Campaign financing is hardly the only way that big corporations gain political clout, but it is no doubt an important one. As Nicholas Graham, Shannon Daub and Bill Carroll put it in their analysis of the fossil fuel industry’s political influence in British Columbia, “One of the most direct ways that corporations participate in the political process is through donations to political parties. Few believe that such donations are an act of altruism, or that they represent mere ‘gifts.’” Corporations make political contributions for one of two purposes. “Ideological contributions” are given to political parties “whose policies favour corporate needs and wishes,” while “pragmatic donations” are “more tightly connected to the particular interests of the corporation, helping them gain personal access to politicians, and ensuring their views on key matters are heard.”
Inspired by Graham, Daub and Carroll’s revealing analysis of the fossil fuel industry’s deep and extensive political influence in British Columbia, OJAMS decided to take a closer look at the relationship between Ontario’s political parties and the metal mining industry in this province.
Using Elections Ontario’s financial statements available online, we found out how much each of the major mining companies with active operations in the province and the two junior mining companies with claims in the Ring of Fire gave to the three main political parties between 2014 and 2016 (because of technical problems on the Elections Ontario website, data prior to 2014 and after 2016 were not available).
The mining industry appears to have made both ideological and pragmatic donations, as evidenced by Barrick Gold’s extensive contributions to the right-wing Progressive Conservative Party, and various companies’ selective donations to individual New Democratic Party candidates in important mining jurisdictions.
To be sure, as the recent changes to the province’s election financing laws have barred corporate donations, the mining industry will have to adjust its political strategies. However, it would be a mistake to think that campaign financing is the only route for the industry to gain influence with political parties or governments. As we will show below, the Ontario Mining Association – the industry’s main lobbying group in the province – enjoys deep ties with the Progressive Conservative Party, such that a 2018 Conservative election victory would be a welcome outcome for the mining industry, even if the Liberal Party appears to be the industry’s favorite.
According to the Ontario Mining Association’s map of mining operations in Ontario, there were twelve companies engaged in active mineral extraction as of 2017 (Companies engaged in mineral extraction are known as “majors” in the mining lingo. This is to distinguish them from the “juniors,” firms that are primarily engaged in mineral exploration.). Of these twelve companies, seven made registered political donations in the period 2014-2016.
The table below lists each company in descending order according to its total contributions:
|Company||Liberal Party of Ontario||Progressive Conservative Party||New Democratic Party||Total|
|Barrick Gold Inc.||$64,445.00||$83,164.00||$5,857.94||$153,466.94|
|Detour Gold Inc.||$62,286.00||$4,140.00||$980.32||$67,406.32|
|Wesdome Gold Mines Ltd.||0||0||$2,249.68||$2,249.68|
|Alamos Gold Inc.||0||0||$742.70||$742.70|
In total, metal mining companies donated $303,816.76 to Ontario’s political parties over the period 2014-16. At $201,675.00, the Liberal Party received more than 66 percent of the total, the Progressive Conservative Party just over 30 percent, while the NDP received just under 4 percent of the donations.
As can be seen in the table, Barrick Gold was by far the largest donor. Its combined contributions of $153,466.94 accounted for more than half of the industry’s total donations and were more than double the amount donated by Detour Gold, the next largest donor. While Barrick gave $83,164.00 to the Progressive Conservative Party – an amount greater than the total political contributions of any other mining company – its substantial donation of $64,445.00 to the Liberal Party made it the mining industry’s most important backer of that party as well.
Barrick Gold’s founder and chairman emeritus – Peter Munk – was also a major contributor. In fact, Munk and his wife Melanie donated $72,600 to the Progressive Conservative Party, $20,000 of which went to Christine Elliott’s 2015 leadership campaign (Elliott was former Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty’s wife before he passed away). If Munk’s donations are combined with Barrick’s, then the company spent $226,066.94 on political parties in three years, $155,764.00 of which went to the Progressive Conservative Party.
For their part, the Sudbury-area nickel mining companies – the Brazilian multinational Vale S.A. and the Swiss multinational Glencore P.L.C. – donated just over $25,000, all of which went to the Liberal Party and its candidates.
As far as campaign contributions go, the Liberal Party is the mining industry’s number one choice. Clearly, then, the big companies have not been much bothered by the current Liberal government’s efforts to “modernize the Mining Act.” Notably, while the industry donated far more to the Progressive Conservative Party than it did to the New Democratic Party, were it not for Barrick Gold, the New Democratic Party would have received a larger share.
Ring of Fire
Big mining companies with active operations were not the only members of the mining industry to make political contributions. So too did the two main players in the so-called “Ring of Fire,” Noront Resources and KWG Resources. In fact, only Barrick Gold made larger political donations than KWG. However, this wasn’t entirely clear from Elections Ontario’s financial statements because KWG made some of its donations through its subsidiary companies, Canada Chrome and Debut Diamonds.
The table below shows lists the donations to each of the three main political parties.
|Liberal Party of Ontario||Progressive Conservative Party||New Democratic Party||Total|
|KWG and Subsidiaries||$59,397.00||$1,066.52||$36,395.39||$96,858.91|
*Denotes a subsidiary of KWG Resources.
Thus, the two Ring of Fire companies donated a total of $131,618.50 over this period. As was the case among the majors, the governing Liberal Party was the companies’ party of choice, receiving about 65 percent of the total.
However, unlike the majors, the Ring of Fire juniors showed a clear preference for the NDP and its candidates over the Conservatives. This appears to represent a pragmatic choice, that is, an effort to gain influence with key politicians. For instance, through its subsidiary Canada Chrome, KWG made the maximum contribution to NDP candidate Michael Mantha’s (Algoma-Manitoulin) 2014 election campaign. Mantha had served from 2011-2014 as his party’s critic for northern affairs and mining, while more recently he has taken the job as critic for indigenous relations and reconciliation.
Similarly, both KWG and Noront donated to the Gilles Bisson’s (James Bay-Timmins) 2014 campaign. Not only is Bisson from an important mining area, but he is also a prominent member of his party, serving as the NDP’s house leader.
The Ontario Mining Association
As noted above, campaign financing is far from the only way corporations gain political influence. Lobbying associations are another important mechanism. In Ontario, the mining industry is represented primarily by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA).
The current OMA staff is, for all intents and purposes, former Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris’ Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. The association’s current president, Chris Hodgson, was from 1995-1999 the Minister of Natural Resources and Northern Development and Mines. It should be noted that it was during Hodgson’s term that members of the Ontario Provincial Police violently suppressed the Chippewa of Kettle and Stoney Point First Nation’s protest at Ipperwash Provincial Park and killed Dudley George. At an inquiry into the handling of the protest, the former deputy solicitor-general, Elain Todres, testified that she heard Hodgson say, “Get the fucking Indians out of my park” at a meeting just 11 hours before George was killed.
At least two of Hodgson’s staffers from Northern Development and Mines are now with him at the OMA. The association’s manager of industrial and government relations, Philip Bousquet, was Hodgson’s lead policy advisor at the ministry. The association’s manager stakeholder relations, Cheryl Brownlee, was also one of Hodgons’s policy advisors.
The OMA’s ties to the Ontario Conservative Party don’t end there. It’s energy policy coordinator – Adam Bloskie – was previously an intern in Norm Miller’s (Parry Sound) office. Miller has been the Progressive Conservative Party’s Northern Development and Mines critic since 2014.
Clearly, the mining industry makes a significant effort to influence political decisions in the province. Given the industry’s extensive ties with both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties and its selective backing of key New Democratic Party candidates, mining justice activists need to keep the pressure on government no matter which party gains office in the next election.