Tag Archives: Munk Debates

Mining the leaders’ debate

The Liberal, NDP and Conservative leaders are set to debate Canada’s role in the world at an event put on by Munk Debates, an organization named after and financed by a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in mining. It will be interesting, therefore, to see if mining as a topic is given much, if any, attention by the leaders tonight.

Through his Aurea Foundation, Peter Munk, the founder of Barrick Gold, established Munk Debates in 2008. Peter’s son Anthony Munk is part of the committee overseeing the debate series.

Peter Munk espouses strong political views. In the late 1990s he publicly praised Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet at a Barrick meeting while a decade later he compared polarizing Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez to Hitler. In a March 2011 Globe and Mail interview, Munk played down criticism of Barrick’s security force in Papua New Guinea by claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in that country.

The company Munk founded, like other Canadian mining companies, stands to gain or lose depending on Canadian foreign policy. For example, in 2011 the now defunct Canadian International Development Agency invested $500,000 in a World Vision Canada/Barrick Gold project. “In Peru,” noted the aid agency, “CIDA is supporting World Vision Canada, in a program that will increase the income and standard of living of 1,000 families affected by mining operations.” World Vision and Barrick combined to match CIDA’s donation.

In response Miguel Palacin, the head of a Peruvian indigenous organization, sent a letter to World Vision, Barrick and CIDA claiming that “no ‘social works’ carried out with the mining companies can compensate for the damage done” by mining operations while the former co-ordinator of Common Frontiers Canada, Rick Arnold, described the NGO initiative as “a pacification program, and not a development project.”

Barrick has also benefited from Canadian diplomatic support, including visits by the prime minister. In 2007 Stephen Harper met Barrick officials in Tanzania days after the company claimed a strike at one of its Tanzanian mines was illegal and looked to replace a thousand striking miners. Four months earlier Barrick gained important support for its Pascua-Lama operations, which spurred large-scale protests, during Harper’s trip to Chile. He visited the company’s Chilean office and said “Barrick follows Canadian standards of corporate social responsibility.”

Barrick, which operates some of the most controversial mining projects in the world, has opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. In 2008, the Toronto-based company opposed the recommendations of a business/civil society mining roundtable launched by the previous Liberal government, and two years later the company lobbied against Liberal MP John McKay’s private members bill C-300 (An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries).

Canadian-based companies dominate the international mining industry, operating in most countries around the world. In African and Latin American countries particularly, Canadian diplomats expend significant energy lobbying in favor of mining interests, aid dollars are channeled towards initiatives benefiting the sector, and officials in Ottawa seek to allay mining companies’ fears by negotiating foreign investment promotion and protection agreements.

Canada’s status as a global mining superpower ought to be part of a foreign policy debate. Let’s hope tonight we voters are able to hear from the party leaders a serious discussion of regulating mining activities abroad or the appropriate level of government “aid” to profitable private companies.

This article first appeared on The Tyee.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa, The Ugly Canadian

Got a billion? They will listen

We’ve all heard many times that “money talks” in politics but it was unclear how loudly. Now we know –one billionaire is heard over 50,000 ordinary Canadians.

While about 50,000 people and 175 organizations supported Up for Debate’s call for an election debate focused on women’s issues, it won’t happen because Stephen Harper refused to participate and NDP leader Tom Mulcair is unwilling to appear if the prime minister is not there to bash.

But the same politicians have agreed to a September 28 debate on foreign policy sponsored by an organization named after and financed by one of Canada’s richest and most right-wing capitalists.

Through his Aurea Foundation, Peter Munk, the founder of Barrick Gold, established Munk Debates in 2008. Peter’s son Anthony Munk, a close friends of Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright, is part of the four-person committee overseeing the debate series.

Set up to promote Peter Munk’s vision of the world, the Aurea Foundation has doled out millions of dollars to right-wing think tanks such as the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Canadian Constitution Foundation as well as the Fraser Institute’s Global Centre for Mining Studies.

Peter Munk espouses far-right political views. In 1997 he publicly praised dictator Augusto Pinochet for “transforming Chile from a wealth-destroying socialist state to a capital-friendly model that is being copied around the world” while two years later the Canadian Jewish News reported on a donation Munk made to an Israeli University and speech in which he “suggested that Israel’s survival is dependent on maintaining its technological superiority over the Arabs.” In 2006 he attacked leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales and the next year wrote a letter to the Financial Times comparing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to Hitler. In a March 2011 Globe and Mail interview Munk dismissed criticism of Barrick’s security force in Papua New Guinea by claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in that country.

Operating some of the most controversial mining projects in the world, Munk cultivated influence with politicians. He appointed former U.S. President George H. Bush and Tennessee Senator Howard Baker to Barrick Gold’s board, while former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney currently chairs its international advisory board. (When asked why he appointed Mulroney to Barrick’s board, Munk told Peter C. Newman: “He has great contacts. He knows every dictator in the world on a first name basis.”) A month after stepping down as Canada’s foreign minister in February John Baird also joined Barrick’s international advisory board.

While the Munk Debates presents itself as a forum of ideas, Peter Munk has a direct personal stake in Canadian foreign policy. Operating mines on six continents, Barrick Gold has benefited from Canadian aid money and diplomatic support. The company has aggressively opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. In 2008 it opposed the recommendations of a business/civil society mining roundtable launched by the previous Liberal government, and two years later the company successfully lobbied against Liberal MP John McKay’s private members bill C 300 (An Act Respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas Corporations in Developing Countries).

While Canadian foreign policy should be debated during an election it is not more important than issues that effect women.

And while Canada’s status as a global mining superpower ought to be part of a foreign policy debate, don’t expect any discussion of regulating mining activities abroad or the appropriate level of government “aid” to profitable “private” companies on September 28. Nor should we expect discussion about matters likely to embarrass the military or major corporations, such as what role Canada has played in Libya’s descent into chaos or Canada’s refusal to support international agreements to restrict carbon emissions. After all, a billionaire might be offended.

Ordinary Canadians have been put in their place — 50,000 of us can be dismissed. How many will it take before the politicians are forced to listen to us and ignore the billionaires?

 

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Filed under The Ugly Canadian