Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to Motion No. 79. I commend the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for his commitment to this issue and his foresight in introducing this motion in the House of Commons for debate.
It is unfortunate that an issue of this importance—the issue of accountability for corporate executives and occupational safety—is not taken more seriously by the government. It is very frustrating for individual members of the House to pursue public policy issues with such vigour, initiative and vision on behalf of Canadians when they are continually shut down by the government. Instead of focusing on the types of important public policy initiatives that Canadians need into the next century, it is only focused on next week's polls.
The Westray disaster of May 9, 1992 continues to resonate as a beacon of what should be done to improve worker safety, not just in Canada but around the world.
Earlier today I heard the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester speak of the recent mine disaster in Ukraine. Canada can play a role in introducing changes to our criminal code that would be world leading in terms of their impact on occupational health and safety issues and corporate accountability, not just in Canada but around the world.
I remember the time of the disaster in 1992. I was on business in New York when I heard the news. It was one of the few times I listened to national public radio in New York. I was running in Central Park when I heard the news. It was one of the few times that I ever heard about Nova Scotia in the U.S. national media. It was a sad moment because, of all the positive things that we understand about Nova Scotia and Canada, it is often this kind of disaster that captures the U.S. media. The sadness continues to affect those families, whose lives have been forever changed by the disaster.
I am not surprised that the government is opposed to improving corporate accountability on occupational health and safety issues. This is the same government that ignores issues of accountability even for its cabinet ministers. One of the fundamental tenets of our democratic system and of parliamentary democracy is the accountability of ministers of the crown. The government ignores even the accountability of ministers in its own cabinet. For example, the debacle with the HRDC minister has focused the attention of Canadians on issues of waste in government in recent weeks. I guess it is consistent with this government that it continues to ignore issues of accountability, whether it is corporate accountability in the case of Motion No. 79 or ministerial accountability in terms of the government's malaise in effecting positive change with respect to the accountability of its own ministers.
The chilling message that came from the Westray disaster was that even today, in this day and age, occupational health and safety issues continually are ignored by companies, particularly, it would seem, in the coal mining industry, but in other sectors as well.
Increasingly executives are compensated based on stock options. While that can be very positive in terms of creating a synergistic relationship between the goals of the executive from a compensatory perspective and the goals of the shareholders by encouraging executives to maximize shareholder value, it can also focus the efforts of executives on very short term results which can often have a negative impact on the long term results of a company, whether it is corporate and financial, or in this case the safety of workers.
We cannot put a price on life. It is impossible to value human life on a balance sheet or on an earnings statement. Often companies are so focused on the bottom line that they forget the basics of humanity in terms of providing a safe work space for workers who, every day of their lives in the coal mining industry, in this case, risk their lives.
Government needs to provide a role in overseeing and ensuring that on an ongoing basis these workers are protected by changing the criminal code as recommended by the Westray inquiry. With this legislation we would ensure that government continue to play the very important role that only government can play to ensure that the corporate sector does its part to ensure the safety of workers in what is a very dangerous industry.
Part of the issue as well is temptation. Far too often in areas like Atlantic Canada that have seen significant economic issues and a downturn over the last 30 years, in the haste to attract and to maintain industry there is a tendency to turn a blind eye to some of the health and safety issues. That very short term focus is going to have some very negative long term results.
The Government of Canada can play a proactive role in the same light that the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough is playing a proactive visionary role in introducing this motion. The government can play a proactive visionary role in actually supporting legislation to ensure that there are not different sets of health and safety standards for different regions of the country. Just because a region has some economic downturn issues, the workers in that region should not have to suffer with poorer occupational health standards.
The legislation proposed in the motion would effect change in the criminal code which would actually ensure that across Canada corporate executives faced the same stringent level of accountability. Atlantic Canada would see, whether it is in the coal mining industry or another industry, a greater level of protection for workers. They go to work every day and struggle to make ends meet, to try to build a better future for themselves, for their families and for Canada. They should not have to live under the pall of a daily unnecessary threat to their lives and their safety because of corporate negligence.
I encourage all members of the House to support Motion No. 79. I commend the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for proposing very sound legislation in the motion. We need to ensure that occupational health and safety issues are dealt with in the same way that environmental issues are dealt with strongly by the criminal code.
Corporate executives must be responsible not just to their shareholders but to Canadians at large, to the workers who toil in the mines, to the wildlife that depend on a clean environment. We need to ensure that environmental standards, health and safety and occupational health issues are dealt with appropriately.
The only way to deal with these issues in the economically driven and globally competitive society we live in today is through strong changes to the criminal code to ensure that all workers are safe in their workplace. All corporate executives must do everything they can to ensure that Canada has the highest standards in occupational health and safety in the world.