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The House of Commons has defeated Liberal legislation aimed at encouraging Canadian mining firms to act ethically abroad after a fierce lobbying battle that pitted the industry against its international and domestic critics.
Human rights and environmental advocates had argued that the bill would help prevent corporate abuses abroad and recounted accusations of rape, corruption and violence against the industry during parliamentary hearings.
Mining firms called the allegations disturbing lies and "hogwash" when they presented their case against the bill. Industry officials said ethical guidelines are already in place and warned the measures would cost jobs and give their critics a forum for frivolous accusations.
The Corporate Accountability of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries Act, a private member's bill, was defeated 140-134 on Wednesday evening because not enough opposition MPs showed up to support it.
The bill was put forward by Liberal MP John McKay in response to persistent stories about conflict between Canadian mining companies abroad and local populations. Even though it was sponsored by a Liberal, 13 of McKay's colleagues did not attend the vote. Four NDP MPs, primarily from mining-dependent ridings, were also absent.
The federal registry of lobbyists shows dozens of meetings took place over the past year as the Mining Association of Canada and individual mining firms knocked on doors of cabinet ministers, public servants and opposition MPs to express concern over the bill.
It was a large amount of lobbying for a bill from a backbench opposition MP.
"The lobbying from industry has been massive," said McKay, the Scarborough-Guildwood MP. "The amount of money they have been spending on killing this bill is extraordinary."
The legislation would have forced the government to create guidelines on corporate accountability standards for Canadian mining, oil or gas activities based on human rights, social, health and safety and environmental standards.
It would have also set up a system in which any individual could file a complaint with the Canadian government, which could dismiss it if it found it to be frivolous, or investigate and publish a written report. Mining companies had argued that the complaint process could tie up investment and time unnecessarily. McKay said he was disappointed by the vote and does not expect the issue will be dealt with again in the current Parliament. The mining and prospectors industry praised the result and stressed that it already has strong rules for the overseas operations of Canadian-based mining companies.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who had said earlier in the day that the bill had problems, was among the 13 Liberals not in the House for the vote. Canadian investment in mining and energy abroad is worth about $80 billion a year and more than 75 percent of the world's exploration and mining companies are headquartered in Canada.
Yet powerful forces also lined up to support the legislation.
Six hours before Wednesday's vote, McKay e-mailed all MPs in the Commons with a letter of support from U.S. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, who said the bill is similar to new measures included in the Wall Street Financial Reform package approved this year by Congress.