Joe Oliver wants miners to disclose foreign payments

Joe Oliver wants miners to disclose foreign payments

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told mining executives Monday morning that the federal government is upholding its G8 commitment to ensure mining companies disclose payments made to governments both at home and abroad.

In his keynote address at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's convention in Toronto, Oliver said the federal government's "preference is to work with the provinces and territories to implement mandatory reporting standards through the securities regulators."

However, he said if the provinces don't implement adequate standards, the federal government will step in to enact legislation by April 1, 2015.

"There must be a pan-Canadian approach to mandatory reporting standards," Oliver said. "We do not want to see some provinces implement standards, while others do not."

The natural resources minister outlined the government's specific requirements, which are meant to curb potential corruption and and bring greater sunlight to companies securing contracts or resource rights in developing countries.

"We will require Canadian extractive companies to publicly report payments over $100,000 to all levels of government, both domestic and international," Oliver said.

This would apply to medium and large publicly traded companies on a project by project basis.

"We want to make it as easy as possible, so we will not create a central database. Instead, we would require that reports be posted to company websites, with the government and public notified."

Oliver said details on penalties for noncompliance have yet to be worked out.

Oliver's announcement comes as the government is still consulting with various levels involved — including provinces, Aboriginal groups and industry and non-governmental organizations — to design reporting standards.

The mining industry itself has long called for greater transparency.

In January, a coalition including industry associations and transparency watchdogs, released a report with recommendations for mandatory disclosure.

While many of the report's provisions align with the government's proposal, the working group report goes a step further and recommends junior public companies disclose payments over $10,000.

When asked why the government would not lower the threshold, Oliver said it's a "question of balancing the economic cost of a policy with the public purpose" and that $100,000 is a reasonable cutoff.

"To lower it significantly would create very significant administrative costs," Oliver told reporters following his speech. "We don't think that, frankly, it's really called for or necessary and it's not the standard — internationally."

Other revenue transparency regulations have been implemented worldwide.

In the United States, more than 100 of the largest Canadian companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges are already required to disclose payments, or face the penalty of getting delisted. Mandatory reporting regimes are also currently being enacted in the EU.

The government's proposal is similar to Liberal MP John McKay's private member's bill, currently making its way through the House of Commons.

However, McKay's "sunshine" bill would impose more stringent conditions upon companies, such as the annual disclosure of all payments made to governments, not just ones over $100,000.

As well, the annual reports would have to be independently audited and submitted to both the Foreign Affairs and Natural Resources ministers or else companies could risk fines anywhere from $20,000 to $5 million.

McKay has told CBC News that he does not expect his bill to be passed.

Oliver also addressed the government's decision to reject the New Prosperity mine in British Columbia, which he said was due to "significant adverse environmental effects."

"Government has a responsibility to balance economic and environmental considerations when reviewing resource projects," he said in his speech.

Oliver said the mine underwent a rigorous review process by an independent panel, which identified the adverse environmental effects, similar to those identified in an earlier panel report in 2010.

"Based on that finding, the project was not approved," he said.

More than 30,000 attendees from 126 countries are present at the PDAC convention.

Canada is home to more than 75 per cent of the world's mining companies — 57 per cent in Toronto alone.

The government is also expected to complete a five-year review of its corporate social responsibility strategy for the mining, oil and gas industry this month.

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