Mining bill defeated in Commons
A private member's bill aimed at ensuring Canadian mining companies respect environmental and human rights standards abroad was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons.
At final reading, MPs voted 140 to 134 against the bill sponsored by Liberal MP John McKay.
The bill was intended to hold corporations in the mining, oil and gas sectors accountable by requiring the foreign affairs and trade ministers to submit annual reports to the Commons and Senate for review.
The ministers would have examined complaints from the public to determine whether firms have violated social, environmental, health or human rights guidelines.
Critics say Canadian companies are involved in a significant share of the mining sector's global abuses.
The industry defends the record of Canadian firms, saying they are among the most socially responsible.
There was a last-minute flurry of lobbying by friends and foes of the legislation in the run-up to the vote.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said earlier in the day that the bill sent an important message. "Corporate responsibility abroad is important to Canadians."
But Ignatieff missed the crucial vote.
The NDP, which supported the legislation, took the Liberal leader to task for not showing up.
The Liberals said Ignatieff was en route to Northern Ontario, where he has a town-hall style event Thursday.
International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan argued the bill's passage would put thousands of jobs at risk, prompting companies to move headquarters to other countries.
"Canadian companies adhere to corporate social responsibility standards and have a track record that's among the best in the world," he said.
"Obviously, many of the mining efforts that take place take place in very difficult parts of the world. That's the nature of the mining sector but we can be proud of Canada as leaders in that sector."
The government recently set up an ombudsman's office, known as the corporate responsibility counsellor, to broker disputes over companies' behaviour abroad. It will mediate, but not investigate, complaints.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said that falls short of what's needed.
"This is about Canada's image abroad," Dewar said before the vote. "Conservatives should stop playing games with it and show the global leadership Canadians demand."