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Feds pay $180K to operate counsellor's office, with no counsellor

PM Stephen Harper speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Oct. 3, 2014.

The Harper government spent more than $180,000 last year to run the office of a corporate social responsibility counsellor for the Canadian mining industry — even though there was no counsellor.

The government says it cost $181,600 to operate the office from October 2013 to October 2014.

However, the position of counsellor was vacant all that time and remains so to this day.

Liberal MP John McKay, who posed a House of Commons order paper question about the cost of running the office, says the government’s answer is not surprising, since it was never serious about the counsellor’s role in the first place.

The government created the position of Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor in 2009.

The counsellor was supposed to investigate Canadian mining companies alleged to have abused human rights or inflicted environmental damage while operating abroad.

But McKay says it’s a “toothless, Potemkin office” that can only look into allegations of human rights violations if the company involved agrees to an investigation.

More than “$180,000 on an empty, ineffective office is a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money,” McKay said. “Moreover, it demonstrates that they’re not serious when they talk about promoting human rights around the world.”

In the government’s response to McKay’s question, International Trade Minister Ed Fast said a process to choose a new counsellor began last November, more than a year after the first counsellor departed.

No potential candidates have yet been interviewed, but Fast said “the government is moving to staff this important post as soon as possible.”

A spokesman for the minister said the office has continued to operate with the support of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

“The office continued to deliver on the mandate of the CSR Counsellor through workshops and regular meetings with industry, academia and civil society,” Max Moncaster said in an email.

The office consists of two employees in addition to the counsellor: a senior adviser and an administrative assistant, Fast said. Their salaries presumably account for most of the $181,600 to operate the office last year, although it’s unclear what work they could do in the absence of a counsellor.