Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House to speak on behalf of the NDP caucus and New Democrats across the country, and indeed all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Nova Scotians on Bill .
Bill is about 260 pages long. It has some very useful information and some important policy directions in terms of occupational health and safety and is a very important first step. However, in all 260 pages, and we will find New Democrats speaking about this regularly today as we engage in the debate, we will not find three words that are extremely important for Newfoundlanders, Labradoreans, Nova Scotians, and, I think, all Canadians. Those three words are “independent safety regulator”.
Despite the fact that we have been able to drag the government, kicking and screaming, to take action on occupational health and safety in the offshore, we still find resistance from the government to Justice Wells' recommendation number 29 in the Wells inquiry document and to recommendations that have come from throughout Atlantic Canada, particularly from Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, to put in place an independent safety regulator for the offshore. We do not really understand where that resistance comes from or why.
Despite the fact that we will be supporting the bill and despite the fact that there are some good elements contained within it, the fact that the independent safety regulator has not yet been put into place by the government is an appalling weakness and shows real disrespect to the offshore workers.
I will start today by saying that I think all of us in the House of Commons owe a real debt to the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, the NDP government in Nova Scotia under Darrell Dexter, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government, because those governments and those federations of labour were instrumental in putting the bill forward.
After a series of tragedies in the offshore area, basically about 14 years ago, there was a real call and push to put in place occupational health and safety standards in the offshore. That ball was dropped by the former Liberal government. When the Conservatives came in, they did make commitments that they would address this persistent problem that could lead to the deaths of offshore workers and that has in fact led to the deaths of offshore workers. The Conservatives said that they would put measures in place.
Tragically, it took the combined weight of those two federations of labour I cited, as well as the Newfoundland and Labrador government and the NDP government in Nova Scotia, to actually push the Conservative government to finally introduce this important legislation.
This is no small thing. Even though we are talking about offshore workers, who are perhaps a small proportion of the overall Canadian economy, the reality is that offshore workers have been hit by a series of tragedies and deaths, ranging from the Ocean Ranger in the l980s through deaths in the 1990s to the most recent and tragic deaths, the 17 Canadians who were killed in the Cougar crash in 2009.
That tragedy was a wake-up call for many Canadians. It told us that work had to be done, and the Nova Scotia government, the federations of labour, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government were able to push the government to finally put into place what is simply a matter of good sense and a matter of common decency: occupational health and safety standards.
We have also had very strong advocates in the House of Commons. I would like to pay particular tribute to the member for , who has done a remarkable job of raising these issues. He has been phenomenally eloquent. He is normally a very eloquent gentleman, but he has been even more eloquent on this issue and has spoken up for the offshore workers in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia. I say to the member for —through you, Mr. Speaker—that he has done a phenomenal job and really deserves the thanks of Canadians across the country.
I am citing the work of the member for , the work of the member for , the provincial governments of Nova Scotia and of Newfoundland and Labrador, and those two federations of labour that I mentioned earlier because the government has shown no leadership whatsoever when it comes to offshore safety.
Coming from British Columbia, I can cite three facts that are appallingly bad examples of poor judgment on behalf of the government since it has come to power.
In British Columbia, on the other side of the country, we have seen first-hand how irresponsible this government has been. That is why the introduction of this bill, which takes some significant steps, although it does not go all the way to the independent safety regulator, is an important contrast to what the government's trend has been, generally speaking.
Last year in British Columbia, after a phenomenal public outcry from British Columbians, the City of Vancouver, and a whole range of municipalities throughout the lower mainland, we saw that the government was not listening to their call to keep in place the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.
This is the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano, in Vancouver, B.C. It has actually saved lives over the entire period of its existence. The government, for reasons it has still not explained adequately in any way, decided it was just going to shut down the Coast Guard station.
That could mean that next summer we could tragically, but hopefully not, be looking at the deaths of British Columbians as a result of what was a very foolish, foolhardy, and reckless decision.
Everyone in British Columbia spoke out against it except Conservative MPs. Everyone in British Columbia, from those involved in the health sector to those involved in the boating sector, as well as municipalities and elected officials at the provincial level, said that closing that Coast Guard station was going to put lives in jeopardy, but the government did it just the same. It was inconceivable to me that it would be that reckless and foolhardy with public safety, yet it has been.
The government then moved on, after closing that down, to close down the marine traffic control centre in Vancouver. This facility is an important component of safety as well. We have seen similar closures in other parts of the country, both in the Coast Guard and in marine traffic control, in places like Quebec City. These are foolhardy, reckless, foolish decisions that put public safety at risk, yet the government has done it. It has closed the marine traffic control centre.
Closing off a series of appallingly foolish decisions on behalf of the government was the closure of the emergency oil spill centre. This is a government that does not want to listen to the public in British Columbia on the northern gateway project. It wants to ram the project through despite the fact that public opinion in British Columbia is about 80% opposed. It jeopardizes thousands of jobs, while at the same time it would create just 104 full-time jobs when it is actually built. It is absolutely foolish.
What was the government's response to the increased concerns about oil tankers on the coast and the government's inability to put in place a public safety regime? It closed the emergency oil spill response centre. That is unbelievable. It closed down the emergency oil spill response centre, and now there is a 1-800 number in Ottawa. If there is an oil spill, British Columbians can phone some 1-800 number in Ottawa. Maybe there will be somebody to answer, or maybe they will have to leave a message.
The contempt that the government has shown for the people of any coast, whether we are talking about the Arctic coast, the Atlantic coast, or the Pacific coast, is very palpable.
The , in an attempt to try to save face after a series of foolish, reckless, and irresponsible actions, held a press conference to say that the government was going to protect the coast. We can all recall the safety vessel that the government convoked for this press conference actually ran aground before the press conference was held.
It shows both the Conservatives' incompetence and a degree of irresponsibility. At the same time, it shows their reckless disregard for facts in their attempt to try to provoke spin, rather than put in place a regime that actually guarantees the environmental safety of the coast and public safety.
When we talk about Bill being an exception to a generalized rule, whether we are talking about Quebec City or the Atlantic coast or the reckless disregard for British Columbians on the Pacific coast, we can see on all coasts a similar attempt by the government to shut down institutions that should be there for the public safety. We have one bill that does show improvement. This is why I say that the exception proves the rule. Bill , despite the fact that it does not put in place an independent safety regulator, is the only exception to what has been a litany of irresponsible, foolish, foolhardy, and reckless decisions by the government.
We are not just talking about marine safety. When we look at the number of pipeline spills, we see it has tripled under the Conservative government. When we look at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's statistics, we see the number of leaks and spills under this government has substantially increased because it simply does not take public safety seriously.
When we look at rail safety, the tragedies and the number of fatalities increasing each and every year under the Conservative government, we can see that what we have is a toxic mix of a government that is reckless and foolhardy with public safety and the environment. It just does not seem to care about Canada, Canada's environment, or Canadians.
This brings us back to that singular exception, Bill . It is the one thing the Conservatives can point to that they have put forward, thanks to public pressure from the federations of labour, from the governments in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and from good NDP MPs.
However, it lacks the independent safety regulator that I mentioned earlier. How important is that? Let us hear from Justice Wells, who conducted the inquiry into the tragedy of the Cougar crash in 2009, when there were 17 deaths and only one survivor. That means there were 17 families in mourning, families that lost their breadwinner forever. We can imagine the intense mourning over these types of deaths, which do not need to happen.
One might say that 17 deaths are only part of the 1,000 workers who will lose their jobs this year, but our point is that we need to bring down the death rate across the country. We need to expand occupational health and safety. We need the federal government to show leadership in this regard.
What we have heard from Justice Wells and from key people in Atlantic Canada is that an independent safety regulator will be a key component in bringing down those deaths and reducing the number of families in mourning and that have to live with the indescribable tragedy of losing a loved one in the workplace, whether it is offshore or in any other workplace.
The Hon. Robert Wells in the 2010 Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry said:
I believe that the recommendation which follows this explanatory note will be the most important in this entire Report....I believe that the Safety Regulator should be separate and independent from all other components of offshore regulation and should stand alone, with safety being its only regulatory task....I believe the safety regulator should be powerful, independent, knowledgeable, and equipped with expert advice, hence my following recommendations...It is recommended that a new, independent, and standalone Safety Regulator be established to regulate safety in the...offshore.
That is clear. It could not be more clear. However, it is not only Justice Wells' voice that has been so eloquent in this regard. The Minister of Natural Resources in Newfoundland and Labrador said that while discussions had been ongoing with the federal government on the implementation of this recommendation 29 to establish an independent safety regulator, the federal government had not indicated any interest in establishing this separate safety agency.
Lana Payne, the president of the of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, said:
It's a positive step forward for health and safety for workers in the offshore, but it's not an independent safety agency, and that's ultimately what we do need for the offshore, and we'll be continuing to push and advocate for that.
The inquiry of Justice Wells is very clear. Workers are very clear. The governments in Atlantic Canada are very clear. The independent safety regulator is a best practice that other governments have put into place.
The member for mentioned this in his speech a few weeks ago, when he talked about Norway, Australia, and the United Kingdom putting in place independent safety regulators. The workers deserve no less.
The steps listed in Bill would be initial steps, but without the independent safety regulator, which Justice Wells called his most important recommendation, the government is not putting into place the safety regime that workers deserve and that workers' families need to protect the offshore workers and to protect their families so that we do not see the tragedies we saw with the Cougar crash in 2009 or the tragedies we saw with the Ocean Ranger and with other deaths offshore.
Today in Canada, four workers will die at work. Four workers will go to work in the morning, either offshore for a few weeks or somewhere else in Canada, and four of them will pass away.
Tragically, the numbers since the Conservatives have come to power have increased. The average over the last 20 years was 900 deaths a year, which is an appalling level.
However, under the Conservatives, more recently, we have seen over 1,000 workers die every year. That is a substantial increase in the number of families mourning, a substantial increase in the number of workers' families that have lost a loved one and have been left with that indescribable sadness that never goes away. When a family, sons and daughters, lose a father or a mother, that loss never goes away. That tragedy is never something from which they can come back. When a husband loses a wife or a wife loses a husband, when they got married until death do they part, there is an undesirable level of sadness and tragedy.
Yet under the current government, we see a steady increase in the number of workers' deaths. It is simply because this government shows no leadership when it comes to putting in place the kinds of practices that will lower the number of workers who die in these needless tragedies.
The federal government should be showing that kind of leadership. The federal government should be taking Bill and saying, yes, that it is going to put into place, according to what Justice Wells has recommended and according to what Norway, Australia, and the United Kingdom have done, an independent safety regulator. Workers on the offshore deserve no less.
Then beyond that we offer to work with the government to ensure we start to lower the tragic death rate that we have seen with workers across the country. We will continue to make this offer. Even though the current government seems not inclined to take workers' safety and occupational health and safety seriously, we will continue to offer that help.
However, the tragedies seem to be increasing. Very many people are saying, and with reason, that we need a new government, a government that would put workers' safety and occupational health and safety first, a government that would show that leadership nationally, working with the provinces, to dramatically lower the death rate.
One worker's death is too many. A thousand workers' deaths a year are far too many. We have to stop the tragedies. We have to show leadership. That is why we will continue to press in the House of Commons for real leadership, for independent safety regulators, and for addressing the tragedies that happen each and every day.
Four workers today will lose their lives. That is four too many.
Let us all work together so one day we can stand in the House and say that no workers lost their lives this day, this week, this month, and that Canada is succeeding in putting in place that occupational health and safety regime that all workers in Canada deserve.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
It is not easy to take the floor after such a passionate speech. However, this is an issue that affects us all. Although Bill is especially important to the Atlantic provinces, we all have a role to play in the overall issue of workers' safety. We definitely need to do more to improve working conditions.
As my colleague said, it is unfortunate that other than this bill—and not to mention the fact that Bill is undoing some of the work of Bill —the government is not listening to these concerns. I could list numerous examples to demonstrate why I am saying that.
The most important aspect for me is my own riding. When I am replying to people's letters or attending events, I often hear people saying that they get the impression that businesses in our communities are increasingly being given carte blanche. The example that comes to mind in the rail industry is this summer's tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. It is just one example of how deregulation can affect the public. I believe it is relevant because the issue of workers' safety is part of that domino effect.
The federal government is failing to provide leadership when it gives carte blanche to the oil and rail industries. Consequently, those industries will abandon their employees, the workers.
With that in mind, as legislators, it falls to us to ensure that regulations allow people to work in the safest environment possible. Will we ever ensure that 100% of people are protected and that there will be no workplace accidents? Of course not. There is always a potential for risk.
Still, that argument is not enough to convince us, as legislators, to abdicate our responsibilities. That is why we can be proud of the work done by various levels of government with respect to Bill . This excellent example also proves to the government that it is a good idea to sit down with provincial governments from time to time to get results like the one before us today.
That being said, despite the good work that seems to have gone into this bill, it is important to note that there are still some shortcomings. The most significant of these is the absence of the well-known recommendation 29 from the Wells report, a recommendation that speaks to a situation that arises frequently with this government.
This recommendation sought to create an independent organization responsible for workplace safety. Every time anyone recommends setting up an independent organization to evaluate safety or anything else, the government seems to get nervous. We know how it treated the parliamentary budget officer, an independent officer of Parliament who had a job to do in Canadians' best interest. There are other examples too. I remember a bill on military police introduced about a year ago.
Even in that case, the government was not ready to include an independent ombudsman in the bill, a person who would have the power to conduct independent evaluations on behalf of the people. After all, as politicians, we are not always in a good position. Even within these institutions, and particularly within a company, people are not always equipped to make decisions that are not influenced by their own biases. That is why it is important to pay attention to this recommendation.
We would sure like to ask the government member why our recommendation was not included in the bill. Unfortunately, I do not think that we will get an answer unless a Conservative member finally decides to participate in the debate. Since returning to the House and since the Speech from the Throne marked the end of prorogation a few weeks ago, we have heard very little or nothing at all from government members about quite a few bills, including this one.
When the time comes to do our job as MPs, deal with such issues and speak to the shortcomings of a bill, even if we support it, we are unable to ask questions and to have a healthy debate. In the end, we are forced to point out flaws of a bill to government members who, in this case, remain silent.
The bill is at second reading stage. However, when we are in committee, I hope that we will hear more from government members and the parliamentary secretary who are on the committee. Our concerns might finally be addressed. Even though this is a step in the right direction, we would like to know why the government did not choose to follow through and implement all the recommendations in order to have a much tougher bill with respect to workers' rights.
When it comes to the rights, health and safety of workers, we cannot take half measures. However, we will not reject this half measure, as it does represent a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, the NDP believes that we must implement all of the recommendations. We firmly believe in this philosophy, and we will put it in place when we form the government. If a recommendation is found to be lacking, we will at least rise in the House, out of respect for workers, and explain the government's viewpoint, or why some recommendations were set aside.
In conclusion, I would like to use my last two minutes to expand on a point that I made in my speech. This issue primarily affects my colleagues from the Atlantic provinces, but when it comes to the people of Chambly—Borduas, legislators have the mandate to protect not just oil company workers but also the people who work for any of the big businesses that we welcome into our community. That is my first concern about this bill.
These companies have a business to run and it is good for the economy to welcome them into our communities. However, in my opinion, as the MP for Chambly—Borduas, if these companies are going to set up shop in our communities, they must be good corporate citizens and respect the legislators' intent to implement regulations so that they understand that our constituents are the ones working for them and who make it possible for them to do their job and make a profit. It is a symbiotic relationship, a two-way street. In that respect, I do not think that we are asking for much.
We hope that they will agree to this type of proposal and that they will play an active role in it. We often hear what labour federations have to say on this subject, but it is important that the companies play an active role in the health and safety of their workers, who are the Canadians that I have the honour of representing.
It is extremely important.
I am now prepared to take questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be rising today to speak to the bill before us, Bill . It has a very long name, which I will not repeat.
Members will have heard my caucus colleagues who rose before me to affirm their support for this bill at second reading. I rise to affirm mine as well. However, like my colleagues, I do so not without reservation and not without the promise to do better when we get the opportunity in 2015.
Let me first deal with the positive. Bill represents the culmination of over 12 years of negotiations between the federal government and the provincial governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. It addresses a longstanding gap in legislation, one that has existed since 1992, related to occupational health and safety in the Atlantic offshore oil industry, by placing into the Atlantic accord's authorities the principles relating to occupational health and safety. In doing so, this bill effectively takes current occupational health and safety practices in that industry and codifies them in the form of legislation to be administered by provincial regulatory agencies.
The bill does a number of important things, but first and foremost it outlines the duties of occupational health and safety officers, and provides these officers with enforcement powers, warrant provisions, and inspection and investigation and other measures, in dangerous circumstances.
I mention that, notwithstanding my colleague's commentary earlier in this debate about the apparent conflict between those provisions and the budget implementation bill. It provides employees with the right to refuse to perform an activity that they have reasonable cause to believe is unsafe and affords the employees protection from reprisal for reporting unsafe conditions. This is the keystone to any occupational health and safety legislation. Further, the bill authorizes the relevant federal ministers to develop necessary regulations for both offshore work and the transit to and from that work.
All of what this bill would accomplish the NDP has called for in all relevant jurisdictions for many years. This bill stands for the benefits of a collaborative governance model, one that the government has not put into practice before, but one that sees the federal government and provincial governments working together to solve real problems and make meaningful change.
The bill leaves certain important work undone. The bill does not provide for either an independent stand-alone safety regulator or an autonomous safety division within the regulating petroleum boards.
The recommendation for an independent stand-alone safety regulator was made by the Hon. Robert Wells, as we heard this morning, as the result of his inquiry into the crash of the Sikorsky S-92A helicopter in March 2009, about 30 nautical miles from St. John's. That crash had but one survivor; there were 17 people who died.
Of this proposal, the Hon. Robert Wells wrote:
I believe that the recommendation which follows this explanatory note will be the most important in this entire report.
In making this recommendation, Wells looked to other jurisdictions and found that independent and stand-alone safety regulators were in place in Norway, the United Kingdom, and Australia, with a similar concept being developed, at the time, in the United States for offshore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.
The oversight role which I am recommending would not conflict with the roles of other regulators, but it would when necessary enhance other regulatory measures. [...] Worldwide, the thinking and practices of safety have developed and changed greatly in the past quarter-century. In the C-NL offshore [Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil industry], it is time for a new and comprehensive approach to offshore safety regulation.
He also suggested that should an independent safety regulator not be considered feasible, an alternative along these lines should be implemented: a separate, autonomous safety division of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board with a separate budget and separate leadership, an organizational structure designed to deal only with safety matters, and a mandate and the ability to engage expert advisers to assist in its regulatory tasks; and an advisory board comprising mature and experienced persons who are fully representative of the community and who are not connected to the oil industry.
My deep concern about the omission of action on either the recommendation for an independent, stand-alone safety regulator or its proposed alternative is not informed by my knowledge of the offshore oil industry or of the particular hazards to health and safety related to the work or workplaces of that industry. Rather, it is from a number of years representing workers and workers as supervisors, as broadly understood and defined under occupational health and safety legislation, in an industry with its own particular hazards, the electricity industry.
For those of us who do or have done this kind of work, there is a single principle that governs and motivates what we do, say, think, and propose. That principle is prevention. It is taking all opportunities to ensure that tragedies do not happen, and when they have happened, to prevent them from transpiring again.
The work is always about identifying hazards and risks and removing the hazards, or if removal is not possible, mitigating the risks posed by those hazards. The reason for that approach, that principle, is simple. We talk about workplace or occupational health and safety, but what we are really talking about when we talk about workers are moms, dads, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. We cannot lose sight of that essential truth, because when understood in these terms, when it is understood that what we are doing is ensuring that mom or dad, son or daughter go home from work alive, then the value of prevention becomes, I dare say, obvious.
That responsibility for getting moms, dads, brothers, and sisters home every night falls on all of those in the workplace, most certainly. Occupational health and safety is a shared responsibility. Workers must care for each other, and part of doing so is sharing their knowledge and expertise with all parties in the workplace.
Fundamentally, this is an ethical issue. From knowledge of hazards and risks and knowledge of how to remove or mitigate those hazards and risks flows a duty, a legal duty, yes, but more fundamentally, an ethical duty, to save others from harm. That duty also falls on us here in the House and in all legislatures across this country at least as if not more heavily than it does on anyone or anything else, because we are uniquely privileged to have the power to respond.
That is indeed what this process is about in the House today: the bill and our ability to debate it, identify its shortcomings, and amend and improve it. In all of this is found our ability to do so much to ensure that moms, dads, brothers, and sisters make it home from work.
While we may all embrace the principle of the supremacy of Parliament, that does not obviate or in fact diminish in any way the onus on those who reject the very strong and clear recommendation put forward by the hon. Robert Wells to provide reasons for ignoring or rejecting that recommendation.
Therefore, we will send the bill forward, because in a sense, we have an obligation to. However, there is a question that remains outstanding, unanswered, which is why leave out that important recommendation? The onus to answer that question in a clear and compelling way, the onus to reject convincingly the arguments put forward by Justice Wells in his report, continues to rest on the shoulders of the government, at least until it becomes moot because a better government comes along to put in place that independent, stand-alone safety regulator that will make workers safer, because a mom, a dad, a son, or a daughter is more likely to come home from work because of its existence.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to join my colleagues in supporting Bill at second reading. Before beginning, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the extraordinary member for .
The bill before us today is important. It is the result of negotiations that have gone on for a long time now, for more than 12 years in fact, between the governments of Canada, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
This bill seeks to remedy long-standing issues in existing legislation relating to health and safety standards in offshore areas, with regard to the oil and gas sector.
If passed, Bill will enshrine safety practices in legislation, and it will establish a framework that clarifies the individual and collective roles of the federal government, the provincial governments, regulatory agencies, operators, employers, suppliers and workers.
There are three key principles that underlie Bill . First, the legislation relating to workplace health and safety must protect workers in offshore areas as well as workers on land. In addition, workers have the right to know, to participate, to refuse, to be protected from reprisal and to receive adequate protection. Finally, it is necessary to support an occupational health and safety culture that emphasizes shared responsibility in the workplace.
The NDP is proud to support Bill , which will make it possible to establish a stronger system for the protection of workers, which the NDP has been demanding for a very long time now. Clearly, in our view, the bill still does not go far enough, but it is a step in the right direction just the same. That is why we are going to support it. We hope we will be able to work with our colleagues from all parties to improve the bill and ensure that in offshore areas the workers in the gas and oil sector will enjoy adequate workplace health and safety protection.
Quite frankly, I find it rather refreshing that the Conservatives are introducing a bill that provides greater protection for workers' rights. This is surprising. We are not used to seeing the government take this kind of approach—quite the opposite.
Indeed, since winning a majority, the Conservatives have introduced a growing number of measures to erode protections for workers and undermine their rights, which is very unfortunate. This represents a small change in direction. However, we should certainly not forget the various measures the government has taken to effectively undermine the protection regimes in place for our workers in various sectors.
I am particularly thinking of Bill , an underhanded and mean-spirited bill designed to cripple Canadian unions by creating a massive bureaucracy they have to comply with, under the phony pretext of increasing the transparency of organizations. However, everyone knows full well that the Conservatives' real objective in introducing such a bill is to undermine the unions' ability to appropriately represent their members and defend their rights.
We know that the members opposite may find this concept difficult to understand, because in fact, none of them are participating in today's debate. We are talking about protecting workers and implementing very important measures to protect the people who work in the oil and gas industry—which the Conservatives care deeply about. However, they do not even bother to rise, to represent their constituents and defend the rights of workers.
However, they have no qualms whatsoever about introducing a growing number of measures to undermine the rights of workers in various industries. To be honest, this makes no sense at all.
I can mention another measure that attacked workers' rights, namely the special legislation passed by the Conservatives during the Canada Post lockout in June 2011. This legislation forced the employees back to work, obviously under worse conditions, while reducing their pensions and their protections, which were in fact acquired rights. The Conservatives gave themselves the power to gut certain measures that had been negotiated between the employer and employees. The Conservatives, however, clearly decided to circumvent all that.
This also brings to mind the recently tabled Bill , which ironically weakens workers' health and safety protections. It also allows the minister to decide, unilaterally in a totally arbitrary way, which public services to designate essential, thus limiting the actions workers will be able to undertake to defend their rights or demand better working conditions.
Finally, who could forget how the Conservatives have gut the employment insurance system? They are leading a direct attack against seasonal workers all across the country. The Conservatives are not only failing Quebec and the eastern provinces: every part of the country will feel the impact of the employment insurance reform.
In my riding, , not a day goes by without someone phoning or visiting our office because they are adversely affected by the EI reform, a reform the Conservatives pushed through without consulting the provinces, the territories or labour organizations.
All these examples illustrate the Conservatives' general attitude. Luckily, there is a tiny glimmer of hope now, since Bill would provide some workers with additional protections. Let us seize this ray of hope.
The NDP will support this bill. I must say again, though, how disappointed I am that the Conservatives are not taking part in the debate on Bill . It may be that they have forgotten how debates work, or that they have no idea how to defend workers' rights, since they have never done it before. Why start now? Even though the Conservatives are introducing a bill about workers' rights, they are so close to big corporate bosses that they can no longer rise in the House and defend workers' rights, even when they should be standing up for their constituents.
NDP members will keep up the good work, doing their best to stand up for Canadians, including those the Conservatives should be standing up for. Today's debate is important. It is a shame so few government members are actually taking part in the debate.
Let us get back to Bill . As I said earlier, this bill will improve the lives of offshore workers in some ways. However, it does have some shortcomings, the most significant of which is the fact that the government refused to create an independent, stand-alone safety regulator for the offshore zone. The governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have repeatedly called for this, but the Conservative government refused at every stage of the 12 years of negotiations.
In his June 2010 report, the hon. Robert Wells made several recommendations, including recommendation 29, which he believed to be the most important one in the report. The recommendation called for the creation of a new, independent and stand-alone organization to regulate safety issues in the offshore. This organization would have to be distinct and independent from all other bodies regulating offshore activities and would be solely responsible for regulating safety issues. Similar organizations exist in Norway, the United Kingdom and Australia. The United States is also considering setting up this type of body in the Gulf of Mexico. The Conservatives, however, have refused to even consider the idea. That is not how an NDP government would have handled things. We think it is important to create that kind of body. We will work toward that, which means that we will continue to pressure the government to create that kind of body, and we will continue to support our provincial partners as they work toward that goal, which is very important.
Various accidents and tragedies have occurred on our coasts, some of them fatal. Several of my colleagues have talked about that in the House, including my colleague from . Despite everything, despite the Wells report and despite the fact that people from across the country have repeatedly asked the government for this, the government will not budge. Such an organization is not included in the bill and will not be created.
I think that is a shame because there are some measures in Bill , measures that protect worker health and safety, that the NDP can support. We will be happy to do so.
Mr. Speaker, I think it is very important to point out today that, although I have had countless opportunities to debate issues in the House of Commons, unfortunately, I have rarely had the occasion to congratulate the Conservatives. As I rise today to speak to Bill , I would like to tell them that, even though we support this bill, we are not completely happy with it. There are still improvements to be made.
I would like to point out that, all too often, the Conservatives complicate things when they could be drafting bills that are in the best interests of Canadians. I am thinking, for example, of Bill . This bill was drafted in consultation with stakeholders and the Atlantic provinces, and even after 12 years of talks—which is quite a long time—it does not take into account the most fundamental recommendations contained in the report.
For that reason, I would like to ask the Conservatives why they are trying to pass a bill that does not go all the way and why they are always passing bills that are full of holes and leaving the courts and Canadians with unclear legislation.
What is wrong with this government is that its members are not capable of taking their responsibilities seriously. Things have reached the point where—as my colleague from British Columbia just mentioned—they are not even debating their own bills. That is completely ridiculous. The government introduces bills and then refuses to stand up for them and respond to Canadians' concerns.
That is what is wrong with this government. I am sorry to say so because I greatly appreciate my colleagues on the other side of the House. This bill could have been a wonderful bill had the Conservatives taken into consideration the main recommendations of the report. All of the experts and groups who were consulted said so. The bill is good but it could have been even better had the government really listened to their requests and simply acted on their recommendations.
Unfortunately, I do not think that we will ever know why the government did not do so. It is too bad that, day after day, this government refuses to debate its bill and improve it in order to give Canadians the best legislation and the best protection possible.
That being said, I would like to address the positive aspects in the bill, because I think it is important to do so. We know the Conservatives’ past history in terms of workers’ rights and in terms of work in general. I hope this shows that they are now taking Canadian workers seriously and that they are coming to their defence.
In my view, enshrining health and safety provisions for Canadians in legislation is very important because it provides clear guidance for employees, employers and provincial regulatory agencies. It should be mentioned that the step we are taking is a very important one. Basically, all the agencies and all the provinces agree that this is a sound piece of legislation. On the other hand, there is still room for improvement in the bill’s content, and I will come back to this point a little bit later in my speech.
As I mentioned, the bill addresses shortcomings. It was in 2001 that the government began negotiations with the provinces, and this bill is therefore the culmination of 12 years of effort.
The government is there to listen to the provinces and not necessarily to play the devil’s advocate all the time. Unfortunately, even when it is playing the devil’s advocate, it is not even able to put forward a bill that implements the recommendations that it said it wanted to implement. That is too bad.
For instance, in 1992, it was decided that health and safety matters would be removed from the legislation. This made things rather hazy. The provinces had to move ahead in different ways without a set of legislative guidelines for enforcing health and safety principles.
We know how complicated things can be in the Atlantic provinces because of offshore oil and gas development. We know, for instance, that BP is beginning new exploration off the coast of the Atlantic provinces. We are moving toward more oil and gas development. This is the perfect time to pass clear-cut regulations to protect people who may even be risking their lives on offshore oil rigs. This is really important.
I would really like to congratulate the government for finally recognizing the rights of these workers. They have the same right to protection as all other Canadians.
I know that the Conservatives have policies on union rights that are quite regressive. We have seen it with Canada Post. We have seen it with Air Canada and Aveos, with the Air Canada Public Participation Act.
I think it is important to note that, perhaps today, the government has done a little bit of soul-searching and has come to the conclusion that it is there to protect workers, not private organizations.
As I said, the bill describes the duties of operators, employers and employees. This is important. While occupational health and safety regulations must admittedly be put in place for the benefit of employers, employees must also have benchmarks for guidance and a clear framework to know exactly where they stand. For example, while an occupational health and safety culture must be instilled in both employees and employers, employees must also be protected.
I want to focus on one very important provision. Bill gives employees the right to refuse to perform a task that constitutes a danger to themselves. Of course, the bill also makes it clear that employees must have reasonable cause to believe that performing the task would constitute a danger to themselves. I believe this is important. The provisions benefit employers as well as employees.
Another very crucial provision protects employees that report unsafe conditions from reprisals. This might help to prevent major disasters, like the one that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is important, in my view, to establish an occupational health and safety regime. The government must focus on doing this not only for the safety of Canadians, but also to prevent disasters and to safeguard all Canadians from problems of this nature.
Since my time is running out, I would like to turn to recommendation 29. As I mentioned, the government conducted negotiations and held talks with the provinces for 12 years, but it disregarded the most important recommendation, one on which all provincial organizations and the provinces wanted the government to show some leadership. That recommendation called for the creation of an independent safety regulator.
It is very important to note that a number of countries have already established this type of independent body. As my colleague from stated earlier, these countries include Norway, the United Kingdom and Australia. The United States is considering the possibility of establishing one such body.
If the government really wants to show that it is willing to take action, it must go all the way and meet all of the provinces’ demands.
In my estimation, this is important. If the government really wants to demonstrate its willingness to take action, it must follow through and meet all of the demands made by the provinces.
Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time I have stood in the House to speak about the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. Since being elected in May 2011, I have spoken about the C-NLOPB too many times to count. I have spoken about the problems and shortcomings of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board many times, including patronage appointments.
The highest-profile appointment that comes to mind was the one-time campaign manager of Peter Penashue, the former Conservative MP for Labrador who served as minister of intergovernmental affairs in his short stint in federal politics. That campaign manager was no more qualified to serve on the board of the C-NLOPB than he was to run Penashue's fraudulent election campaign, which is why he is no longer on the board of the C-NLOPB.
For another thing, I cannot say how many times I have made reference to the 2009 crash of Cougar flight 491 that killed 17 offshore workers. The public's confidence in the C-NLOPB has been shaken. There is no doubt about that. Therefore, it is a welcome change to stand in the House today to support a bill that is actually focused on the health and safety of offshore workers.
It is about time. It is well past due. It is an important victory for the labour movement in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia, as well as for provincial New Democrats in both provinces, who have been fighting for this for a dog's age. They have been advocating for a legislated offshore safety regime for about a dozen years.
I stand in support of Bill , an act to amend the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act. The bill itself amends the Atlantic accord to place health and occupational safety regimes into legislation. The bill clarifies the individual and shared roles and responsibilities of the federal government, the provincial governments, regulators, operators, employers, suppliers, and employees.
Bill is based on three basic principles. The first is that offshore occupational health and safety laws must provide offshore workers with the same protection as onshore workers. The second principle is that the legislation protects and enshrines the rights of offshore workers. The third principle supports an occupational health and safety culture that recognizes the shared responsibilities in the workplace.
The bill authorizes both levels of government, federal and provincial, to work together to develop regulations for offshore health and safety. The bill also requires Transport Canada to develop occupational health and safety regulations for offshore workers in transit, such as when they are travelling to and from marine installations, rigs, and gravity-based structures, for example. There are only two ways to get offshore, in case it is not obvious. One is by air, meaning by Cougar helicopter or rescue helicopter, and the other is by offshore supply boat.
Let me be clear: Bill is positive news. It is good news. It is welcome. However, the bill does not go far enough. I have to stand again today to talk about the federal Conservatives and their failure to put the health and safety of offshore workers front and centre. Before all else, the health and safety of our people must be paramount, but that is not the case.
I referred earlier to the 2009 crash of Cougar flight 491 about 30 nautical miles from St. John's. Seventeen people died. There was one survivor. It was an incredible tragedy, yet another in a string of tragedies for maritime people such as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It was felt in every nook and cranny of Newfoundland and Labrador and around the country.
Justice Robert Wells conducted an inquiry into the Cougar crash. In his words, the most important recommendation of the entire report is recommendation number 29.
That recommendation called for the creation of an independent and stand-alone regulator to oversee safety in the offshore oil industry. Where is the independent safety regulator? It has been three years. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador supports it. Where does the Conservative government stand? Why has it failed to act on the most important recommendation of the Wells inquiry report?
Let me quote from that Wells report. It states:
...the Safety Regulator should be separate and independent from all other components of offshore regulation and should stand alone, with safety being its only regulatory task.... Independent and stand-alone safety regulators are now in place in Norway, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and the same concept is...being developed in the United States for the Gulf of Mexico.
We will remember the Gulf of Mexico and the Deepwater Horizon. The rig caught on fire and almost a dozen workers were killed. There were billions of dollars in damages and cleanup costs.
Is the health and safety of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Canadians not as important as the health and safety of Norwegians, Australians, Americans and the people of the United Kingdom? Of course, it is.
In his inquiry report, Justice Wells wrote that the oversight rules he was recommending would not conflict with the roles of other regulators, but would, when necessary, enhance other regulatory measures. In the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore, Justice Wells said that “it is time for a new”, and I underline “new”, “and more comprehensive approach to offshore safety regulation”. What Bill fails to do is to create that independent safety regulator.
Earlier this month, Transport Canada released proposed safety regulations for offshore helicopter operations. They were announced about a week and a half ago. The new regulations would prohibit the operation of offshore flights when weather or water conditions would make ditching in the water unsafe. Under the new rules, crew members would also be required to wear water immersion survival suits and operators would have to carry an emergency underwater breathing apparatus for each passenger aboard the flight.
As part of that news, the federal issued a news release, in which she stated:
Our government is committed to strengthening aviation safety for all Canadians. We have worked closely with the aviation community to develop these new regulations, which will improve the safety of offshore helicopter operations for both passengers and crew.
After that news release was issued and the story broke, I had telephone calls from offshore workers and their families. They were upset. Why were they upset? They were irate because these proposed new regulations are not new regulations. Lana Payne, the Atlantic director for Unifor, which represents workers on the Terra Nova FPSO and the Hibernia oil platform, pointed out that those recommendations were already implemented in Newfoundland and Labrador. The C-NLOPB was responsible for implementing those measures in the aftermath of the Cougar crash. Lana Payne stated:
Nothing in this statement from the minister is going to change one iota in terms of improving safety in the offshore, because most of it has been implemented.
The offshore workers who contacted me were furious. “Why is this a news story?”, they asked. “What is the news in this story? What makes this news? There is nothing new here”. They were absolutely right.
What is also missing from the current regulations, another shortcoming, is the requirement for helicopters to have a 30-minute run-dry capability. In other words, helicopters should have the capability to stay in the air for 30 minutes after their gearboxes run dry of oil. Please God that never happens, but we know it has happened in the past.
That recommendation was made ages ago; it was two or three years ago. What has become of that recommendation? Nothing has become of that recommendation.
We support the bill at second reading. It is a win for offshore workers. It is a long-fought win for the New Democratic parties in both Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and the bill looks good on the industry.
However, if the Conservatives think that offshore workers, their unions, their families, or even the provincial governments are satisfied, they are horribly mistaken. This is but one step in the right direction. Another huge step would take place once there is word that the federal government will finally act on an independent safety regulator.
What keeps me positive is the fact that our offshore workers, their unions, and their families do not miss a trick with the current Conservative government. New Democrats will not stop. We will not relent until the safety of our workers is paramount above all else. They deserve no less.