Canada's Foreign Aid goes to Toxic Mining Firms - Polluters now get funded



MONTREAL—As excavators, heavy haulers and chemical treatment plants dig made-in-Canada mines around the world, Ottawa has taken new steps to ease growing criticism of Canada’s extractive sector.

The Harper government recently announced a publicly funded agreement between three of Canada’s mining giants and three of Canada’s leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The agreement, which marks a significant shift in how mining and politics mix, elicited little more than a yawn from the media. But a closer look reveals this partnership is transforming Canada’s aid landscape—with disturbing implications.

“The Canadian government is using aid to support the expansion of Canadian mining...[and] to determine development paths inside countries according to the logic of mining companies,” Yao Graham of Third World Network Africa, a research and advocacy organization based in Ghana, told The Dominion. Graham has seen many communities in Africa ravaged by the exploitative labour practices and lax environmental practices that often accompany mining megaprojects.

In the first phase of this new program, the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) has partnered Rio Tinto Alcan; Plan Canada is paired up with IAMGOLD; and World Vision Canada has joined forces with Barrick Gold. This new funding approach raises some serious ethical and political questions about the role of NGOs, and constitutes a veritable PR coup for a mining industry that has racked up quite the rap sheet of environmental and human rights abuses.

Critics argue that under this new dispensation, industry can counter resistance to its activities by claiming that its presence has brought development to impoverished communities. Cash-strapped NGOs, in an era of shrinking government funding for international development, have found a funding niche. Last but not least, the Canadian government is able to deflect demands for more stringent—and potentially profit-damaging—controls over one of its most lucrative industries.

In the past, while NGOs were bound by financial ties to the state, they still had some nominal autonomy to bear witness to that abuse. Now, they are increasingly tied to government funds earmarked to further Canada’s mining interests, topped up by money from the mining industry itself.

“When a mine goes in, there is a development deficit created immediately because there are impacts that can last literally thousands of years on water, on land, on the air,” said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “And these impacts can be devastating. It can mean that people literally have to leave that area and live somewhere else because they can’t live there anymore.”

Coumans, who has kept a watchful eye on this evolving relationship, argues that whatever project an NGO gets up and running in one of these mining communities cannot even begin to redress the damage caused by the mining company’s presence there. She calls the NGO presence at mining sites “a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”

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Internet site reference: http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4300


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