Tag Archives: neoliberalism

SNC Lavalin the corporate face of Ugly Canadian

Former SNC Lavalin board chair Gwyn Morgan and other company directors are still seen as pillars of Canada’s business community.

While the Justin Trudeau government’s interference in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin highlights corporate influence over politics, it is also a story about a firm at the centre of Canadian foreign policy.

In a recent story titled “Canada’s Corrupt Foreign Policy Comes Home to Roost” I detailed some of SNC’s controversial international undertakings, corruption and government support. But, there’s a great deal more to say about the global behemoth.

With offices and operations in over 160 countries”, the company has long been the corporate face of this country’s foreign policy. In fact, it is not much of an exaggeration to describe some Canadian diplomatic posts as PR arms for the Montréal-based firm. What’s good for SNC has been defined as good for Canada.

Even as evidence of its extensive bribery began seeping out six years ago, SNC continued to receive diplomatic support and rich government contracts. Since then the Crown Corporation Export Development Canada issued SNC or its international customers at least $800-million  in loans; SNC and a partner were awarded part of a contract worth  up to $400 million to manage Canadian Forces bases abroad; Canada’s aid agency profiled  a venture SNC co-led to curb pollution in Vietnam; Canada’s High  Commissioner Gérard Latulippe and Canadian Commercial Corporation vice president Mariette Fyfe-Fortin sought “to arrange  an untendered, closed-door” contract for SNC to build a $163-million hospital complex in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ottawa’s support for SNC despite corruption allegations in 15 countries is not altogether surprising since the company has proven to be a loyal foot soldier fighting for controversial foreign policy decisions under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

SNC’s nuclear division participated  in a delegation to India led by International Trade Minister Stockwell Day a few months after Ottawa signed a 2008 agreement to export nuclear reactors to India, even though New Delhi refused to sign the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (India developed atomic weapons with Canadian technology). Describing it as the “biggest  private contractor to [the] Canadian mission” in Afghanistan, the Ottawa Citizen referred to SNC in 2007 as “an indispensable part of Canada’s war effort.” In Haiti SNC participated  in a Francophonie Business Forum trip seven months after the US, Canada and France overthrew the country’s elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Amidst the coup government’s vast political repression, the Montreal firm met foreign installed prime minister Gérard Latortue and thecompany received a series of Canadian government funded contracts in Haiti.

SNC certainly does not shy away from ethically dubious business. For years it manufactured grenades for the Canadian military and others at its plant in Le Gardeur, Quebec. According to its website, SNC opened an office  in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1982 amidst the international campaign to boycott the apartheid regime. Later that decade SNC worked on the Canadian government funded Manantali Dam, which led to “economic ruin, malnutrition and disease to hundreds of thousands of West African farmers.”

More recently, SNC has been part of numerous controversial mining projects in Africa. It had a major stake in a Sherritt-led consortium that initiated one of the world’s largest nickel and cobalt mines in Ambatovy Madagascar. Backed by Canadian diplomats  and Export Development  Canada, the gigantic open pit mine tore up more than 1,300 acres of biologically rich  rain forest home to a thousand species of flowering plants, fourteen species of lemurs and a hundred types of frogs.

According to West Africa Leaks, SNC dodged its tax obligations  in Senegal. With no construction equipment or office of its own, SNC created a shell company in Mauritius to avoid paying tax. Senegal missed out on $8.9 million  the Montréal firm should have paid the country because its ‘office’ was listed in tax free Mauritius. SNC has subsidiaries in low tax jurisdictions Jersey and Panama and the company was cited  in the “Panama Papers” leak of offshore accounts for making a $22 million payment to a British Virgin Islands-based firm to secure contracts in Algeria. (In a case of the tax-avoiding fox protecting the public’s hen house, former SNC president and chairman of the board, Guy Saint-Pierre, was appointed to Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2007 advisory panel  on Canada’s System of International Taxation.)

SNC has benefited from Ottawa’s international push for neoliberal reforms and Canada’s power within the World Bank. A strong proponent of neoliberalism, the Montréal firm has worked  on and promoted  privatizing water services in a number of countries. Alongside Global Affairs Canada, SNC promotes the idea that the public cannot build, operate or manage services and that the way forward is through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), which often go beyond a standard design-and-build-construction contract to include private sector participation in service operation, financing and decision making. SNC is represented on the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, which promotes PPPs globally. The Montréal firm has also sponsored many pro-privatization forums.With Rio Tinto, Alcan, Teck Resources and the Canadian International Development Agency, SNC funded  and presented at a 2012 conference at McGill University on Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Towards a Framework for Resource Extraction Industries.

In an embarrassing comment on the PPP lobby, the year before SNC was charged with paying $22.5 million  in bribes to gain the contract to build the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) the Canadian Council  for Public-Private Partnerships and Thomson Reuters  both awarded the MUHC project a prize for best PPP.

Further proof that in the corporate world what is good for SNC is seen as good for Canada, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants gave SNC its award for excellence in corporate governance in seven of the ten  years before the company’s corruption received widespread attention.

In an indication of the impunity that reigns in the corporate world, the directors that oversaw SNC’s global corruption have faced little sanction. After the corruption scandal was revealed board chairman Gwyn Morgan, founder of EnCana, continued to write a regular column for the Globe and Mail Report on Business (currently Financial Post) and continues his membership in the Order of Canada. Ditto for another long serving SNC director who is also a member of the Order of Canada. In fact, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was subsequently made a member of the Order of Ontario. Another Order of Canada and Order of Ontario member on SNC’s board, Lorna Marsden, also maintained her awards. Other long serving board members — Claude Mongeau, Pierre Lessard, Dee Marcoux, Lawrence Stevenson and David Goldman – received corporate positions and awards after overseeing SNC’s corruption.

The corporate face of this country’s foreign policy is not pretty. While Trudeau’s SNC scandal highlights corporate influence over politics, it’s also the story of the Ugly Canadian abroad.

Comments Off on SNC Lavalin the corporate face of Ugly Canadian

Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Uncategorized

Laurentian the latest university to be mined by rich Canadians

He who pays the piper picks the tune.

This bit of folk wisdom seems not understood or ignored by many institutions of “higher learning.”

The neoliberals running Canadian public universities have signed a slew of deals with mining companies that are engaged in violently extracting resources from the Global South.

In two of the more high-profile endeavours, Simon Fraser University set up a Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, and the University of Toronto jumped into bed with Barrick Gold’s Peter Munk, establishing the Munk School of Global Affairs.

In an initiative more directly tied to a single controversial project, Laurentian University recently partnered with the University of Limpopo in South Africa at the request of Vancouver-based Ivanhoe Mines.

Over the next five years Ivanhoe will give $2.5 million US to “improve training and curriculum choices in economic geology and mineral exploration at the University of Limpopo.” As part of the agreement, Ivanhoe’s South African subsidiary Ivanplats will also “provide in-service training opportunities for students from both universities and assist them in conducting research on the Northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex,” where the Canadian company operates a massive platinum mine.

The Ontario government has put $500,000 CDN worth of scholarship money into the partnership, and Ottawa’s International Development Research Corporation added $570,000 CDN.

While a public university entering an international partnership instigated by a private corporation ought to be controversial under the best of circumstances, Laurentian’s partner has a highly questionable track record. Companies led by Ivanhoe CEO Robert Friedland were responsible for major cyanide spills in Colorado and Guyana in the mid-1990s, and throughout the first decade of the 21st century Ivanhoe did business with the military regime in Myanmar (Burma).

In April 2006, thousands of protesters in Mongolia’s capital burned an effigy of Friedland after he reportedly told an investors’ forum the country had “no NGOs” and “lots of room for waste dumps.”

In South Africa, many of those living near Ivanplats’s Platreef mine in the province of Limpopo oppose the project. Over the past five years, protesters have damaged company equipment, blocked a highway near the project with rocks and tires, and demonstrated in front of the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria. Community members were angry at the mine’s preferential access to water, lost access to their ancestors’ gravesites, and the company’s influence over local politics.

The Platreef project dates to the final days of South African apartheid when Friedland quietly began laying the groundwork for the platinum project.

In January 2015, the Globe and Mail reported on Ivanhoe’s use of “court injunctions, ultimatums to government, and digging up dirt on opponents” during a two-decade-long effort to establish operations. Friedland’s company coerced a villager into surrendering her farm and spent years wooing the chief of the Mokopane traditional council, which holds most of the area’s land in trust on behalf of the community.

Ivanhoe began making donations to the council in 2001 and in 2010 it signed an agreement with Chief Kekana for “all reasonable access” to test drill on the community’s land for a “monthly stipend” of 30,000 rand (about $4,000 US). The deal also included a laptop, use of a farm, an annual “gratuity” and a lump-sum payment to a “trust” of the chief’s choice, as well as monthly payments of 3,000 rand (about $400 US) to the chief’s adviser and five village headmen. Ivanhoe also paid 10,000 to 30,000 rand per month, in addition to computers and cellphones, to the “community mining committee” in a number of villages near its mine.

At the national level, Ivanhoe forged close ties to the former secretary general of the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa resigned from the Ivanhoe board of directors in 2013 after his election as deputy president of the ANC. The following year, he became South Africa’s deputy president, but for a decade he sat on the ANC’s national executive and Ivanhoe’s board.

The company’s high-level political connections helped it secure permission for Platreef. It may also have protected local partners, according to a report by the Daily Maverick. The South African news agency suggested that Ivanhoe’s support for the local Mogalakwena government led the provincial and national governments to turn a blind eye to their “serious corruption and mismanagement.”

Is this the kind of behaviour that Laurentian University wishes to be associated with?

Is it appropriate at all for our taxpayer-funded universities, tasked with serving the public interest and seeking the ‘truth,” to be taking money directly from those with such clear self-interest in limiting our musical choices to tunes that praise the virtues of neoliberalism?

This article first appeared in Ricochet

Comments Off on Laurentian the latest university to be mined by rich Canadians

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

Manitoba Hydro helps privatize Nigeria utility

It’s the black eye few Manitobans knew they had.

Senate Passes Motions on Unwholesome Practices by Manitoba Hydro Limited,” read one recent Nigerian press headline while another blared: “Manitoba sued over transmission contract extension.”

Largely unbeknownst to its owners, Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) has stirred significant controversy in Africa’s most populous nation. Over the past four years the Nigerian press has published hundreds of articles about MHI’s diplomatic backing, conflicts with local officials and disputes over its four-year contract to manage the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).

As part of its role in overseeing the privatization of Nigeria’s electricity system, Ottawa-based consultancy firm CPCS Transcom contracted MHI to manage TCN, which was the only part of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria supposed to remain public. But MHI worked with a Nigerian power minister intent on privatizing the country’s sole transmission provider.

A Nigerian electricity analyst pointed out how strange it was for Manitoba’s public utility to facilitate what would be illegal at home (the Manitoba Hydro Act requires a provincial referendum for privatization). Policy Chair on Energy, Infrastructure and Technology at Nigeria’s NDI think tank, Tunji Ariyomo called “it a bit ironical that while Manitoba [MHI] remains solely a government owned company in Canada with a legislative protection to prevent its privatization, the company has announced that one of its key objectives is to reorganize Transmission Company of Nigeria such that its function as a Transmission Service Provider (TSP) could be separated and for the TSP to become a private commercial company.”

MHI’s plans were resisted by the workforce, elements of the government and much of the population. The electricity workers union demanded all outstanding labour issues be resolved before MHI took control of TCN. In August 2012 they blocked MHI managers and power Minister Bart Nnaji from entering the corporate headquarters until their picket lines were broken up by dozens of armed military personnel. The  Daily Independent reported “the workers were beaten to a pulp” but refused to back down and “proceeded to make the environment a living hell for the Canadian firm.”

MHI’s $24 million contract to manage TCN created conflict within the government and power ministry. While power minister Nnaji supported it, the Daily Trust reported “some powerfulinterests in the Ministry of Power were reportedly unimpressed with the arrangement to transfer the management of the transmission plants to the Canadian firm.” They questioned its impact on knowledge transfer and job creation and expressed fear that a private monopoly over the country’s electricity transmission would lead to collusion.

Four months after taking control of TCN, MHI’s contract was cancelled by President Goodluck Jonathan. With the workforce protesting and many in the government opposed to MHI’s plans, Director General of the Bureau of Public Procurement Emeka Eze highlighted irregularities in the process that led to MHI’s selection. According to This Day, Eze sent a memo to the president “pushing for its [MHI’s contract] cancellation on the premise that it did not pass through due process as provided under the Public Procurement Act.”

Canadian officials condemned the cancellation of MHI’s contract. In an article headlined “How Canadian Govt Forced [President] Jonathan to Make U-Turn” the Abuja Leadership reported that Canadian High Commissioner Chris Cooter contacted the minister of finance, vice president and president, telling them “that the Canadian government was unhappy with the issue and may be reluctant in supporting Nigeria in other sectors due to the way Manitoba has been treated.” Cooter suggested the decision would impact Canadian investment. “The message I am conveying back to Canada is that Nigeria is open for business, and that the Manitoba Hydro contract proves it.”

The Canadian lobby was successful and within a week MHI regained its contract. Six months later, during a meeting in Ottawa, International Trade Minister Ed Fast personally thanked Nigerian Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo. This Day reported that “Fast expressed Canada’s gratitude over the manner issues surrounding Manitoba Hydro were resolved.”

Eight months after its contract was restored the chairman of TCN’s supervisory board resigned in protest. Hamman Tukur accused MHI of a domineering style and denounced it for appointing a new director to the TCN board, which should have been the government’s prerogative. Tukur told an interviewer: “Can you imagine this! Somebody from Manitoba in far-away Canada appointing a managing director and chief executive officer of the Transition Company of Nigeria owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria.” In December the Nigerian Managing Director of TCN resigned in a dispute over MHI’s authority.

Tukur was critical of his government for allowing MHI to usurp its authority. But, the Nigerian government was under significant pressure from the World Bank and foreign governments to privatize its electricity network, which has led to protests over massive price increases.

How would the people of Manitoba feel if a Nigerian company came here to privatize their publicly owned power system?

This article was submitted to the Winnipeg Free Press perspectives and politics editor who edited it and asked me to look over her changes. A second editor then asked me to clarify/rewrite a sentence, which was done. The story was then spiked and to the best of my knowledge, Manitoba’s leading newspaper has yet to mention the controversy at all.

Comments Off on Manitoba Hydro helps privatize Nigeria utility

Filed under Canada in Africa