Don Hutchinson, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, November 1, 2010
Link: Cigarettes, Foreign Aid and Canadian Corporate Accountability Overseas
A man and a woman, lying on their backs in bed and sharing a single cigarette. That image populated many movies as the signal that two people just had sex. But the proverbial cigarette in bed, or in the hands of someone who had fallen asleep on a couch or easy chair, also caused numerous deaths by fire. Enter John McKay, a Member of Parliament who proposed a private member’s bill that would require cigarette companies to do what they had already developed the ability to do, sell cigarettes that were self-extinguishing if not inhaled upon for a brief period of time.
Cigarette manufacturers resisted the legislation because they make more money when cigarettes burn down faster … people buy more cigarettes. Bill C-260 passed, fire-safe cigarettes became the law and Canada led in what would become a worldwide trend.
A few years later, Mr. McKay introduced another private members’ bill, this time proposing that Canada have mandated legal standards for how the government spends its foreign aid dollars. Openly admitting the abuses of past governments, including those Liberal governments in which he had served, Mr. McKay presented Parliament with a bill that would require accountability in the use of foreign aid dollars focused on the reduction of global poverty.
Parliament passed C-293 and it became the law. Canada was joining other nations that had passed similar legislation intended to constrain their aid to doing the most good. While the current government has paid little attention to this law which was passed on the votes of the opposition (nonetheless, still the will of Parliament), continuing to draw attention to it will result in its implementation when comes the inevitable change of mind or of government that history tells us will take place at some future date.
Most recently, Mr. McKay was focusing on corporate accountability again. This time he introduced legislation that would require Canadian gas, oil and mining companies engaged in extraction in countries of the developing world to operate with the same standards they comply with in Canada. Voluntary requirements to do so, established by both the international community and Canadian government, have fallen short and the world community is revisiting next steps.
Faced with the opportunity to lead the world again by requiring use of already existing ability and standards to save lives and communities, as well as to ensure environmental safeguards to minimize long term after effects, 133 MPs voted with Mr. McKay. C-300 fell 6 votes short of passing through the House of Commons. Still, a well done to John McKay. He was clearly not alone and, perhaps, next time more will see the value in requiring corporate accountability, and a Canadian standard of morality, for the treatment of people in communities where many are living in poverty and are vulnerable to being exploited.
John McKay’s corporate accountability Bill C-300 had some arguing that Parliament has no place considering “government enforced morality.” This argument would suggest that there should be neither Criminal Code nor guidelines for television program content, speed limits or construction standards. All laws and regulations that apply to how people relate to other people have a foundation in requiring a prescribed level of moral behaviour.
Then Minister of Justice Pierre Trudeau famously declared in 1967, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation” as he introduced legislation to de-criminalize anal sex between consenting adults, legalize abortion and lotteries, and simplify the process for obtaining a divorce. These are all moral issues. They are not the only moral issues Mr. Trudeau’s omnibus bill dealt with, however, as it also legalized the use of roadside breathalyzer tests and created restrictions on gun ownership.
Government does play a role in setting the moral climate of a nation. Every government in every nation plays a role in setting the moral climate of their nation. Increasingly, it has become evident that the decisions of Canada’s Parliament also impact the moral climate of other nations.
In considering decisions, each member of our Parliament does well to remember that the final vote impacts not just a nation or nations, but individual lives. The reports on the dramatic reduction in house fires caused by burning cigarettes are evidence enough of that truth.