Last year, the Harper government spent over $180,000 to run the office of a counsellor of corporate social responsibility for the Canadian mining industry.
There’s only one problem: There is no corporate social responsibility counselor.
Despite this fact, the government claims it cost $181,600 to operate the office from October 2013 to October 2014. The counsellor position was vacant in 2013 and it remains vacant even now, CBC News reports.
For liberal MP John McKay, this must seem like business as usual. He posed a House of Commons order paper question asking how much it costs to run the office and says the government’s answer isn’t surprising because it was never serious about the counsellor’s role in the first place.
In 2009, the government created the position of Extractive Sector corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor. This counsellor was supposed to investigate Canadian mining companies that have allegedly abused human rights or caused environmental damage while operating abroad.
Instead, it’s a “toothless, Potemkin office” that can only investigate allegations of human rights violations if the company involved agrees to an investigation.
Spending more than “$180,000 on an empty, ineffective office is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.
“Moreover, it demonstrates that they’re not serious when they talk about promoting human rights around the world.”
However, as Mining Watch notes, Canadian mining companies operate worldwide, but there’s no controls or regulations on their activities to stop them from profiting from for the environment, workers, indigenous peoples, and human rights in host countries.
One of these companies, Barrick Gold, is pursuing legal immunity from victims raped by mine security guards at the company’s Porgera Joint Venture Mine in Papua New Guinea. If each of the victims accept a so-called “remedy” package, they have to sign a waiver that assures Barrick that they won’t ever sue the company in Papua New Guinea or anywhere else worldwide.
Mining Watch says it has involved the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights in this issue. The agency discovered that Barrick had another such program for victims of rape and violence at its North Mara Mine in Tanzania.
“We call on Barrick to provide greater transparency on the North Mara program for victims of the mines security guards and police,” the agency said in a statement.
On its’ blog, Mining Watch noted that The Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor (CSR Counsellor) was announced with “much government fanfare in October 2009.” It was supposed to be a central “pillar” in the government’s “CSR strategy” for Canada’s extractive sector. The CSR Counsellor was supposed to provide help for people who had been harmed by the overseas operations of these Canadian companies by mediating disputes.
But that didn’t happen.
In October of 2013, the only CSR Counsellor, Marketa Evans, resigned quietly after four years in the position. There was no news release, no information about her departure on the office’s official website, Mining Watch notes. In four years, she didn’t mediate any of the six cases sent to her, and not one complainant received remedy. Not. One.
Nevertheless, the Canadian government still maintains that it is “moving staff to this important post as soon as possible” and that the office continues its operations with the support of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
In response to McKay’s question, International Trade Minister Ed Fast said the process of choosing a new counsellor began last November, more than a year after Evans left, CBC News reports.
Potential candidates have yet to be interviewed, but Fast said “the government is moving to staff this important post as soon as possible.”
“The office continued to deliver on the mandate of the CSR Counsellor through workshops and regular meetings with industry, academia and civil society,” said Max Moncaster, a spokesman for Fast, in an email.
So where did all this money go?
The office consists of two employees in addition to the non-existent counsellor: A senior advisor and an administrative assistant, Fast said. Presumably their salaries account for most of the $181,600 to keep the office going last year. CBC News reports that it’s unclear what work these people would do in the absence of a counsellor.