House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the adoption of Motion No. 37 standing under government orders on the order paper?

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Unanimous consent was denied to my request to introduce a bill today, but I believe that the hon. member who denied it may have misunderstood. In any case, I believe I do now have unanimous consent of the House to introduce the bill today.

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to proceed with the bill at this time?

Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-502, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (work for welfare).

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleagues for extending me the courtesy of introducing this bill today. The purpose of the bill is to require that every province will have in effect a work for welfare program.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

October 5th, 2000 / 10:10 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved that the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, presented on Wednesday, June 7, 2000, be concurred in.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to move concurrence in that report and by way of background to indicate exactly why I am doing that. I have very real concerns. I know those concerns would be shared by other members of the justice committee, and certainly by other members of my party.

In June of this year the justice committee met to discuss a private member's bill dealing with the Westray mine disaster. The justice committee considered that bill. A motion was moved by me. A great deal of work was done by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. There has been a great deal of work done on this bill by the leader of my party, the hon. member for Halifax, and by the hon. member for Churchill in Manitoba. This issue is not just an Atlantic issue. It crosses all lines. There has also been a great deal of work done by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, our justice critic.

At the justice committee there was a rare and I think unique feeling when the committee determined that the justice department should bring back to the committee a bill giving substance to the spirit of the report filed after the Westray disaster.

There are rules that determine when the minister can respond to that motion from the justice committee. There is no requirement for an election for another year and a half. I am concerned, and I know my concern would be shared by other members of the House, that if an election were called and the House did not proceed to its full mandate this most important issue would die on the order paper. We would have to begin all over again in a new parliament, seeking to give life and legislation to the spirit of the report of Justice Richard and to bring justice to the families of those involved in the Westray mine disaster.

I do not need to repeat the history of that unfortunate day in Nova Scotia and, indeed, that unfortunate day in Canada. I will for the record indicate the brief facts.

As many members who have followed this debate will know and as many members who have led and allowed their names to stand as movers and supporters of this bill will know, it was on May 9, 1992 that the Westray mine exploded, killing 26 miners. The coal mine in Pictou was officially opened eight months earlier. Federal financial assistance was approved which permitted the project to proceed. There were very real questions surrounding the operation of that mine.

After the explosion on December 1, 1997, and after five and a half years of work, a four volume report was produced from the Westray mine public inquiry, entitled “The Westray Story: A Predictable Path to Disaster”. The report was scathing. Comments have been made by myself and by other members who have spoken in support of some kind of legislation that would prevent the same kind of thing from happening again.

I will quote, as I have before, from the words of Mr. Justice K. Peter Richard. He said “the Westray story is a story of incompetence, of mismanagement, of bureaucratic bungling, of deceit, of ruthlessness, of cover-up, of apathy, of expediency and of cynical indifference”.

The fundamental and basic responsibility for the safe operation of an underground coal mine, and indeed of any industrial undertaking, rests clearly with management. In this disaster there is no question that these labourers went underground into a situation where they ought not to have gone and they paid with their lives. There is no question that if this act had been done by an individual there would have been a charge of homicide. Because it is a corporation and because of all kinds of legal implications coming from that, justice has never been achieved.

In his report, Justice Richard recommended very clearly that there be a new criminal offence that would impose criminal liabilities on directors and other responsible corporate agents for failing to ensure that their corporation maintained an appropriate standard of occupational health and safety in the workplace; that there be a criminal offence of corporate killing.

We know the statistics. We know that almost 10,000 workers die every year as a result of their work and possibly because of corporate negligence. We know that three workers are injured every day on the job site. From the time the justice committee met in June until today, how many months, how many lives how much corporate irresponsibility have taken place? No mechanism exists in the criminal code for the courts to deal with this in the way that Justice Richard envisioned as a result of the Westray mine disaster.

I know that members from the United Steelworkers were at the justice committee hearing. They have done a tremendous amount of work on this bill. They have provided background notes. They have had legal counsel work on the bill. Everyone who was in the room the day the justice committee met was impressed with the spirit of co-operation from all parties that asked the Minister of Justice to bring forward legislation. It was a most amazing day. This crossed party lines. The member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough worked very closely with us on this issue. The chair of the justice committee was moved by the testimony he heard from families who had been affected by the Westray mine disaster. Coming out of this was a moment when partisanship was put aside in the name of justice.

We face the prospect of losing, if not today perhaps in the next week or two, the momentum and the opportunity to have legislation brought forward if parliament prorogues and an election is called.

Today I am rising to remind the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Labour and members of the House of the importance of this legislation. It has been literally years in the making. It has taken the blood, the sweat and the tears of the families of the Westray miners to bring it this far. It has taken the perseverance of the United Steelworkers. It has taken the putting aside of partisanship by members of parliament.

I would like to hear from the minister, either tomorrow or when the House resumes on October 16, some indication that before an election is called—and I have indicated that there is no need for an election call—the legislation will be brought forward immediately to be given passage in the House in whatever form it takes to get it on the books and into the criminal code so we do not lose this opportunity.

I have concerns about that from a number of perspectives. As a lawyer who has dealt with the criminal code and as someone who has been interested in justice for a long time, I have a very real concern that when we have a report that makes a strong recommendation and it is not acted on, then the administration of justice falls into disrepute. Respect for the justice system is a cornerstone of any civilized society.

We now have a situation that cries out for justice. We have done the studies and have finished the report. We have agreement from the parties. We have to give life to that if the public, and especially the workers of this country, is to have respect for the justice system.

I also have concerns about it because I come from a coal mining community. The member who seconded my opportunity to speak today, the member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton, comes from a coal mining community. In fact, it was the coal miners in our community who went into the Westray mine to retrieve some of the bodies of the workers and who put their own lives at risk for their brothers in the mine. Those people have contacted me and the member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton and have asked whether there is going to be legislation. They wanted to know if we were going to give life to this legislation so that workers who go down into the mines and workers who put their lives at risk in terms of labour every day would be protected.

Will there be some accounting at the end that says the corporation can be held liable for gross mismanagement, for negligence or, and this is where we take a further step, for malice aforethought, for deliberate actions, knowing that they can result in the loss of life?

I and other members have heard from our constituents and from people across the country who want this legislation passed. I do not think I exaggerate the urgency of bringing this legislation forward in the name of justice, in the name of the Canadian people, in the name of the workers of the Westray mine who lost their lives, and in the name of those people who came before the committee and testified in the most moving way.

I remember when the brother of one of the miners who was killed sat at the table and told his story of his quiet, dignified search for justice. It moved everyone in the committee to the point where we could put aside partisan differences and say that something needed to be done.

What we need to do is amend the criminal code so that corporate executives and directors are held accountable for workplace safety. This is not something foreign. This has been done in other jurisdictions. Such legislation exists in Great Britain and Australia, and there is a movement in the United States to review it. It is not something that is unfathomable or that has never been done in another jurisdiction. It exists.

There is an opportunity to examine other pieces of legislation. We have done that. I can cite chapter and verse of other legislation in other countries that makes it an offence for corporations to knowingly put the lives of their workers at risk in order to maximize profit, open a mine or make sure that the last shipment of goods gets on the train.

What price do workers in the year 2000 have to pay for corporate profits, and not even for corporate profits sometimes, but just to make sure that the order book is full and the work gets out?

In the Westray mine disaster, the corporation knew there were faults in the mine and knew that the equipment was not working safely, but it put great pressure on the non-unionized workers to go into the mines every day, and the workers went.

Some people have said that the workers had a choice and that they did not have to go. When I hear that I think about all the workers who go out to work every day in order to feed and clothe their children, pay their mortgage and be courageous citizens. That is their priority. They put their lives and safety at risk in order to work. To say that they have a choice, especially in the part of the country that I come from where the unemployment rate is high and the opportunity for work is minimal, is not so easy. To choose not to work is not so easy.

On the Atlantic coast, whether it is in fishing, mining, forestry or farming, we have a history of that kind of dangerous work. The first time I spoke to this bill I talked about what it was like growing up in those communities. What we know from growing up in Nova Scotia is the sound of the whistle when there is a disaster in the mine. We know what it means for the men and women on the fishing boats in the north Atlantic when we look out at the horizon and the storm clouds gather. We know what it is like in the steel mill when there is a catastrophe. We grew up knowing these things.

Accidents can happen as a matter of chance, but when they happen because a corporation has determined that the lives of its workers are not a factor in determining the balance sheet, then it is time for us to say that it is a crime. It is time for us to say that when a corporation knowingly determines to send men and women possibly to their deaths and it has the means to prevent that and does not, it is time for us to say that it is a crime.

I rise today on this motion because we said that in the justice committee. We sent it to the minister and asked for a bill to be brought back that would make it a crime for those directors and corporations to kill their workers.

We know we will hear it again today in question period and there will be some banter back and forth about when there will be an election. The Prime Minister may say that we will be in our seats on the 16th, 17th or 18th, but there may be an election call after that. Everybody has his or her own reasons for an election call. I am not afraid of it and am prepared to fight it. However, when we have important pieces of legislation in the making let us not put those pieces of legislation at risk.

I urge the Minister of Justice, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour to issue a public statement.

They do not have to because they have a few days before they have to report back to the justice committee. However, in the name of decency, in the names of the members of the justice committee who brought forward a unanimous report and of the witnesses who testified, I ask them to indicate within the next two days whether they will bring forward to the House legislation giving life to the commitment made by the justice committee, by the steelworkers and by the families of the miners who went underground and lost their lives. Anything less is negligence and arrogance on the part of the government.

We know this legislation is needed. That is not contested. We know this legislation is important. That is not contested. We know the legislation can be brought into effect. That is not contested. Why wait? Let us do it. We will have other legislation pushed through the House before an election call. The government has no hesitation about pushing through its EI changes. The government may have no hesitation to put through its health accord. In the name of decency, let us bring forward a bill that we can all agree needs to be enacted and give life to the Westray legislation.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, again my hon. colleague from Sydney—Victoria on the beautiful island of Cape Breton has given one of the more eloquent speeches the House has ever heard in the history of parliament.

The hon. member comes from the coal mining area of Cape Breton. If people across the country, especially the government and the official opposition, listen to what he said about decency and the protection of workers, by the time 5 p.m. today there is a good chance that three more Canadians will be killed on the job. That is most unfortunate and is an alarming statistic.

Bill S-20 is coming from the Senate on tobacco legislation and Imperial Tobacco seems to be 100% behind it. However, we have not heard anything about what corporations or multinationals think about this particular bill. Could the hon. member speak on the multinationals who support the Liberal Party and the Canadian Alliance? Does he suggest that they may be against the bill in order to account for themselves when it comes to this type of action?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question and I am thankful for the compliment.

I have not heard a response from corporations or the multinationals with regard to the Westray legislation nor do I think any other member of the justice committee has heard one. If they have, I have not been apprised of that.

They are silent because there is a recognition that this may change the way corporations do business to some extent. I do not want to use a broad brush to paint every corporation. There are some corporations that take the safety of their employees very seriously. They are to be applauded. They have nothing to fear from this legislation. There are some employers and corporations that work with the unions to negotiate collective agreements and health and safety standards. They have nothing to fear from this legislation and they should be congratulated for that.

It is corporations like the owners of the mine in Westray who, if there were any question about the owners' culpability in this, not only sent these men to their deaths but evaded the justice system. They refused to testify at a public inquiry. They hid behind jurisdictional questions of warrants to demand their appearance. The managers of that mine did everything possible not just to evade responsibility but to refuse to testify to help shed light on how the tragedy happened.

Those are the corporations, the managers and the directors who have something to fear from this legislation, as well they should. I think many of the corporations have been silent in that regard because that may be the kind of management they want. It would be most helpful, and I suppose it would help the corporate image, if those companies that believe in workers' safety came forward and said they were prepared to support the legislation. However, we have not heard that yet. I issue the challenge to every chamber of commerce in the country to read the proposed Westray bill and indicate their support and their citizen obligation.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I very much support and attach myself to the comments made by the member for Sydney—Victoria. I know that he has a very innate personal interest in this, as was apparent by his remarks.

This is a matter which unfortunately could be put on the slate as more unfinished business on the part of the government. We have seen many indications that the coming days and weeks may result in an election call. This is an election call that I think a growing number of Canadians are looking at with a great deal of cynicism. They are viewing this as merely opportunistic, something that is being driven by polls rather than by public commitment and a commitment to complete very important pieces of legislation.

This is but one among many. We know that there is a health accord which was ratified by the provinces and is supposed to in some small measure address the crisis in our health care system. That legislation is a postdated cheque which will never be cashed if the House is dissolved for a general election.

There is important legislation pertaining to the criminal code, the youth criminal justice act, which is badly in need of fixing or replacing. We know the government gave a commitment over seven years ago to do something about that legislation. However, we are on the possible eve of an election and it has not been done. That promise has not been kept or fulfilled.

There are numerous pieces of important legislation regarding the environment, health care, justice and taxation. There are important legislative initiatives which do receive support from the opposition. They will simply die on the order paper. Canadians need to understand that. The initiatives will go to the Senate, if they pass through the House, and will be gassed. They will not see the light of day. These are hollow promises. If the government is to point to this legislation as something which has been fulfilled, it is dead wrong.

This particular debate that was brought about by the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria deals with Motion No. 79, which was moved by the Progressive Conservative Party. It called upon the government to respond to the recommendations of the Westray report by Mr. Justice Peter Richard on the tragic event in Plymouth, Nova Scotia when the Westray mine exploded killing 26 men.

That poignant moment resulted in the renewed discussion about workplace safety, the renewed focus on how we could try to prevent such disasters and how, through legislation, we could bring about greater accountability and responsibility.

Not all disasters are preventable. Arguably and quite rightly, this is one that most agree could have been avoided by taking proper steps to ensure the safety of those workers who went down into the mine was protected and that all the necessary steps had been taken by the management and the province, which oversaw the safety of the workplace environment. It could have been avoided if those parties had taken real cautions to ensure that a dangerous workplace environment did not exist. Sadly, that did not happen.

There has already been much discussion on Motion No. 79 in this place which was a carry-over from a previous parliament before prorogation. It gave members of the House the opportunity to put forward their positions and their party's position. Initially, members of the government were very reluctant to embrace even the idea of bringing this matter to the public debate. They were very reluctant to discuss it. They did not want this matter to go to the justice committee, where it eventually did aspire. When it got there, as was alluded to by the member for Sydney—Victoria, there was an incredible catharsis. There was suddenly a change on the part of the government in its willingness to discuss this issue. It was very heartening and encouraging to see that happen because it washed away some of the partisanship and politics involved in workplace safety and in this type of issue.

Let us make no mistake about this. This is a human issue. This is an issue that touches lives and potentially takes lives if we do not act. The indication that we heard from many of the witnesses was that shocking numbers of people are killed and injured in the workplace every day. Not all of that is preventable and we would be naive to suggest otherwise. However, the reality is that much of it is preventable. Much of what has to change and evolve as a result of initiatives from this place is the attitude and the thinking on the part of corporations and people who have the final say over the setting of rules and regulations within the workplace.

How do we do that? Part of the solution lies in changes to the criminal code which will bring about a sense of accountability and will in instances where there is neglect and obvious situations being ignored, bring about some form of accountability, deterrence and denunciation. All of this is in the name of public protection and in the name of prevention.

This is a mother's milk type of issue and one that everyone can agree on. Yet we do not seem to have the inner fortitude or the ability to mobilize to get this matter moving in terms of legislation. We had that unique opportunity at the justice committee as was referred to. There was a very real significant move in the room. I was in that justice committee and felt it as well. There was a genuine intent that we would move forward. Sadly, that seems to be lost. Like many of the other initiatives we have seen, it stands there on the precipice ready to take that leap yet, cynically, all of that is cast aside.

We have an opportunity to salvage that. We can ask for and rightly so expect that the government will now take the initiative and bring about legislation. The justice department should have been clearly instructed. The intent was there. The intent of parliament was what led this motion to get to the justice committee. Then it continued, it snowballed and we did hear testimony from the United Steelworkers.

We heard the testimony of Howard Sim and Vernon Theriault. Mr. Theriault was part of the heroic effort by draggermen from Cape Breton, Pictou county and surrounding areas who went down into the mine with the hope that some life had survived the tragic and massive explosion in Plymouth. That is the sort of human spirit that should inspire us to keep the dream alive of somehow bringing about improved laws and legislation. It is not the total answer by any means but it certainly moves the yardsticks and takes us forward in a futuristic way.

We hear the rhetoric. We hear constant references that we have to do this and that this is the underpinning of parliamentary democracy. We hear some party members, the Liberal Party members in particular, very cynically indicating that they are the only ones who speak out for Canadians. That is not the case. It is completely cynical to suggest that this party, this natural governing party as it likes to refer to itself, is the only one speaking out for the interests of Canadians.

We are faced with an issue of complete moral duty when we talk about protecting lives and workplace safety. It is something so fundamental. When people get up in the morning and go out the door to their workplace, whether it is into a factory or on a trawler or in the woods or into a mine or an office building, it is not too much for them to expect or hope that they will be able to return to their homes safely that evening to be with their loved ones. Surely that is not something which should be too much for any Canadian to expect. Yet we are tasked in this place with trying to ensure that is just what happens.

Obviously there are workplaces that are more dangerous than others, but there are natural consequences that can flow from putting oneself in harm's way. I think particularly of firemen and police officers for whom it is implicit in their job descriptions that they may find themselves in danger. We should be looking constantly for ways to improve safety and protection of human life. We can do that through legislation to a large extent.

That is all. That is the simple, fundamental goal we are seeking, all members of parliament across party lines, across the floor, and we hope not too many more will cross the floor. This is something that is most serious and most timely. The easy thing to do would be to do nothing. The easy thing to do would be to simply bump along.

It is an aberration when we see bold moves from the Liberal government. It has inherited a healthy economy, or at least an economy that has stabilized, much as a result of a prior government's economic planning, plans and legislative initiatives, bold and unpopular as they were. When I say unpopular, members of the same Liberal government while in opposition chastised and absolutely railed against those initiatives. However, through the glass ceiling of hypocrisy we have seen that attitude change. They have embraced and called their own the same legislative initiatives they railed against.

Not to digress on that record, to look at this issue with anything other than a humanistic, impartial eye is a derogation of our responsibility. We must encourage the Minister of Justice and her department. I would suggest it is broader than just looking at criminal code amendments. The issue goes beyond simply suggesting that changing one provision or one section of the criminal code will provide the answers. We have to look at labour laws. We have to look at occupational health and safety. We have to include the provinces to ensure that there is the same standard.

When I talk of standards I talk of the health care issue we will be debating at some point in the very near future. Again, it is spurred very much in its timing because of a looming election. Health care is not fixed. Let us be clear about that. The government is putting back a portion of the money removed since it took office. It is putting back a small portion that in many ways pales by comparison to what was removed. It reminds me of Freddy Krueger offering a band-aid to one of his victims after he slashed them.

Canadians are tired of that type of cynicism. They want to see action. They want to see real action, not just the perception of action and talk of action. The government has not lived up to its commitment in that regard.

It has talked a great talk. It has given very much the perception and feeling to Canadians that health care is fixed, that the criminal code has been fixed and that taxation is under control. That is not the case. One only has to visit a local hospital, to talk to individuals who are struggling to get by, to talk to a student who is saddled with a huge student loan and debt and has to leave the country to find work, or to talk to individuals who are doing their very best as single parents to get by on seasonal employment and face horrendous cuts to seasonal unemployment insurance.

With all this coming to fruition and with people struggling out there, the government says that it will help. By the way, since Canadians will be going to the polls very soon, the government wants to remind them that it is helping them. It asks them to forget about the fact that it is the one who put them in the situation. It is now ready to throw a rope and pull them ashore. It sees that they are drowning and it will now throw a rope. They are only being pulled halfway ashore.

What Canadians want to ask themselves is whom do they trust to be on the other end of the rope. Which national leader do they want to be pulling them in as they are drowning? Do they trust the person on the other end of that rope? I would suggest there is only one leader in this place that should earn and has deservedly earned the trust of Canadians, and that is the Right Hon. Joe Clark. He has always done what he said he would do. When we talk about trust in government—

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I know the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough meant the right hon. member for Kings—Hants. I know he would want to be sure to use the name of his riding. Perhaps he has forgotten the right hon. member is now a member of the House and must be referred to by his proper title.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

In my enthusiasm I may have misspoken. When we say Joe who, we all know who now. The right hon. member for Kings—Hants has a long record of public service and a long record of honesty and integrity which I think is recognized and acknowledged by all members in this place.

This issue is one that will not go away. Whether it dies in this legislative attempt by members of the opposition, or whether it is embraced and rallied forward by the government, it is not an issue that will go away any time soon, nor will the problems in health or the problems in our economy.

Canadians expect that members of parliament, and in particular the Prime Minister, are here to lead. We heard a great deal about leaders and leadership in the past number of days. To be a leader one needs vision. That seems to be what is lacking in this place and in this current government.

There is no vision. The government bumps along and reacts to crisis. When the wheels are off it offers some support, some comfort. To prevent future problems, to somehow lay out a plan that will address problems before they happen, is the particular issue we are focused on in this debate. In terms of workplace safety, how do we put in place legislation that will save lives and prevent injury?

Let us look at the full equation. When these types of things happen there is a huge economic impact as well. Not to be callous or take away from the human impact, but when companies are forced to shut down, when persons are out of the workplace and compensation is due and deserved, when lives are lost and families are then faced with the horrible hardships that result from that type of situation, there is economic impact, that is something that is borne by all Canadians. We are lucky to have a social system that reacts, sometimes inadequately, but it is there to help.

If we can prevent these tragedies, if we can prevent this type of lasting harm to humans, the human impact and the economic impact that results, why would we not do that? We have lots of time. We do not need to go headlong rushing into an election. We have plenty of time to react. We have unfinished work, unfinished business before the House. Let us take the time. Let us sit on the weekend if we have to. Let us get legislation done. Let us get the work done that people have entrusted us to do.

The motion brought forward by the Progressive Conservative Party did get to the justice committee. It did bring about a raised awareness and a consciousness on the part of people in this place and people across the country toward the issue. There was a willingness to act at that point.

The only thing that is preventing that now, the only impediment, is the government's timetable and, I would add to that, its priorities which seem to be very much out of sync with the priorities of others in the opposition and most Canadians.

The Westray mine sits silent. The assets are being liquidated. Yet that memory is still very poignant in Pictou county, in the province of Nova Scotia and around the country. The Westray mine has become a symbol of the tragedy and the horror that can take place when unsafe work conditions exist. It has become a symbol for every type of work. Let us not let that tragedy repeat itself. Let us not let those lives that were lost be in vain. Let us not let the heroic efforts that were made in the wake of the Westray mine disaster go unnoticed and unsubstantiated by efforts to prevent. We do have a chance to do that now.

My friend spoke of the legal implications, the malice aforethought, the callous approach and the grindings of the justice system that resulted in the aftermath of Westray. Civil implications were pursued. What was particularly striking, which doubled and exacerbated and made worse the Westray disaster, was the disaster which occurred in the legal system and the wranglings that took place. We have to try to cut through that.

Why would we not try to streamline efforts in our justice system to address issues quickly and in a timely fashion so that justice is done, seen to be done and truly done? That was one of the many lessons that came from Westray.

We have a chance now to act as my friend indicated. We urge the government and the Minister of Justice and her department to respond quickly. Let us not rush headlong into an election. Let us do the important work we are elected to do. Westray will always be a reminder. Let us learn from those mistakes and move forward.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Reform

Werner Schmidt Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I found the hon. member's statement very interesting. I read the motion in some detail as the member was speaking and I would like him to clarify something for me.

The motion states that in the opinion of the House the criminal code or other appropriate federal statutes should be amended. That is a pretty broad request. It does not specify whether it is the criminal code that is to be amended or whether it is to be some other corporate legislation or some other justice legislation.

I was particularly impressed by his reference that we must make sure that justice is done. I could not agree more. Justice is what we want in Canada, and in particular the liability of directors. There is a provision today in legislation about the liability of directors who do not do their job and things of this sort.

Is it really amendments to the criminal code that should be studied or other legislation? Could the hon. member give some clarification as to exactly what he intends?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member has made an important point that deserves clarification. The criminal code as indicated is but one aspect. It is about liability. It is about the use of the civil code to pierce the corporate veil.

If the chain of evidence is unbroken and if there is clear indication that safety provisions have been ignored and a person has been placed in a situation where there is real danger that was avoidable, directors and those in managerial positions should face a degree of accountability. If a stream of evidence pointed directly to knowledge that was ignored, if a dangerous situation could have been remedied and a decision very often for financial reasons led the person to inaction, there should definitely be a degree of accountability. All these evidentiary matters would be examined by a court with the benefit of the presumption of innocence and all the protections that exist.

What other types of legislative initiatives can we look at? We could look at coal mine regulations which are within federal purview. Occupational health and safety is another area that we could look at. Other federal labour codes that exist in the country could be looked at. The difficulty with much of this is provincial standards and the provincial approach to safety in the workplace. It is very much in the hands of the provinces to regulate.

We need federal statutes and legislation that encourage accountability, that encourage liability, and that will bring about a sense that there will be an accounting and deterrence and denunciation of irresponsible behaviour by those who not only in the practical sense may have created a dangerous situation but those who knew of it.

That is what I mean when I talk about attitudes changing. For years it has been assumed that those in the upper echelon in the business world, those who in many instances drive businesses to move ahead at breakneck pace, will not be held accountable, that they will somehow be able to step back and say “I just make business decisions”. Business decisions affect lives, and business decisions, if they are driven only by profit, certainly create danger. That is what we learned at Westray, just as political decisions can very much create danger.

If this is truly to be about accountability and justice, that means many things to many people. Justice very much talks about fairness. It talks about accountability. It talks about openness. That is what we should all be striving for. That is what we can do by changing things in the legislative scheme in parliament.