Watchdog group questions MP trip to Guatemala

A trip by five Canadian parliamentarians to Guatemala at the invitation of Canadian mining giant Goldcorp has drawn questions from a mining industry watchdog group over lobbying regulations.

A trip by five Canadian parliamentarians to Guatemala at the invitation of Canadian mining giant Goldcorp has drawn questions from a mining industry watchdog group over lobbying regulations.

The group MiningWatch said the recent report to the lobbying commissioner does not provide enough detail about the trip. At the end of August, a senator and four MPs boarded the company's jet in Ottawa for the three-day trip.

"Flying in on the company jet, having closed-door meetings with government officials and having select meetings with certain community actors positions them in a conflict that makes them look very one-sided and is going to undermine whatever they may have to say coming out of this," said Jen Moore, of MiningWatch.

Independent MP Bruce Hyer was one of five parliamentarians who recently accepted an invitation from Canadian mining company Goldcorp to travel to Guatemala at its expense to observe its operations. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"The credibility and the independence of Canadian government and elected members is undermined by flying in the company's jet," she said.

Junkets or "sponsored travel" are common but controversial, even among MPs. They must report sponsored travel to Canada's ethics commissioner.

But Moore has concerns about how trips are reported to the lobbying commissioner. The law doesn't require lobbyists to distinguish between a 10-minute phone call or a junket.

Moore noted that the reports filed by the lobbyist for Goldcorp simply says he communicated with five parliamentarians about mining and economic development and not that they had "flown them to another country, put them in a hotel, brought them to a pig roast and introduced them to the legislative commission on mines and energy in Guatemala."

Independent MP Bruce Hyer said the purpose of the trip was to observe Goldcorp's operations.

"My expenses were covered, that is the transportation, two nights of hotel and some basic meals, that's all. And I'm really glad I went. I learned a lot," he said.

"So I either had to go as somebody's guest or I had to pay for it myself. So no, I don't think there's anything wrong. I have three Goldcorp corporations in Northern Ontario, they are good corporate citizens here."

Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti, who also went on the trip, said it was no secret, they've filed with the lobbying commissioner and that they have to file a report with the ethics commissioner.

"I'm not sure what the conflict is. I know there's a certain perception but I'm comfortable with it," Pacetti said.

"You can see that there's new infrastructure and it's there because of investment. The only industry in that community is the mine.

NDP MP ethics critic Charlie Angus turned down an offer to go on the trip. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Charlie Angus, the NDP MP for Timmins, which is home to a Goldcorp mine, said he turned down the invite to visit Guatemala. 

"It just didn't feel comfortable to be going on the company's dime. It made me think 'well how could I really feel that I was doing my job if someone was paying my way down there.'"

"If we're being asked to go to see for ourselves or to get the real facts on the ground, especially if there's issues of two sides, two different points of view, I don't know how well we're going to be able to do that if one side is paying the full shot. I'm not sure you can come back and say you've seen everything you should have seen."

Greg Levine, author of a book on government ethics and a municipal integrity commissioner, suggested that Canada could follow the lead of jurisdictions in the United States where lobbyists must report how much their clients spend on politicians. 

"I think it would help people to see the efforts that are put into trying to influence policy and programs and legislation at the federal level," he said.

Earlier this year, a parliamentary committee recommended the lobbying act be changed to ban gifts from lobbyists. It's unclear whether a junket would be considered a gift but the government says it is considering such a ban.

with files from the CBC's Alison Crawford