Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak on behalf of my party and the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle to Bill C-46.
Bill C-46 is the sister bill to Bill C-45, the Westray bill. I want to say at the outset that my party supports the bill in principle, although we would have liked a few amendments and further discussion in committee.
I consider the bill to be important legislation and something that is long overdue. Our research department has indicated to me that David Lewis, Ed Broadbent, Tommy Douglas and others of our party asked for corporate accountability for a long time. Now we are starting to slowly see a bit of that. We have to give credit where it is due, which is to the media for the way it covered the Enron story and the Bre-X story.
Canadians are saying that enough is enough. Canadians are concerned about where their investment dollars go. Workers and their families are concerned about where their pension dollar goes. Nothing can make people more sick to their stomach in terms of our own money than when we see the head of Enron living in a lavish mansion in Florida, with I do not know how many rooms, while the workers at Enron have lost all their pensionable savings. How that can happen in a free and open democratic society like the United States is beyond me.
The question is, can it happen here? Without legislation it probably could.
We are hoping this particular bill has teeth. In order to have teeth, as my hon. colleague said earlier, we must ensure that the authorities who oversee and regulate this type of legislation, whether it be a commission, the RCMP, domestic police services or whoever, have the final authority to investigate, bring charges and make them stick. They will also need the resources because we know these corporations have deep pockets. They could tie up cases of this type in the courts for a long time. It is just the way the legal system is sometimes.
We must ensure that the people who will be prosecuting these companies or corporations in the future have the resources and the technical ability to carry it through. Otherwise, this will fall like a deck of cards.
Another concern is the protection of employees. Although the bill does discuss whistleblower protection, we do not think it goes far enough. Clause 6 of Bill C-46 makes threats and retaliation against employees an offence punishable either as an indictable offence, which carries the maximum sentence of five years, or as a summary offence.
It is quite curious that the government is introducing a law that exposes an employer who makes threats to a punishment that is less than that of extortion. This is especially worrisome when the purpose of clause 6 is to deter employers from committing economic extortion. What we mean by that is that the threat will always be there for employees. What will happen to an employee who decides that someone in the legal or political world needs to know that what is happening in the company is simply not right? Many people will hold back because they do not want to lose their jobs.
As well, if people are in a particular trade or in the financial services world and they become blacklisted, who will hire them? No one should be punished for telling the truth but a lot of people in the corporate world have that fear hanging over them. We also have it in the public service world.
I will just go off track for a moment. It is interesting that the commissioner of the Coast Guard, Mr. Adams, would write a letter to all his employees and say that if any of them have contact with a member of Parliament the Coast Guard wants to know the details of any conversations.
Why would the commissioner of the Coast Guard want to know about my conversation with an employee of the Coast Guard? It is none of the commissioner's business. In a free and open, democratic society, people, in my opinion, have the right to speak to their member of Parliament on any subject.
To turn back to the corporate world, we want to ensure that when people within the corporate world see, hear or feel that something is drastically wrong they will be allowed to speak openly. If they are wrong, the court of public opinion will weigh heavily upon them, but if they are right, they will be doing our country a great service.
As I said before, many of these corporations hire lot of people in this country, and thankfully they do, which is part of the good thing about businesses in this country working hand in hand with government to create a mixed economy, something I have always supported. However the reality is that we must protect people's pensions. We must ensure they have proper working environments and reliable salaries and wages to base their living on.
I come from the airline world. When Canadian Airlines merged with Air Canada I could not help but notice that Air Canada wanted to delay or hold back some of its employees' pension liability funds. We simply will never accept that. The 11th commandment in the world is “Thou shalt not fool around with thy pension”. A pension is what a lot of people work for, be they in the auto industry, the forestry industry, the airline industry or even members of Parliament for that matter.
The fact is that when we leave our places of employment after many years of service we rely on that pension plan to ease ourselves into retirement. For anybody, be it government or business, to attempt to fool around with that pension plan is despicable and criminal.
I am hoping the bill will deal with issues of that nature down the road. I think the essence of the bill is accountability, transparency, openness and fairness. It would ensure that when corporations show us their books and tell us that they were audited fairly by an independent agency that they will not be buffaloing, masking the figures or whatever, that those are the facts.
Who will ever forget Bre-X? I remember people telling me many years ago that I had to get into this Bre-X because it was so hot. They told me that I would be able to retire early if I invested in Bre-X. It was around $95 a share at that time. I possibly should have invested and left when it reached about $130 or $140 but I do not think I would have. I probably would have been like most investors, been a little greedy, held on and then lost everything. Why? Because Bre-X and the people behind it lied to the investors and to the Canadian people. It was out and out fraud.
How many people lost their shirts on that? How many investors were shaken in the stock market because the stock market commissions were not able to or could not, for whatever reason, find out until it was too late? This bill should send a clear warning to companies telling them that if they are thinking about attempting to defraud investors, to screw their employees and everything else, we will keep a very close eye on them. Again, we can only keep that close eye on them if we have the resources and the manpower to get that job done.
It may be my perception but, like anywhere else in a capitalist society, people can make large amounts of money if they are smart, know the right people and have a lot of luck at the same time. The thing is that a lot of those companies in the United States, and the list goes on and on, are corrupt. They use smoke and mirrors. They have influence and conduct insider trading. It goes on and on, and a lot of them get away with it.
However it appears that the United States is not afraid to go after the big guys. We saw the impeachment of Richard Nixon. We saw them go after Bill Clinton. We saw them go after the seventh largest corporation in the United States, Enron. The Americans do not appear to be afraid of these individuals, the amount of money they have or their influence. If they have done something wrong or it is perceived that they have done something wrong in the United States the government will go after them.
The problem in the United States, as it is here, is that far too many companies get away with those kinds of things and that is completely unacceptable.
I will give a quick analysis that was done by our research department. The integrity of our public markets and strong investor confidence has been an important issue for security regulators for a long time because these principles are the necessary foundation for any successful market.
We in the NDP always question the market system of our economy. Many of us in the NDP like a mixed market economy, one with the private sector along with government. We think government could be an appropriate tool and an appropriate avenue to work with private business to develop the economy so that we can equally share our resources across the country. As our famous leader of the CCF, J. S. Woodsworth, once said “What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all”.
If the market is perceived to be corrupt or influenced in any way, shape or form by some shady characters or some outside sources that makes investors very nervous and they will put their money somewhere else.
The main contribution that Bill C-46 makes to this effort is to act as a greater deterrent to would-be insider traders and provide courts with the authority to compel the production of documents to determine the nature and extent of insider trading.
Insider trading is a tempting way to take care of one's friends. If we had a lot of stock, let us say in Air Canada, which I believe is trading now at anywhere between $1.10 and $1.30, and we knew tomorrow that a big deal would be coming up for Air Canada that could raise the price of shares, would we not love to know that information beforehand so we could either buy more or sell out, depending on the circumstances? There are not too many Canadians who would not love to have that type of information but that information, called insider trading, is extremely dangerous to the confidence of all other investors.
What happens is that only a select few, those in the inner circle of whatever that kind of information will assist, will get it, while the vast majority of investors will be left out in the cold. That is simply wrong. I am glad to see that the bill actually tries to do something about that.
The codification of aggravating sentencing factors and the elimination of mitigating factors, such as status and reputation, if those attributes were relevant to the commission of the offence, will develop a more consistent and certain punishment regime. That is something we support. If corporate criminals want to commit those kinds of act and break the trust of investors and ordinary Canadians, we believe they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We like the idea of punishment for fraud going from 10 years to 14 years, fraud affecting capital markets going from 10 years to 14 years and market manipulation going from 5 years to 10 years.
I want to make sure that it just does not say “Here is your 14 year sentence but, by the way, if you serve one-third of it, with good behaviour off you go”. No. We have to make a strong deterrent and make sure that 14 years means 14 years.
I know of other concerns. Let us look at someone who commits a criminal act and gets eight years. I had an individual in my riding who had eight previous impaired charges and on the ninth one he actually killed someone, an 18 year old girl. He was sentenced to eight years but only served two of them. Many citizens in my riding, including myself, were extremely upset when that sentence was reduced.
It is just like Bill C-46 on corporate crime. When the head of a major company, which employees thousands of people, defrauds their pension plans, he or she only gets a few years while the employees lose all their savings and lose everything, which means that if they had no private savings of their own and have no other means of supporting themselves they will then turn to the government for assistance. The government should try to prevent that by making sure that if the bill says 14 years, then that is what the person gets, not 3 years and not if they are really good in jail they can go early. That is nonsense.
The NDP will ensure that further amendments come to this bill. We have always said that corporate accountability, business accountability, is extremely important. To the best of our ability we will make the government aware that any agencies or regulatory authorities must have the manpower and the resources to carry out identification and charging, to ensure that they have the wherewithal to carry through with those cases.
As I said earlier, companies can be charged but when the companies have all kinds of money to fight these cases, they can tie them up in the courts for a long, long time with appeal after appeal. Our judicial system must have the authority, the manpower and the staying power to ensure that cases result in convictions. In the end we must protect the investors, protect our workers and protect fellow businesses not only in this country but around the world. If we prove to investors around the world who are looking to invest in Canada that we have a fair, transparent and open system, that would go a long way in building our economy in the future.
There is still an unanswered question to which I have not received a satisfactory answer. It has to do with trade deals such as the WTO, NAFTA, or whatever they may be. Now that many of these companies are becoming very international in their nature, will this domestic law stand up to those trade deals in terms of people who own companies but do not actually reside in Canada? Will we be able to bring them to court satisfactorily with these trade deals hanging over us? Will those trade deals impede us from bringing this type of domestic legislation to the forefront? I do not know, but I would like those questions answered.
I am proud to say that our party will be supporting this bill in principle.