Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to comment on Bill C-45. I would really like to think of it as the Westray bill.
When I was first elected in 1993, representatives of the small communities of Plymouth and Stellarton, Nova Scotia were among the first to come to see me as I was serving as the mining critic for the official opposition. They still come to see me today .
Back in 1993 they sought justice regarding 26 working miners, their neighbours, friends and customers, sons and fathers, husbands and brothers, who died underground in the Westray mine disaster on May 9, 1992. Since then, at least one folk song has been written about it, the title of which is “Everybody Knew”. I have travelled to the area several times and have found that is a fact; everybody knew there were problems with that coal mine. Everybody knew conditions were not safe, yet management sent those men into unsafe conditions day after day until what seemed to be almost inevitable happened.
According to the Westray mine public inquiry, sparks struck by cutting bits from the continuous miner, a machine working the southwest 2 section of the mine, ignited coal dust and she blew, taking not only those families' dear ones, and hopes and dreams, but also the traditional Cape Breton coal mining economy with it. That inquiry also found:
Had there been adequate ventilation, had there been adequate treatment of coal dust, and had there been adequate training and an appreciation by management for a safety ethic, those sparks would have faded harmlessly.
Today, over 11 years later, to the best of my knowledge not one representative of the resource company, not one mining inspector, not one provincial or federal bureaucrat from the Department of Natural Resources, Environment Canada or the Department of Labour has served one day in jail for what seems to me, admittedly not a lawyer, their criminal negligence in those 26 preventable deaths.
The federal government helped finance this mine so it cannot simply wash its hands and point the finger of blame solely at the province. As the report states:
Westray took over development from Canadian Mining Development in early April 1991, at a much earlier stage of development than originally planned, and began using continuous mining machines to drive the mains.
Still quoting from the report:
In the rush to reach saleable coal, workers without adequate coal mining experience were promoted to newly created supervisory positions. Workers were not trained by Westray in safe work methods or in recognizing dangerous roof conditions--despite a major roof collapse in August. Basic safety measures were ignored or performed inadequately. Stone dusting, for example, a critical and standard practice that renders coal dust non-explosive, was carried out sporadically by volunteers on overtime following their 12-hour shifts.
Here are some further quotes:
Management trivialized the concerns of workers, some of whom quit their jobs at the mine. Although the mine inspectors asked the company for roof support plans, as well as stone dusting plans, it repeatedly deferred supplying them. Westray is a stark example of an operation where production demands resulted in the violation of the basic and fundamental tenets of safe mining practice.
As Mr. Don Mitchell, mining consultant for the Nova Scotia department of labour concluded from his post-explosion investigation of mining safety training, Westray mine “had no program that was appropriate to the needs of that mine”.
I have to ask, why was there no such investigation in time to prevent those 26 deaths? Such blatant disregard for the safety of employees must not be allowed to be repeated. Nevertheless, every day in Canada, workers are still being killed or injured on the job while some corporations simply continue what they do best, make a profit.
Of course most corporations do have a heart and also recognize that good, safe working conditions also are good business practice. It is also true that provincial workers' compensation rates will go up after accidents, and sometimes they go up a lot. However, that financial aspect has not proven to be enough to motivate all corporations into creating safe workplaces.
Therefore, Canada needs both big carrots and big sticks, including federal legislation for criminal liability, to protect vulnerable workers, like the new kid in his job, those young workers most likely suffer workplace injuries.
In conclusion, as mining critic for the official opposition and as one who has personally visited the communities and the United Mine Workers local most affected by the Westray disaster, regardless of whatever other concerns may affect our scheduled business this fall in Parliament, this bill is shamefully overdue. I believe we should pass this legislation post-haste.