Regulating the International Canadian Mining Industry?

The following article has been written and contributed by Donovan Ritch, Research Associate at the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, and an MA Candidate Development Studies at York University.

At the recent Latin American Studies Association congress taking place in Toronto this past Oct. 6-9, 2010, I attended a presidential session on Canadian mining interests in the Americas. It was notable for being the only panel I can recall seeing in which a politician was included amongst several other academics, as opposed to one or the other. And it was especially intriguing for the fact that this politician, MP John McKay, was a liberal, who found himself amongst a throng of critical academics and spectators. He was, however, by no means unprepared.

While Mr. McKay was slated first, it was appropriate to have him go last for the sake of fairness to the academics, as his mere presence surrounding impending Canadian mining legislation (bill C-300) was domineering enough. The academic presentations centered on the cases of Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine in Guatemala and offshore hydrocarbon exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. McKay then took the floor and spoke rather candidly in regards to the rancor of the mining industry lobby in their efforts to sink his bill, likely understanding that his typical rhetorical 1-2 step against the Canadian mining industry would not provide the depth of offering an academic-ish crowd would be craving.

The most effective link between the academic and political worlds in this micro-instance proved to be human rights discourse, which all the presenters touched on but Prof. David Szablowski outlined  in the most depth. It is by no means surprising that a liberal politician could have picked up on this rather easily in this instance, as ‘human rights’ is and has been one of the most politically appropriable discourses out there in the realm of international politics today. In this sense, McKay’s framing of the issue as one centering on Canada’s human rights ‘reputation’ abroad could be seen by most in the room as an effective political front for the bill in an attempt to garnish mass support for its approval. And given the apparent consensus that this does in fact represent a positive step towards regulating Canadian mining corporations in the Americas, we should hope that we didn’t allow our sheepish grins to overshadow a well-deserved applause at the end.

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