Ensuring Sudbury Mining History Doesn’t Repeat Itself – by Claude Gravelle

Claude Gravelle is the Member of Parliament for Nickel Belt and the NDP’s Mining Critic. This column was published in the July 20, 2010 edition of Northern Life 

Earlier this month, we all breathed a sigh of relief as USW members ratified a new five-year agreement with Vale.

These workers deserve to be commended for their efforts. Their families, friends and neighbours also deserve to be commended for supporting them throughout this very difficult time. Having visited the Steel Hall regularly, I can attest to the generosity of community members and business owners who made significant contributions to the workers’ food bank for almost a year.

However, many workers lost their vehicles, homes and savings. Some families even fell apart. We cannot understate the impact this strike has had on so many people. We all know small and independent businesses throughout Greater Sudbury that also paid a price for this strike.

As an Inco employee, I lived through the previous record-holding strike of 1978-1979. It’s hard not to feel that history repeats itself sometimes. But this shouldn’t stop us from trying to move forward in way that prevents such devastating events from happening again.

And while much has been said and written about this strike, more analysis and reflection is both welcome and necessary. We need to look at the conditions that led to the strike, and the conditions that contributed to its longevity.

I am working with my colleagues and like-minded parliamentarians to strengthen applicable federal laws such as banning scab labour in all disputes under federal jurisdiction, and strengthening the Investment Canada Act (ICA).

With respect to the ICA, this past April, Parliament adopted my motion that seeks to protect the interests of Canadian workers and their communities by strengthening the Investment Canada Act in three key ways:

First, the motion called for lowering the threshold for public review. You see, the federal government does not review every foreign takeover. Only sales of companies over $300 million are reviewed. However, instead of keeping this threshold relatively low to ensure maximum reviews take place, the federal government is going in the opposite direction. It plans to raise that minimum threshold to $1 billion in the coming few years. Imagine…a Canadian company worth $999 million could be sold without the government batting an eye. What a scary proposition.

Second, the motion calls for public hearings in affected communities when a Canadian company is being sold so that in the future, Canadian workers, their communities and other affected stakeholders would have a chance to voice their concerns.

Third, it called for the federal government to publish the reasons for its decisions to approve a takeover, as well as the conditions that a foreign company must meet in order to get federal approval.

This government is telling the world to help itself to our natural resources, our technologies, and our intellectual property and, while they’re at it, it’s also signaling them to not worry about those conditions of sale the federal government imposes. The federal government won’t pursue them, even when they break their contract.

I have also tabled legislation to allow for parliamentary review of foreign takeovers. Collectively, the measures I have presented in Parliament would allow for greater transparency and accountability when Canadian companies are being sold to foreign entities. They would also help inform foreign companies of the realities of doing business in Canada.

To be clear, the NDP is not against foreign ownership, we are against foreign takeovers. We know that more business is good for Canada. Equally, fair wages, decent pensions and protected labour rights are also good for Canada.