Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise that I will be splitting my time today with my colleague from the neighbouring riding of Kootenay--Columbia.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-45 dealing with criminal liability for companies and organizations.
Over the years I have had several occasions to attend the annual day of mourning for workers who are injured or killed on the job. One of the sentiments that rings out at those meetings on those special days is that although numbers tend to be coming down for many companies, and many companies are very conscious of safety, even one death or injury is one too many. That is the premise which I believe the bill is approaching in terms of liability.
Many years ago, probably in the 19th century, companies were pretty horrendous places for anyone to have to work. The conditions were deplorable. The tactics they used were absolutely disgusting, and that was a large part of what caused workers' organizations and unions to form, because there was an incredible need for someone to stand up for workers against the very oppressive type of corporations that sometimes pervaded throughout our society.
Since that time, we have now what we refer to as the pendulum effect. Sometimes when the economy is going really strong, the unions have tremendous power to force things, maybe even beyond reason at times, on companies because there is such a need for the company to keep working, and so much profitability. At other times the pendulum swings the other way. Even now we can see the same thing returning back, where some corporations take advantage of that and use it as an opportunity to try to squeeze unions into conceding benefits for which they have fought.
One of the problems with the pendulum is we get no stability out of that. In my position as labour critic I saw a case where we have had strikes at the port of Vancouver. The government may have decided that it was appropriate to legislate people back to work because it could not take the disruption and because of what it would do to our economy. However a year ago one of the companies dealing with the grain workers had very little grain flowing into it so it was in labour negotiations with the union. The company actually locked the union out because it saved money by not bringing them in and having to cover benefits. It had alternatives. It was able to divert it to the different facilities that it had. The company did not have enough volume to keep its operation as well. Ironically, those same workers who would have complained with a different swing of the pendulum on being ordered back to work asked why the government was not doing it now. These are the kinds of shifts that we need to try to avoid.
We have the same thing in Bill C-45 in terms of liability on the part of companies. We need to address the problem of criminal liability on the part of persons within the corporation. By the same token, the bill needs to be written in such a way to ensure that we do not go to a point where there is no proper consideration for the criminal liability of people within a company, like the Westray example that has been quoted so much here today in this debate. We also need to ensure that the bill does not swing the pendulum too far and go from a point where people were not being held properly to account to a point where it is done in an oppressive manner.
There has to be an example of balance to put it in a common sort of term for the average person who is watching these proceedings today. The previous Liberal speaker quoted sections and subsections of the bill and some of the more arcane provisions in it, which is necessary. I am sure lawyers, judges and others who are watching need to know those types of details, although they have undoubtedly read the bill. However it is the general public whom we are largely here to represent, including the workers on whom this bill will have such a profound effect. We need to show them exactly what this means and why we feel we need to make these changes.
For example, I lend a car to someone. After the person borrows it, he or she goes out, gets impaired, gets into an accident that perhaps kills someone and very serious charges are pending against that person. It would be inappropriate if I were charged with the criminal responsibility for that accident as well if I had no knowledge whatsoever of what this person was going to do.
On the other hand, if the person were impaired when he borrowed my car and I knew that, then I should be held accountable for allowing him to take my car when he was in that condition.
That is the basic premise of how the bill needs to work. By all means we need to put in some kind of legislation that allows the courts to take criminal action against people who knowingly allow workers to work in conditions that are unsafe and that result in injuries or in the case of the Westray Mine many deaths. These are the types of things that need to be put in the legislation.
We believe the bill has conceptually a lot of merit. We agreed certainly in principle with the private member's bill that actually caused this bill to be written by the government. However the bill needs changes and improvements to make it truly a bill that works for all people. A bill that is imbalanced is not a good bill at all.
When it went from a private member's bill to government legislation, I think it might have lost something in the translation. That is not uncommon. That is why we have debate in the House to disclose what the issues are and to bring them forward. More important, that is why we send a bill to committee. A committee is supposedly master of its own destiny. It can examine the bill based on the debates held in the House by the various parties and from witness, many of whom have brought their opinions forward already. The committee can then decide to make changes that will make the bill, which has a lot of merit, into a bill that has more than just conceptual merit but indeed answers the concerns of workers throughout the country while at the same time ensures that it does not become oppressive against the other side.
We have to keep that pendulum in the middle. In fact we have to eliminate the pendulum and do something that is balanced and right, taking into consideration the needs and rights of both side, instead of something that takes a liability that was never addressed and takes it to a greater degree.
I am sure that members who spoke before me outlined the intricacies of the proposed legislation. I am sure my hon. colleague, who will be speaking next and who has put a great deal of time and background work into the bill, will bring forward the specifics on the kinds of things we need to fix to ensure this is a balanced bill.