This February the Canadian government tabled a new measure known as the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act. It will force oil & gas and mining companies to disclose payments that they make to foreign and domestic government entities.
The act has merit. Disclosure will probably make it harder for corrupt governments to keep the benefits of mineral development for themselves rather than using them for the public good.
But there could be a major downside, says the Mining Association of Canada. MAC and a group of non-governmental organizations proposed the transparency act, but they never intended it should apply domestically, that is to Canada’s aboriginal peoples.
There is nothing in the law as it is currently written that would stop the Canadian government from decreasing its contribution to First Nations by an amount equal to what they receive from industry.
For example, if Moosepasture Mining spent $150,000 on a local community centre in the village nearest its new mine and that contribution was mandated as part of aboriginal consent to develop the mine, the federal government could cut $150,000 from its annual payments to the same First Nation.
For the federal government to essentially claw back contributions made by private industry to First Nations is wrong. There would be no net benefit to the indigenous community if the government withholds an amount equal to the private contributions. There would be no reason to approve development if there is no benefit. The mining industry would have to explore elsewhere. Aboriginal communities would remain dependent on federal handouts, and readers know that does not provide adequate schooling, housing or job opportunities that most Canadians take for granted.
In the worst case, the Canadian resource industry could grind to a halt.
Let’s fix this act before it becomes law. Canadian aboriginal communities should be exempt.