Albert John (Jack) Pearsall
Subtopic: LABOUR CONDITIONS
Sub-subtopic: SUGGESTED MEASURE TO RAISE HEALTH AND SAFETY STANDARDS FOR MINERS
It may not get me anywhere, but I know what you will do.
It is because of the questions I have just raised that I see a need for a national mining act. Apart from the fact that it would allow the central government and the provincial governments to sit down together and, with input from the trade union movement and the mining industry, devise an act which would clearly set out the federal and provincial areas of responsibility with respect to the mining industry, it would also provide a degree of protection for the Canadian miner which is urgently needed.
As I look across the country 1 see grave differences in working conditions in different areas. The miner in the Yukon has as much right to safety in his working place as does the miner in Ontario. At the present time workers are denied uniform levels of safety because of differing standards imposed by the provinces and even by federal departments. The federal government has responsibility for mines on Indian reservations, on military bases, and in the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Regulation of these different mines is handled in part by Energy, Mines and Resources, in part by Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and in part by the Atomic Energy Control Board.
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Mine Workers' Health
In the north, in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, safety in mines is governed by mining safety ordinances. These can be set down by the Commissioner of the Territories but must be approved in Ottawa by the governor in council. These ordinances fall under the authority of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. In the Yukon and the Northwest Territories the federal government exercises control over mining comparable to the powers exercised by provinces within their own boundaries.
The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources also exercises broad powers, controlling such acts as the Explosives Act, the Atomic Energy Control Act, the Dominion Coal Board Act, and several other measures related to mining.
Mines in provinces are generally controlled by provincial governments, and within the various jurisdictions there are many different acts and regulations. Some provinces have enacted very advanced mining regulations and occupational health regulations, while others lag far behind.
A subject of great concern lately, and justifiably so, is the mining of uranium. Here the Atomic Energy Control Board has authority. The Board controls the production, manufacture, sale and use of radioactive material. But while theoretically controlling all this, the Board in fact does not. Instead, it has chosen to turn the exercise of these powers over to the provinces, thus washing its hands of the problem.
Recently in Ontario a commission was established to inquire into the health and safety of workers in mines-the Hamm Commission. AECB officials told that royal commission they had never asked the Ontario government for reports on levels of radiation in the mines or for the status of health of the miners. Commissioner James Hamm went so far as to charge that the Board was ignoring the miners, whose daily exposure to harmful radiation was, "larger than that received by workers around reactors." The AECB has not even declared uranium miners to be "workers" for the purpose of regulation by the federal government. The Commissioner raised many other questions in this area but I shall content myself with quoting one statement of his: "At times it has not been clear whether initiative was considered to rest with the industry or with the responsible ministry." To that, he might have added "and to precisely which responsible ministry."
The guidelines concerning safety differ in the different provinces and they also differ from the federal rules. For example, federal regulations state there shall be no more than 10 picocuries per litre of drinking water. In Ontario, provincial regulations state that the acceptable level is three. Let us not forget that in the Elliot Lake area leachings from radioactive mine tailings are threatening Indian bands and the town of Elliot Lake itself.
These safety regulations involve more than just plain numbers. Human lives are at stake. The AECB follows the guidelines set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. This is the group which said 10 picocuries per litre of drinking water was an acceptable figure. People within the Board say the only reason the provincial figure is lower is because the province has not gotten around to raising them to
"more realistic levels". I wonder about that, Mr. Speaker. I wonder about it very much as reports continue to come in about lung cancer and silicosis among uranium miners.
Ontario is not the only province which has experienced problems in this regard. Saskatchewan was concerned about safety levels in uranium mines in that province. On January 29, 1975, the department concerned wrote to the Atomic Energy Control Board and asked that three inspectors be appointed by that board to launch a system of safety inspection. Saskatchewan acted in this way out of disgust with the federal government's failure to set standards and inspect mines at Uranium City. The letter had not even been answered by November of 1976. When steel workers asked the Board why the letter had not been answered they were told it was because the Board had not had the time. I wonder how many more people will die before we can find the time to do something about health and safety in these mines.
The leader of my party, the hon. member for Oshawa-Whit-by (Mr. Broadbent), has moved three private members' bills in this House which would do much to cut down on the problem of occupational health for workers under federal jurisdiction. His bills would provide health and safety committees in all work places with ten or more employees; they would provide for mandatory work inspectors, and would allow workers the right to refuse work they considered dangerous. Those bills would help a great deal in cutting down the carnage in our work places. They might even reduce the number of injured workers in the post office. But in the case of mining I think we must go even further.
Mining is a dangerous and thankless occupation. I recall that we argued for months in this House over the merits of capital punishment and concern as to whether or not guards or policemen would be killed. We heard about the great risks that guards and policemen face as they try to carry out their duties. We should remember that, when it comes to hazardous occupations, a miner still has a greater chance of being killed than either a prison guard or a policeman.
Perhaps it is time, Mr. Speaker, we took some steps to do something about the problem. A national mining act would bring the issue before the public. We could examine in depth the measures needed to protect our miners from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Not only would such an act simplify the acts and regulations of different departments, but it would also provide for more adequate standards and inspections. It would also put pressure on the provinces to accept more adequate measures in areas where their legislation falls below federal standards.
We owe it to our miners, and their families to legislate the highest possible standards for their health and protection. Anything less is a travesty in view of and genuine concern for the Canadian working class.
Mr. Alan Martin (Scarborough West):
Mr. Speaker, I am not clear from the earlier words of the hon. member for Nickel
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Belt (Mr. Rodriguez) whether he is really anxious to have members on this side support the substance, at least, of the point he is trying to make. Ele seemed rather ready to criticize us for what we were about to say before he had even taken the time to listen.
You are going to talk it out.
It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, he might indeed find that the degree of support in this House might be greater than from his own party at the present time, based on the numbers that are present today.
Mr. Knowles (Winnipeg North Centre):
We are unanimous.
The other member of that party present this afternoon indicates they are unanimous. As 1 interpret the motion of the hon. member, he wishes the government, if I may read part of it, to consider the advisability of introducing legislation for the purpose of increasing occupational health standards for miners under federal jurisdiction, for establishing a federal presence in this particular area, and to give leadership to provincial governments which do have responsibility for mine safety and occupational health.
I purposely omitted in reading those words the actual term "National Mining Act", and I did so for a very good reason. It seems to me that in order to achieve the very creditable aim the hon. member for Nickel Belt has in mind, which is to focus increasing government attention at the federal level on the problems of safety related to people in industry generally, he has focused solely upon one area. My own feeling is that this whole area of occupational health and safety is something that needs to be addressed on a much grander scale than simply dealing with one particular industry. So while I agree with the substance of the hon. member's objective, and indeed have no problem supporting him-1 hope he will continue to push his point of view-in my opinion the idea of trying to establish a mining act as such to deal with only one very narrow area of the problem is not the most appropriate way to proceed.
Again in my view, Mr. Speaker, it is great to see something like this being discussed without seeing a headline in the paper the previous day. In other words, my concern is that governments have tended to react in this area of occupational health and safety only after major tragedies, or more recently where we have seen more insidious types of tragedies where one or two miners are known to be afflicted by diseases which seem to have emanated from their terms of service in the mines. For this reason 1 feel privileged to participate in a debate which is going to tackle this problem in a sensible and, I hope, coordinated way.
I should like to review a little bit of background to show what has happened in this whole area of occupational health hazards on this continent. It seems to me that, whether we like it or not, we are very often inclined to look to others who perhaps have been in business longer than we have in terms of some of our national industries and have had more resources at hand, and consequently started to deal with some of these problems earlier than we have. I refer to the United States.
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As I understand it, the oldest act in the United States is the Walsh-Healey Act, which was established to create standards of occupational health in those areas where companies were dealing in contracts with the federal government. As I understand it, various types of individual standards existed throughout the various states, and in some states standards were non-existent. I do not know when this act was passed, but it was a good while ago and it was a very important first step.
I put this information on the record, Mr. Speaker, because it seems to me that we in Canada have a long way to go. We are starting from ground zero almost, as it were, so I think it is important that we do review what has happened in this major country to the south of us.
Two additional acts have been passed in the United States, and one of these was the coal mining safety and health act which reacted to public concern over what is known as "black lung" in the Pennsylvania and Kentucky coal mining areas. This particular piece of legislation was designed to provide equitable compensation for people who were afflicted with this condition as a result of their work environment. I understand that through this act a very important body was created known as the national institute for occupational safety and health in the health, education and welfare department of that country. Again I am not sure of the timing of the introduction of this particular act, but it was another very important cornerstone in the over-all effort made in the country to the south of us to attempt to come to grips with occupational health standards and their establishment.
Then we have an act known as the mining environment safety administration act, which was administered by mines people and was passed, I believe, in 1972. Whereas they had focused primarily on the area the hon. member for Nickel Belt is dealing with, one specific narrow area, they were now obliged to go outside the coal mining area and to move into more general mining fields, which I gather included hardrock and mines other than coal generally. Standards were established under this act for silica and explosive gases.
1 myself had some very brief but interesting inter-action as a member of a parliamentary committee which went to Washington a year and a half ago in another area related to occupational safety and health, and this was through my discussions with senior officials in the occupational safety and health administration under their department of labour. Again I put this information on the record because it seems to me we are seeing a rather large mix of various areas of responsibility trying to get at the same problem. I am relating how the situation has developed in the United States, and I am not sure that they are entirely happy with it. Nevertheless, this particular focus under the U.S. Department of Labour, which is the most recent of all that have been established, covers up to 60 million workers in that country in five million work places. They employ a staff of 2,000, which gives you some indication of the type of bureaucracy involved. In talking with the senior people involved in this administration we found that in their view this was perhaps the biggest single piece of social legislation that had been introduced in the United States in recent
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times. It is very controversial, it has some tough regulations, and it is only five years old.
Mr. Baker (Grenville-Carleton):
Which one was that?
The occupational and safety health act. Initially it was aimed at safety, but now-when I say "now" I am saying so on the basis of my notes made in the autumn of 1975-they are moving to develop international standards in the area of health in work places in general. They are very actively co-operating with the state authorities. This was the question we put to them, knowing that in this country the jurisdiction is mainly provincial. To some degree the same applies in the United States, and they are having to work closely with individual state authorities. This is an agency within the department of labour.
Moving closer to home and to the heart of the problem pointed out by the hon. member for Nickel Belt, let me draw attention to the throne speech of October 12 in which the following was indicated. This is an extract which reads:
An industrial safety and health centre will be established to assist companies and workers in their efforts to identify any remove hazards.
The government will work closely with its own employees in various departments and Crown corporations to implement innovative, co-operative methods of improving health and safety conditions.
I have attempted to bring myself up to date on what may have developed in that area since that indication of prospective legislation was given to us in the throne speech, and I understand from talking to people in the industrial area that something called the Canada Centre for Occupational Safety and Health is being seriously considered, and already government people are circulating around the country talking to people from industry, labour and provincial governments in an effort to come up with some basic co-ordination in the area of health. The idea is to combine not just the problems related to mining but all the problems relating to safety and health standards, such as problems found in the agricultural sector, the mining sector, atomic energy, and the industrial sector generally. The idea is to establish national leadership in this area, and there is a good deal of sympathy among the provinces for this type of leadership to take place.
I understand that there are four basic problems that should be studied initially. One is the problem of silicosis, or exposure to dust, which is primarily a mining problem but which can be encountered in many other industries as well. The second one is a matter of noise, and the problem associated particularly in the mining field with underground drilling and other types of mining operations. There is also the problem of lung cancer from radioactive elements. We have heard much more about this as some of the problems have surfaced and are being discussed and studied in great depth. Fourth, there is the matter of underground diesels and the fumes created by them. I gather that these are the four areas which are being considered initially by this team travelling across the country, and I have this from people with whom that team has interacted rather than from government sources. There is a general
feeling among these people that something is finally going to be done and that some leadership will be shown at the federal level.
There is a tradition in this country similar to what the Americans faced when they tried to move in this area, that safety and health are a responsibility of the provinces. The indication to date is that everyone is anxious to respond to federal leadership in this area.
I have a little more to say on this centre, Mr. Speaker, the idea is to establish a place where a scientific background can be developed for establishing valid standards for the use of hazardous substances and chemicals such as, for instance, asbestos. Nobody really knew anything about the threshold limits in this area. It is an open area. We hope the centre will come to grips with this problem and will establish threshold figures acceptable to all parties concerned. Incidentally the agency will be directed by representatives from labour, management, and the provincial and federal governments. It is to be a kind of clearing house. Universities may be involved in the studies. It will not necessarily employ a large bureaucracy, but might farm out studies to various centres in the country where they could more appropriately be undertaken. It will act as a focal point for encouraging research and for setting standards.
As I understand it, ultimately there will be legislation in this area once the team has been able to pool together its various reports from the current studies it is undertaking and the consultations it is having across the country. It is my hope that this legislation will incorporate the very points the hon. member for Nickel Belt mentioned today. This is why I say that I think in the long run hon. members will be better served by a more encompassing piece of legislation which will cover all aspects of industrial hazards, rather than spending a great deal of time on one narrow area. I hope the hon. member for Nickel Belt will continue his interest in that area and will take an interest in larger and more encompassing legislation when it comes forward.
In conclusion I would like to make some reference to the Hamm report of which many of us are aware. It is a provincial study which was undertaken through the auspices of the Ontario government. It is a critical report. It criticizes both labour and industry for failing to live up to their responsibilities and insure safety in mines at that time. I think federal legislation will surely draw on that report and incorporate the points from that report which should be included in a more encompassing piece of legislation.
I am also conscious of the fact mentioned by the hon. member for Nickel Belt that, as he put it, those of us who rose to speak on this issue should be chastized. I want to point out to him that basically I am in support of the substance of his bill, but I do not support the means by which he is attempting to achieve his objective.
It is a motion, not a bill.
It is important for us to realize that there are many people in our society today, representatives of labour, United Steel Workers, and people in industry, who are con-
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cerned with this whole issue. But the government must become involved, and we have indicated in the throne speech that we will be involved. It is one area in our commitments that we will surely follow through without question. As I said, things are being done now in this direction.
I would like to conclude my comments by once again congratulating the hon. member for bringing forward this problem at a time when we are not reacting to a major tragedy that happened yesterday or today. We realize that after 100 years or more the problem of occupational hazards and of safety measures in industry is extremely important, and has been overlooked for far too long in our social legislation.
Mr. Walter Baker (Grenville-Carleton):
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great care to the beginning of the speech of the hon. member for Scarborough West (Mr. Martin), and I heard those magic words we hear in private members' hour from hon. members on the government side to the effect that they basically support certain matters. If that is the case, especially when we are dealing with a motion and not a bill, and if hon. members opposite generally support this resolution, which deals specifically with the occupational health standards and problems of miners working under the jurisdiction of the federal government, a government which is supported and propped up by hon. members opposite, one of whom just spoke, they will allow this motion to pass. If that is the case, I am pleased. 1 am prepared to support this motion, and I commend the hon. member for Nickel Belt (Mr. Rodriguez) for bringing it forward.
Some may ask why a member from the national capital area should support a motion regarding mining. It goes without saying that there are very few mines in the national capital area. I dare say there are very few mines in the borough of Scarborough either.
I have some credentials-albeit somewhat distant-with respect to the operation of mines in Canada. Technology has changed, but my experience is still vivid in my memory. When I was a student at law school I worked for a portion of a year underground in a gold mine in the Schumacher area of Ontario. I worked in Stopes. I was a raise man. I ran a mucking machine. I even drove a train until I wrecked it one day, and I was not allowed to operate the train underground after that. I am glad I caused some of my colleagues to smile this afternoon, but that is the truth. I saw at first hand the working of a mine.
Working in a mine is by its nature dangerous. It differs from other occupations in which there is some aspect of danger, but working in a mine is dangerous in itself. A person can be physically injured if he is tired or if he allows himself to be unaware of what is happening around him for just a moment. The atmosphere in which mine workers carry out their duties is dangerous. There are fumes, dust and other things in mines which are injurious.
If the hon. member for Scarborough West was speaking for the majority in this Elouse when he said he basically supports
Mine Workers' Health
this measure-and I am sure he must have been-I hope the matter will proceed so that study of this matter can take place in the appropriate committee. I hope today through this motion the House will express support for taking steps to raise occupational health standards for miners.
We tend to think of mining as being under provincial jurisdiction, and it is. There are some very sophisticated standards in the various provinces of Canada. They vary from one province to another, but in Ontario there is some considerable sophistication which has been viewed critically in the Hamm report. Perhaps that is a good thing. Out of that there may be some action taken in terms of mining in Ontario.
However, there is a considerable amount of mining taking place in the Yukon Territory and in the Northwest Territories. That industry is likely to grow as we look more and more to those areas for resources to be used for national purposes. I do not believe it will be possible for any responsible federal government which has jurisdiction over those territories to leave the question of mine safety to ordinances of the territorial councils, as well intentioned as they may be.
I gather that is the thrust of the hon. member's motion. There will be a day when those territories will be provinces, and then we hope they will have the resources to develop criteria with respect to mining and a host of other things, but they do not have those resources now. Therefore they depend on the federal government-their mother and father, so to speak-for that kind of guidance. That being so, there is a case to be made for a national mining act.
With respect to the argument that this kind of thing was dealt with in the throne speech, of course it was dealt with in the throne speech, but these things are a long time coming, for one reason or another. There may be a good administrative reason for this, although it is unknown to me. I do not want this to be a partisan day, but I think we have a responsibility in this House today in a non-partisan way to urge the government, by agreeing to this motion, to speed things up. We are not dealing with statistics, we are dealing with men and women who are involved directly or indirectly in the mining industry, and I hope hon. members on the government side will recognize the important human problem which is involved.
The last argument made by the hon. member opposite, who said at the same time he basically supports this motion, was that the focus of the motion is too narrow. The motion focuses on an immediate problem. In the federal territories there is no particular industrial safety problem compared with the magnitude of the problems there are in the mining industry. If the hon. member needs a reason for the narrow focus of the motion, that is a good reason, and if he wants to look to precedent, he can look to the precedents in all the provinces of Canada where mining is dealt with separately and other industries are dealt with separately because there are unique problems in each. However, that is not a reason to wait, and I hope hon. members opposite will consider this matter.
It really is a tragedy that we tend to wait for some major upheaval before we look at the mining industry or any other industry in which tragedies occur. There is no immediate
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problem at the moment in the federal territories, but this is a good opportunity for this House to express its concern about possible problems.
We tend to think of mining only in the traditional sense of mining from the surface of the earth upon which man can walk, and machines move down into the ground to extract minerals. According to information given to us yesterday at an interparliamentary union luncheon, we are now in the process of considering technology for mining the seabed in more or less the traditional sense of the word. We are speaking in terms of removing nodules from the seabed. That is a whole new technology, and I think there is an opportunity for us to keep safety legislation parallel with and up to the technology we are developing.
I commend the hon. member for Nickel Belt. I do not often do that, but he has touched a problem with which I have some experience. I commend him for bringing this motion forward and I hope the House will support it.
Mr. Paul E. McRae (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Health and Welfare):
Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any question that we are going to talk this motion out because we do have something to say about it. We support the notion but not necessarily the motion. We think there are better ways of dealing with the same problem. It would be almost impossible to get a national mining act through this House because of the constitutional aspect of the question. We believe there are other approaches, and we have taken steps which make rather more sense than this motion, certainly until constitutional changes are brought about.
I have some concern that the hon. member for Nickel Belt (Mr. Rodriguez) has virtually threatened members if we talk this motion out. I consider that a kind of blackmail and it disturbs me a great deal. It is an unparliamentary approach to this matter.
The hon. member has more experience in a mining community than I, although I have worked and lived near mining communities. I understand his concern because there is no more depressed community in this country than a depressed mining community. The hon. member lives near one of the wealthiest, but many of the smaller ones are one industry towns and local tax revenues are poor, as are amenities for the miners. There is a good deal of movement back and forth as people take jobs for only a short period of time. It is an industry which is not itself depressed, but an industry where the people are depressed. I accept this and I am concerned about it. One of the reasons for this is that mining and natural resources are provincial concerns, and it may be easier for a large corporation to manipulate the provinces than the federal government. This is something that members of his party have said on many occasions.
The motion deals with health and safety in the main, but it also deals with a federal presence in the area of mining. I am concerned about some of the things that have happened or are
happening in northern Ontario, such as the closing of the asbestos mine in Matachewan in the past ten days. A good deal of work was done regarding this particular mine by the hon. member's party. I understand that the Ontario leader of the party now says that mine is in good shape but it has been closed because it has no money. According to an article in the Ottawa Citizen on March 9, the chairman of the company said:
We had $35 million in hand from U.S. financial institutions to refund our outstanding loans until the lead company-an insurance firm-met the premier the morning before the speech.
They pulled out of the arrangement with us right afterwards.
This seems to be one of the problems, although part of the difficulty is that this mine is related to ownership of a mine in Quebec. As a result of the closing, 300 jobs were lost. This is a golden opportunity for the federal government to become involved, because through the Canada Development Corporation and ownership of the Texas Gulf Company we have properties near by. It would seem to be a natural area where the CDC could move in because of these valuable assets. In addition to the 300 people out of work, suppliers and subsuppliers etc. are also suffering.
This is a national problem and it needs a national solution, yet there are constitutional barriers which prevent action. I can suggest one way, through the CDC, in which the federal government can become involved.
In northwestern Ontario there are a number of small mines and many of us think they should be worked if there are valuable resources in them, especially when prices are better than they were when they closed. However, there is a need for things like portable mills and money for the small operator in order that these mines can be reworked. There are capable people available, and yet there does not seem to be support, national or otherwise, for any but major operations.
Transportation is another problem. At one INCO mine, a major line of the CNR passes within a mile or so and yet the ore is being hauled out by truck on a road that was especially built.
I would suggest that the federal government should play a larger role in the mining industry, but I know we have a very difficult problem. Both opposition parties have said that the provinces must be supreme and that we must not take these industries away from the provinces. With the oil industry, which is akin to mining, we are reminded that it is a provincial resource and that the federal government has no business interfering. On the other hand, both oppostion parties now tell us that the federal government ought to get into the mining area.
There is a section in this act which deals with the whole area of mines-
I am sorry, this resolution.
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Ethier):
Why are you not better prepared before you speak?