Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, called the report “excellent” in an emailed statement.

“The report points Canada in the direction many other countries have already gone, namely capitalizing on the significant private sector investment already occurring in countries by pursuing private-public partnerships,” he said.

Gratton said MAC's only contribution to the report was its committee appearance in February, and that the association has not lobbied on the issue.

Ross Gallinger, executive director of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), who also appeared before the committee, said in an interview that he would support government implementation of the policy recommendations.

The report is in line with what PDAC is seeking in terms of “regulatory efficiency” and legal infrastructure to support property rights, contracts, physical infrastructure and financial infrastructure, he said. The organization will meet with the government on a number of issues and the report could be one of them, he said.

The report is “a welcome exercise” that contains some “gaps,” said Chantal Havard, government relations and communications officer at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), an umbrella group of development organizations.

“It's more important to make sure that the contribution of the private sector really contributes to poverty alleviation than creating an enabling environment for foreign investment in developing countries,” she said in an interview.

Havard said the report views the private sector “as a silver bullet for development.” Following the committee's recommendations would change CIDA's focus areas and where it puts its resources, she said.

She noted CIDA was absent from the committee hearings. CIDA officials did not respond to an interview request by deadline Wednesday.

Havard said CCIC would hold consultations with its members and develop a position paper on the private sector's role in development.

“We have prepared comments on the report that we are circulating to our members. But before making any public reaction, we'll probably wait for the government's reaction to the report,” she said.

CCIC contacted CIDA officials and MPs and senators several times since the hearings began last November, the registry shows. Havard said the hearings were among several issues the organization discussed.

Jen Moore, Latin America coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, said the committee's recommendations would shift CIDA's focus to the policy and institutional development of resource-rich countries.

MiningWatch wasn't called before the committee, Moore said. The group submitted a written brief.

The government has 90 days to table a response to the report. In that time, Moore said, MiningWatch will critique the recommendations, though she does not believe the government will be open to listening.

“I think a lot of our advocacy work is going to be directed at being publicly critical of this and continuing to advocate for stronger positions from opposition parties that would take a stronger stance on this,” she said.

MiningWatch hasn't met with public office holders about the report, she said. The organization has contacted Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc, the committee's vice-chair, and NDP committee members Hélène Laverdière and Romeo Saganash, along with several other MPs, since May, the registry shows.

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