With flagrant disregard for democracy, the Harper Conservatives recently signed a deal with a transition regime to circumscribe future governments’ capacity to regulate Canadian miners. But, those victimized are impoverished Africans so the move elicited little reaction in this country.
In April Harper’s Conservatives signed a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with the interim government of Burkina Faso. According to the official release, the West African nation was represented at the signing ceremony in Ottawa by Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, who was deputy commander of the presidential guard when Blaise Compaore was ousted by popular protest last October. A U.S. and Canadian trained Lieutenant Colonel, Zida is one of five military men in a cabinet overseeing the landlocked country’s transition towards elections after President Compaore’s 27 year rule.
While the caretaker government is supposed to move aside after an election planned for October, the investment treaty will live on for at least 16 years. According to the FIPA, “the termination of this Agreement will be effective one year after notice of termination has been received by the other Party.” The subsequent line, however, reads that “in respect of investments or commitments to invest made prior to the date when the termination of this Agreement becomes effective, Articles 1 to 42 inclusive, as well as paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of this Article, shall remain in force for a period of 15 years.” In other words, any elected government will be effectively bound by the accord for another decade and a half.
The FIPA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism clearly undermines (forgive the pun) democracy. It gives Canadian corporations the right to sue Burkina Faso’s government – in a private, investor-friendly international tribunal – for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. While Ottawa says the process protects Canadian investors “against discriminatory and arbitrary practices”, it also undermines the public’s ability to determine economic policy.
What is of concern to the Conservatives is the impoverished nation’s mining sector, which is dominated by corporate Canada. Since ousting Compaore, community groups and mine workers have launched a wave of protests against foreign-owned mining companies. After local residents damaged equipment in January, Vancouver’s True Gold Mining shuttered its Karma gold project and an official from Montréal-based Semafo recently told Bloomberg that the company was looking to fund a new police unit that would focus on protecting mining interests.
Under the FIPA a Canadian mining firm could sue if the central government listened to a community opposed to a mine. Canadian companies have already used investment treaties to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from Latin American countries that withdrew mining licenses after stiff local resistance.
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