The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill , as reported with amendments from the committee.
(for the Minister of Natural Resources)
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to add my voice to support this worthy legislation.
If there is one thing our government has been crystal clear about when it comes to energy development, it is that public health and safety and environmental protection are paramount. This is the very essence of reasonable resource development.
There is no question we are determined to create high-quality jobs, economic growth, and long-term prosperity for all Canadians, and the energy sector has certainly delivered that to Atlantic Canadians in recent years.
Since the oil and gas industry began operating offshore in Newfoundland and Labrador in the late 1960s, the region's economy has been transformed. In 2010, the industry generated wages, salaries, and benefits worth $291 million in the province of Newfoundland alone. Not only does the sector clearly make a major contribution to the livelihoods of workers, but it also improves the standard of living of all residents in the region, and there is also no debate that we recognize that it would be irresponsible to promote development without the assurance that the health and safety of our citizens and the protection of our environment will be fully addressed. That is precisely what Bill is designated to do. It would better safeguard Atlantic offshore oil and gas workers.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers reports that over 5,000 individuals are currently employed in the oil and gas industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. Almost 1,000 more work in Nova Scotia's petroleum sector, and the potential is great for even more jobs and economic growth in the near future. Recent offshore oil and gas discoveries are bringing a new wave of activity into the Atlantic provinces.
There is all the more reason, then, for Bill . Workers in the industry need to be protected, given the dangerous conditions associated frequently with their jobs.
Under the Canada Labour Code, workers are protected from hazards in the workplace. This protection includes the fundamental right to refuse dangerous work. As was underscored by the tragic March 2009 crash of Cougar flight 491 ferrying oil workers to offshore rigs and by the catastrophic sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig in 1982, worker safety must be job number one.
I can assure the House that our government is committed to ensuring the health and safety of Canadian workers and the protection of the environment. That is why we are introducing this new regime for Atlantic offshore workplaces.
Before outlining these improvements in detail, let me first explain where the federal government fits in this picture.
The Government of Canada shares responsibility for the management of the offshore with the Governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. These responsibilities are laid out in bilateral accords with each province, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act.
Canada's Atlantic offshore oil and gas industry is regulated by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, as well as the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. These boards ensure that operators and drilling contractors comply with the requirements of their respective implementation acts and exercise due diligence to prevent spills in Canada's offshore.
The Atlantic accords have been in place since the 1980s and are no longer sufficient to reflect contemporary requirements. They require modernization. The labour program, along with representatives from Natural Resources Canada, provincial energy and labour departments, and the provinces' offshore petroleum boards have identified and agreed to key areas for improvement.
First, the legislation places authority for occupational health and safety within the accord acts. If adopted, this legislation would establish an occupational health and safety framework within the Atlantic accord acts.
The new regime would apply to worker safety on-site at offshore rigs, as well as to workers in transit to or from offshore platforms.
The new regime would apply both to worker safety on site at an offshore rig as well as to workers in transit to or from an offshore platform. It would be jointly overseen by the and provincial occupational health and safety ministers for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
It would be enforced by their individual offshore petroleum boards.
The boards would be responsible for verifying that companies have adequate plans in place to protect their employees and to avoid dangers. This includes everything from ensuring the safe handling of hazardous materials to proper procedures related to the operation of equipment and managing facilities. Using audits and inspections, we would confirm that all applicable health and safety requirements were met and demand correction if deficiencies were found. As well, the boards would be granted increased authority, such as enforcement powers for occupational health and safety officers.
These include the powers of inspection and investigation, warrant provisions and creative sentencing measures in case of dangerous situations.
Under Bill , the Minister of Labour would provide ongoing federal labour expertise, such as the development of regulations, the issuance of directives to the boards, and recommendations on the appointments of special officers.
Special officers would be appointed to avoid a serious, imminent risk to the health and safety of offshore workers.
Such a scenario would proceed following joint approval and appointment by the pertinent provincial ministers and the , following a recommendation by the Minister of Labour.
Along with the Minister of Natural Resources, the Minister of Labour would also co-appoint six members of a 13-member advisory council to be made up of employers, employees, and the two levels of government. The council would provide a forum for the exchange of ideas about occupational health and safety issues to ensure the effectiveness of this legislation.
Bill also introduces consequential amendments to part II of the Canada Labour Code. In the event of an accident, the bill would extend the time limit to launch a prosecution from one year to two years, consistent with the occupational health and safety legislation in many provinces. The Minister of Labour would also have the right to disclose information to the public regarding occupational health and safety.
The amendments would also give the Minister of Labour the authority to share information with federal and provincial government departments as well as with international organizations if the minister deems it to be in the interests of occupational health and safety or in the public interest overall. This would make it easier to share information during a coroner's inquest or a provincial prosecution. I want to be clear, however, that personal information would continue to be protected.
I should point out several minor amendments to the legislation since it has been debated at second reading.
Most amendments are technical in nature, such as putting the word “Canada” in the title of the regulations and renumbering the subtexts of the act that were incorrectly numbered.
Some were needed to harmonize federal and provincial legislation. For instance, we had to replace the provincial “Occupational Health and Safety Act” in Nova Scotia with the correct new name of its Labour Board Act, as this province has amended its legislation recently. Federal and provincial legislation obviously must mirror each other.
Several amendments were required as a result of Bill , the second budget implementation act, and changes to part II of the Canada Labour Code.
The changes proposed under the Canada Labour Code would make coordinating amendments. “Minister of Labour” would now replace the terms “health and safety officer” or “regional health and safety officer” to reflect the minister's authority to delegate powers, duties, and functions previously conferred to health and safety officers. Let me be clear that through the delegation process, decisions will continue to be made by health and safety officers with the necessary expertise.
Coordination is required around the protections within the code regarding the minister giving testimony in civil proceedings, and these amendments now refer to “civil and administrative proceedings”, which include arbitration hearings.
The improvements I have outlined respond to input received in extensive consultations in 2010 and 2011. The provinces and industry and employee groups have all expressed strong support for the changes we have proposed. They have done so because they recognize that these changes would ensure that Canada's offshore industries will operate safely and to the highest environmental standards.
Bill would create a modern occupational health and safety regime that is relevant and responsive to today's offshore oil and gas reality, and, most importantly, it would provide robust protection for Canada's oil and gas workers, ensuring their safety and health in the workplace.
Thousands of Atlantic Canadian workers are looking to us to ensure their well-being and continued prosperity. Therefore, I urge all parties to support the bill and make these amendments the law of the land.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak at third reading on Bill , an important piece of legislation for the Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia offshore petroleum industries, which are extremely important not only to Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, but also to Canada, as pointed out by previous speakers.
As was said, the industry produces 35% of Canadian light crude production, is a significant contributor to our oil industry, and has made a significant difference to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are proud of the very strong industry that we have and the contribution it makes to our workforce and our industry, to our universities, our education system, as well as to the lives of people who are able to earn a very good living from its development.
It has been a positive experience, but we also know that work on the offshore is inherently dangerous. We have had very sad reminders of that in the past. The Ocean Ranger disaster in February 1982 was mentioned, where 84 offshore workers were drowned in a serious disaster, where a rig engaged in exploration of the offshore in Newfoundland sank and, of course, most recently, the Cougar Helicopter crash in 2009 with the loss of 17 lives. There was another helicopter crash in the late 1980s. So we do know that we have an industry with a lot of opportunity for injury as well as loss of life, as we have sadly seen.
That is what the bill is about. The bill would put in place a safety regime in legislation, believe it or not, for the first time in the offshore. What we have had up until now is a set of draft regulations. It is almost hard to believe that the entire offshore in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia was operated under a set of draft regulations, under some theory that if we had the draft regulations it would force the employers, the industry players, and the companies to follow them as if they were guidelines.
However, there were no enforcement mechanisms.The only enforcement mechanisms were to put a stop work order on the rig. But that was an all or nothing situation. One could not actually go and inspect and find someone who had violated a provision and use those rules to make an improvement, to issue a fine, and use the same regulatory process used in health and safety to ensure compliance with the rules.
I have some experience with offshore workers. In my life as a lawyer, I represented Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil workers in their efforts to obtain union representation and recognition. They in fact became the first offshore oil workers in North America to achieve collective bargaining. Of course, important aspects of collective bargaining include wages and working conditions, but there was also an extreme level of interest in the process of safety committees, how safety was being managed by these companies and employers, and on the part of employees and their elected organizations in participating fully in this process.
We have seen as well a very significant delay in the implementation of significant recommendations that came, for example, from the Ocean Ranger disaster. One of them was that an emergency helicopter should be stationed in the area closest to the offshore and be available on up to 45 minutes' notice. That was not implemented. That recommendation was made in 1985 and it did not become implemented until the last year or so, after Justice Wells stated that he wanted this to happen immediately. We now have a standby helicopter at St. John's available to wheel up in 20 minutes any time another helicopter is in the area transporting workers back and forth to the oil platforms and drilling platforms. That took 20 or 30 years to be put in place.
The negotiations with respect to this legislation have been going on for 13 years. It is astonishing.
With the minister having said that this is a top priority and that job one is the health and safety of offshore workers, the delays that have taken place and the length of time that it has taken to get these regulations in place are shocking. That is something that the workers are quite concerned about, and have been for many years.
We still have concerns, and the workers have concerns, about the use of night flights for helicopters. Former Justice Wells, during the course of the helicopter inquiry, issued an interim recommendation that there be no more night flights. Evidence had been presented to the helicopter inquiry that it is significantly more difficult to rescue people at night and that the rate of loss of life when a helicopter ditches at night is some 65% to 70% higher than if the ditching happens in the daylight. As a result of his recommendation, the C-NLOPB stopped night flights. The companies are now seeking to return to night flights, and there is strong opposition to that from many quarters, including the workers and the workers representatives; so we still see ongoing issues and problems.
However, I want to reiterate that we support this legislation because it was pushed by the workers' representatives who were involved both directly in the offshore and also with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. They participated in these negotiations in Nova Scotia. They worked to ensure that the same kinds of safety regimes that exist on land, in terms of the right of a worker to refuse unsafe work and to participate in health and safety committees, are now parallel in the offshore. That is an achievement. Therefore, it is not a surprise that people support this legislation; it is an advance over what is there today. The regulations would be in place. They would be enforceable. There would be a system for that and a more rigorous involvement of worker representatives in health and safety committees. That is a success.
Therefore, we support it. We have supported it through committee. We did want improvements. I will provide an example of the kind of evidence the committee heard from witnesses. I would like to quote from the presentation by Lana Payne, who is the Atlantic director for Unifor at the moment but was the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour for a number of years.
In her testimony before the committee, she said:
...we are pleased that we finally have this safety regime for workers of the offshore oil industry, but we do believe that a stand-alone, powerful, and independent safety and environmental authority is not only necessary but also essential in advancing safety in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry.
That was her testimony before the committee on December 9 of last year. That echoes recommendation number 29 of Mr. Justice Wells, which he characterized as his most important recommendation. He did that based on his study of regimes in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Norway. Even the United States has recognized the necessity of having a separate regime so that the health and safety of offshore workers is dealt with separately in the regulation of the industry, which involves quite a lot of collaborative work back and forth. The concern is what Mr. Justice Wells called regulatory capture.
That is a phrase used to describe what can happen if the regulator becomes very close to the industry it is regulating and ends up not being able to be independent and provide the sole priority of looking after the health and safety of workers.
That is why this recommendation was made and that is why these countries that have mature oil and gas regimes, such as Norway and the U.K. in the North Sea, have adopted it as a result of learning that it was necessary to make sure they had, as Lana Payne has so eloquently put it, “...a stand-alone, powerful, and independent safety and environmental authority...”. That is what is required. The Newfoundland government supported that recommendation. We have a truly bilateral event here. We have not been given an explanation by the minister as to why the Government of Canada has said no. Why has it said no? The government has not provided any rationale in the minister's speech today, despite two questions to the minister—or was it three?—asking why that was.
Mr. Justice Wells still supports his recommendations. The Government of Newfoundland is very adamant that it wants to see a stand-alone offshore safety body that can handle safety and health issues, and we would add environment to that, as well, as Lana Payne has pointed out.
We do have reservations, obviously, about this. We thought that at least the government would recognize, if it was not going to adopt recommendation number 29 and put in place a stand-alone review, and accept the amendment, which is:
The Minister of Natural Resources must cause to be laid before each House of Parliament, not later than five years after this Act comes into force, a report on the operation and implementation of this Act, including whether an independent offshore area regulator is desirable.
That would require this notion of the independent safety regulator to be foremost in the mind of the government as we go forward and, in five years, report to Parliament: “What can you tell us about the operation of this act, in light of the recommendation for an independent regulator? Can you show us that it has operated well without that? Or have you been able to conclude that an offshore separate regulator is available?”
That was an important effort and we thought that, from the point of view of government operations, particularly in light of the strong recommendation that has come forward and the strong support of the Newfoundland government, the partner in this, we would see agreement on that at least. But, no, it got very short shrift at the committee from the government members without really any effort to justify why they were not accepting that.
However, that is not unusual from the current government. It is not unusual for us to go to committee with cogent arguments, with witness support, with experts and expertise, and time and again this happens in committees with the current government.
It has not always been like that. I was here with another government, a Progressive Conservative government, back in the 1980s. We had committee meetings. We offered suggestions. We made amendments. The amendments were debated. Some were accepted; some were rejected. It was a somewhat more collegial effort, shall we say, than we have in committee with the current government.
Anything the government proposes has to be perfect. It must be perfect. Of course, it is perfect until it realizes it has made some mistakes and then it brings in a bunch of amendments itself, as it did in this case. I think it brought forward 10 at the end of the day: “Oh, we've got to fix this, this, and this”; but if anybody else makes a suggestion: “Oh, no. It's perfect as it is. We don't need to change anything because, of course, we wouldn't bring anything forward if it wasn't right and proper”.
That is an unfortunate attitude. I do not know whether it represents paranoia, immaturity, lack of confidence, or just sheer pigheadedness, but the current government does not seem to recognize that any good suggestions can come from any location other than its side of the House, or maybe from the PMO.
Maybe all suggestions must flow from the PMO instead of members opposite who are listening to what is said in committee, accepting that the arguments make sense, and agreeing that the legislation may need to be amended slightly to make it better.
That is the theory of debate and amendment. Amendments are made to improve legislation, not to change it so that it would do something different from what was intended. If an amendment goes against the original intention of the legislation, it is ruled out of order. The only amendments acceptable in parliamentary procedure are ones that are within the scope of the bill and are offered by way of improvement to better achieve the purposes of the bill.
The purpose of this legislation is to have an offshore health and safety regime that reflects the needs of the people in the industry and the industry itself. Its purpose is to have a robust safety regime that ensures the safety of all workers and that ensures that the operation can be done properly, as the minister mentioned, both on site and also in transit back and forth to the oil platforms and rigs.
It has been pointed out that three rigs are presently in operation and another one is in the works, which should be operating by 2017. The Hebron-Ben Nevis field is farther out, some 400 kilometres offshore, which is a very grave distance. Helicopters fly out there in all sorts of sea conditions—obviously not in too inclement weather—that make it difficult to ditch an aircraft, if that becomes necessary. In this case, the helicopter that is being used is the only helicopter of its class that does not have a 30-minute run dry capability, which is when the main gearbox loses oil. It is required that a helicopter be able to operate for 30 minutes with a total loss of oil in the main gearbox. That requirement is for significant safety reasons. It is a requirement for military helicopters, some of which will run dry for an hour or more, but the minimum standard is 30 minutes.
When Sikorsky designed this helicopter, it received an exemption on the basis that this would never happen, or that the chances of it ever happening were remote, one in ten million hours. In the first 100,000 flying hours of helicopters of this type it happened twice, in Australia in the summer of 2008 and in the offshore of Newfoundland in March of 2009. In Australia, the helicopter was fortunately over land and the pilots could land it quickly to avoid a disaster. The second time it tragically happened in the offshore of Newfoundland. Unfortunately the documentation for this aircraft suggested that it did have 30-minute run dry capability. The helicopter pilots were heading for land, expecting to have 30 minutes to get there, but they had less than 12 minutes. The helicopter seized up and crash-landed into the ocean, causing the loss of 17 of the 18 people onboard. Miraculously, one person survived that crash.
As has been said, this is a significant step forward. We would have an enforceable health and safety regime in the offshore. Workers would have the right to refuse unsafe work and participate on health and safety committees. Hopefully, we will have a good regime that will work. Unfortunately, we do not have the independent safety regulator that was recommended by Commissioner Wells and supported by the government and people of Newfoundland and Labrador and the offshore workers themselves. Unfortunately, the government will not commit to reviewing that in five years. However, we do support the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on Bill . This is the second day this week that the House has debated legislation that impacts activities in the offshore sector, which, to those of us in Atlantic Canada, like my colleague the member for , who just spoke, and the member for , who asked him a question, is very important. It is very important to our economy and to the people who work in the offshore sector who benefit from that. It is very important that they are safe in the work they do and in travelling to and from the offshore platforms.
The offshore sector can be a dangerous place. I know there are many measures taken to make it as safe as possible, but it is tough work. It can be dangerous work, and we have seen unfortunate proof of that over the years. In fact, there are brave men and women working out there every day performing very challenging work.
Making sure that these people are safe in their workplaces and that they return home to their families must be a priority for all of us. Bill is a step in the right direction.
However, I hope the government will actually listen to experts on Bill , which we debated on Tuesday, because it did not listen to experts with respect to Bill , which we are discussing today.
When the House was debating second reading of Bill , the member for asked if I thought the legislation went far enough in addressing the concerns of the Wells royal commission.
I did not, and I do not. One concern I have with Bill is that it did not adopt recommendation 29 of the Wells commission report, which flowed from a terrible helicopter crash off Newfoundland. That was already discussed a bit this morning.
My hope was that when the bill went to committee there would be consideration given to an amendment to adopt recommendation 29, which called for a separate organization to look at the question of workers' health and safety, an organization solely dedicated to that absolutely vital task.
Commissioner Wells testified at the committee last fall that he “felt that an independent safety authority was the best choice..”. Commissioner Wells went on to add that he did not think everyone would agree with the recommendation. That is reasonable. He included a fallback position, which was to create a separate safety division within the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. Of course, this legislation would also apply to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.
While the fallback position was adopted, in my view it falls short of what is needed. It is yet another missed opportunity by this neo-Conservative government. Unfortunately, Bill was reported back to the House of Commons with only a few technical amendments which correct inaccurate wording in a number of clauses.
It was also very unfortunate, in my view, that the Conservatives on the committee would not support efforts to provide greater clarity on the word “danger” in the act. That word is particularly important, and the meaning of it is particularly important in this kind of legislation.
Under this legislation, certain terms such as “danger” are not defined in this bill. They remain to be defined by federal regulation on the recommendation of the and the , and with the approval of provincial ministers.
In committee, I introduced a proposed amendment calling for consultations with the provinces and key stakeholders on the definition of “dangerous work”, something that we have heard is important. I felt it would coincide with the testimony we heard in committee about the importance of consulting on this question of the word “danger”. That is critical for all parts of the offshore oil and gas industry, and the men and women who work in our offshore.
While this legislation does push the yardsticks and while it is a move in the right direction, it could have been better. It could have been strengthened. It should have been amended. As legislators, that is our job. It is our job not only to examine these carefully, to look for ways to improve them, but also to hear the evidence, hear the experts, and reflect on that expert evidence and testimony and make the appropriate changes. We are not simply here to do whatever the kids in short pants in the 's Office tell us or order the Conservatives to do.
We are often asked to strike a careful balance between economic success in the oil and gas sector, the rights of employees and, of course, environmental concerns. Bill is one of the many tools to achieve this balance, and I believe the Canadian Parliament, including members in the House of Commons, ought to strive to set an example to the rest of the world by clearly indicating that we value human capital at least as much as the wealth we derive from our natural resources. That is why the Liberal Party has supported this bill.
Bill will effectively solve the issue of jurisdiction surrounding occupational health and safety in Canada's offshore oil and gas industry. It was not clear until now—which became very clear after the terrible helicopter accident off Newfoundland when it was unclear which level of government had responsibility and jurisdiction. This will solve that issue and that is important. That is an important step forward, which has taken over 10 years to realize.
The legislation would also create a streamlined process for rectifying health and safety issues and to assign responsibility. That is important because we do not want to have any doubt about jurisdiction if there is an accident in the offshore. An issue of the utmost importance is our capacity to respond to an accident or spill in the offshore. However, that is a debate for another day, and I hope we will have opportunities to do that.
This legislation is focused on the right to a safe workplace. It is an important right and a right that all Canadians must enjoy. Many of us as Canadians, and certainly those of us as members of Parliament, have a very safe work environment and are very fortunate in the kind of work we do. For the most part, it is indoor work and a lot of it is desk work or standing up work, but it sure is not in conditions some workers across this country face, by any means.
If we think of working outside on a cold day like this, or of the folks in Atlantic Canada—and I look across to my colleagues from New Brunswick and consider our families back home and other families in Atlantic Canada, digging out from a terrible storm and still experiencing terrible wind, some of them without power, and consider the folks from the power companies and snowplow drivers and others out there who are working to get things back to normal—we should feel pretty fortunate to be working in a place like this with the kind of jobs that we have.
Though a safe workplace is not the reality for all Canadians, governments have worked with stakeholder groups in the past to improve conditions faced by Canadians in their places of employment.
That, obviously, is incredibly important work. Bill is an example of these efforts—in this case, the joint efforts of the provincial and federal levels working together, which does not happen often enough. Indeed, this government is not known for working with provincial governments. However, it is our collective responsibility, whether as a legislative body, employers or employees, or society as a whole, to ensure that the right to a safe work environment is respected.
It is absolutely vital. The conditions for employees on offshore drilling projects should be comparable to those on land-based projects. There is no question that a drilling rig, whether offshore or onshore, can be a very dangerous environment.
I think employees and their families can be confident that what is proposed in Bill , as far as it goes, would improve the health and safety regimes of our offshore oil and gas projects. However, members of my party believe we still need to ensure that the separation of health and safety concerns from those of production and economic viability occur. Justice Wells made that very clear in much more eloquent language than I.
We recognize that these two issues are very different things, but one trumps the other, and health and safety comes first. We need to make sure that, when necessary, those health and safety concerns are paramount, as they ought to be.
Bill should guarantee that the proposed chief safety officer has powerful methods of inquiry to hold operators to account. A regime of self-regulation, in our view, would be insufficient. I have already said that we do not think the chief safety officer approach is necessarily ideal. There are other things that Commissioner Wells recommended, but since that is what we are going with, let us try to make it as strong as possible.
The chief safety officer must not be influenced in decision-making by concerns of economic viability or by political pressure, which should be obvious. This individual must be a champion of a healthy and safe environment for all employees who work in our offshore oil and gas industry, or in any of those kinds of projects.
Bill has survived changes in governing parties at both the federal and provincial levels. It has received clear provincial support, and legislatures in both Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and Labrador have given the bill's mirror legislation assent, in short order. By supporting Bill , we have the opportunity to improve upon legislation that has already met some of the concerns of the provinces.
If we take into account all the elements of employee health and safety, the original offshore accords, and Bill itself in those bills, this could provide the model for future negotiations between the federal government and other provinces, like Quebec for example, that are looking to develop their oil and gas sectors.
Let me conclude by noting that while Bill is a step forward, we should recognize that more work needs to be done. Hopefully, we will not have to wait another decade for that to occur.
It is not new to Canadians that our country places great economic importance on the development of natural resources. Forest products, natural gas, hydro electricity, and oil and gas are cornerstones of our export market and contribute immensely to the creation of jobs, which, of course, we believe is very important. We want Canadians to have a good quality of life that comes with jobs and opportunity. However, let us make sure that those resources are developed in a responsible and sustainable way. Let us recognize that occupational health and safety must be paramount.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to follow some of my colleagues in the debate on Bill . Having been a member of the natural resources committee for eight years, and having now left it, this was the last major piece of work I had the opportunity to work on with my colleagues from all parties. Unfortunately, I had moved prior to getting to clause-by-clause review, which would have been interesting. Nonetheless, I got a chance to listen to a lot of the testimony before committee. We had some great witnesses. We had very cordial discussion and a lot of good feedback. It was a good committee experience.
What I am going to talk about today is the importance of the offshore. I will spend a few moments on that. Then what I would like to do is to talk about what led to Bill and why it is important. Then I would like to talk about some of the major things the bill does and some of the comments made by Justice Wells.
Certainly, as a lot of people have said in testimony earlier today, we know how important natural resources are to our country, and specifically the east coast. As my colleague, the member for , just pointed out a minute ago, we have a lot of people working on the offshore and the potential for expansion of that resource opportunity not only helps the folks in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, but also P.E.I. and New Brunswick, whether it be by providing services or by labourers actually going there. In some cases, it is a lot better trip for some of our families to be able to go to an east coast location, as opposed to travelling west.
For that reason, we want to continue to ensure that Canada's natural resource sectors remain open to investment that is market oriented and in the long-term interests of Canadians. We will ensure that the jobs, opportunities, and economic growth created by our natural wealth are available to all Canadians. In the Atlantic offshore, this wealth is chiefly in the energy sector, particularly oil and natural gas. The strength of Canada's energy sector is well established, but as strong as Canada's energy sector is today, it offers even greater potential for the future.
Canadians living in Atlantic Canada already know what a difference a strong energy industry can make to communities' quality of life. Offshore oil and gas has literally transformed the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador. For example, in 2011, the energy sector in Newfoundland and Labrador employed nearly 5,000 people and accounted for roughly one-third of provincial nominal GDP. Between 1997 and 2013, the province collected about $7.8 billion in statutory royalties from offshore oil and gas. Now, as we begin 2014, the future is even brighter. The offshore energy sector in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia is still growing and the industry continues to invest billions of dollars in new energy projects.
Our government supports energy infrastructure projects that will create jobs and generate economic growth for Canadians, but it will do so only if these projects can be proven to be safe for Canadians and only after we have the proper reviews.
Our commitment to responsible resource development is made for environmental reasons as well as economic ones. Our plan will ensure that there is stronger protection by introducing tough new financial penalties for companies that do no comply with environmental regulations, and establishes new measures to strengthen Canada's world class pipeline and marine safety regimes. However, we have to remember that one of the major regulatory items is to protect people through a rigorous offshore safety regime. That is why we introduced Bill , to ensure that offshore industries can carry out their activities safely.
I would like to read into the record some testimony from Mr. Jeff Labonté, the director general of the energy safety and security branch at the Department of Natural Resources. He said:
The work on the legislative package before Parliament got under way almost a dozen years ago. It was following an accident in Nova Scotia in which a worker in a workplace was killed. In that particular accident, the accord acts originally separated operational safety, the operations of the technical units and things that are happening in the offshore, which was imbedded within the accord acts, and occupational health and safety as a separate area which fell under the provincial jurisdiction.
All of a sudden, we had a grey area here where it was hard to determine who was actually responsible, what would happen and who would actually regulate this going forward. That led to a 12-year process and our Bill
The bill is approximately 260 to 270 pages long. Members who were on the committee and actually went through the review know that roughly 200 of those pages took occupational health and safety regulations out and put them into the accord acts. It was to mirror the legislation between the provinces and the federal government. We want the offshore industries to abide by the most stringent standards. We need to identify and clarify things, and that was the reason we did that.
Interestingly enough, some of the earlier comments were about why this took so long. It started in 2002 and it was a 12-year process. A lot of us in the House, even if we have only been here a short period of time, understand that sometimes it can take a while to get federal-provincial deals negotiated. What ended up happening is that it went through a period until about 2007, when there was a realization that further work was needed on the governance aspect of the bill. It had to go back, and obviously there were a lot of iterations between the provinces and the federal government to make sure that the legislation was mirrored properly.
Those things took some time. We had some governmental issues with respect to the minority governments that happened during those times.
I believe it was under an NDP government in Nova Scotia that the legislation passed, and a PC government in Newfoundland. They are now waiting for us to do our process with Bill .
The accord acts already provide the regulatory cornerstone for all oil and gas activities in the Atlantic offshore. They give the independent regulators, the two offshore boards we have been talking about this morning, the legal authority to regulate oil and gas activities on behalf of the Governments of Canada, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
They clearly establish the health and safety requirements within the accord acts. For the essential matters of occupational health and safety, and operational safety in the offshore, Bill fully clarifies the roles and responsibilities of all concerned parties, governments, regulators, employers, and workers.
The legislation also has other practical benefits and gives new powers to the offshore inspectors to further enhance safety. For example, inspectors will now be authorized to inspect anything, take samples, and meet privately with individuals. Further, inspectors will now have the power to conduct compliance audits on the vessels used to transport workers, and if the workers themselves have any safety concerns, Bill allows them to refuse to be transported to the offshore sites.
I just want to speak to the issue of the chief safety officer's power. It has been strengthened. In my experience in construction projects before coming into this area, it was always my understanding, whenever I went to a construction site, that the chief safety officer had full ability to shut a site down. They could do that carte blanche. That is independence. Even if those safety officers actually reported to project managers, they really had a higher calling and a higher power.
This safety officer, referring to some of the testimony from Mr. Jeff Labonté, said:
The final area that I will cover is that of the chief safety officer. First, to ensure that safety considerations are always represented, the legislation proposes that the position of the chief safety officer can never be held by a CEO of the board. In addition, a chief safety officer would have to review and provide written recommendations related to safety on all operational authorizations. This would formalize a process that both boards have already been following and is a practice of ensuring that safety is a priority. Chief safety officers would also be granted the power to allow regulatory substitutions.
As everyone knows, when we start talking about these regulatory substitutions, technology moves very fast in the offshore environment. For example, if a new piece of equipment comes out that is going to make workers safer, a chief safety officer would have the ability to authorize its approval to substitute it for something already out there.
Those are important things to make sure that our workers are safe, which this legislation and the regulations keep up.
During his appearance at the natural resources committee in December, Justice Wells spoke about the legislation. He said:
Somebody has worked hard—more than one person, I suspect—on this bill. I know that it's been under consideration for a number of years. Quite honestly, I think it's a good job and I think it will help to formalize some of the concepts that people knowledgeable about the industry and the regulatory people have thought about for some time. To see it enshrined—I hope to see it enshrined—in legislation is a good thing.
A couple of things impressed me most. One is that the bill talks about and mandates the involvement of workers in the processes of safety. That was something that was important to me during the two years and three or four months that I was the inquiry commissioner.
Justice Wells was very clear in the committee that he was pleased with the offshore health and safety legislation. He was also clear that good has come of the government's adoption of his recommendations.
We also talked at length at committee with two individuals. They were Mr. Scott Tessier, who is the chair and CEO of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, and Mr. Stuart Pinks, who is the CEO of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. We had a significant opportunity to question those folks. In fact, one of them was actually a former chief safety officer. I asked him about the qualifications of the chief safety officers, the kinds of things they do, and the process. He said that he was the chief safety officer for a number of years and that there is a strict selection process for chief safety officers. They are often long-tenured employees who stay with these boards for very long periods of time and build up institutional knowledge so that they are able to continue doing their jobs effectively.
Some of the other things they talked about were privacy requirements. They are not allowed to publish certain types of things when it comes to safety. With this legislation, when it comes to safety, they would be able to publish this for the public.
A lot of what was said was that it is not just for the actual workers on the site but for their families as well. We always need to be concerned about their families. They should be able to see that everything is safe. What is actually happening is important to the families, as well.
Justice Wells and the two CEOs also talked about safety forums, which have now started. They have just conducted the fifth of these safety forums. They received a tremendous amount of feedback from the workers who now, as part of this important piece of the legislation, have three major rights. They have the right to know, the right to participate in the discussions, and the right to refuse dangerous work. They are all important aspects for these workers. These safety forums allow for these types of discussions to happen and for the appropriate actions to take place. I talked previously about the safety equipment and substitutions.
There was a lot of good feedback. The Unifor representative talked about the safety regulator. I am sure that someone will ask me that question during the questions and comments.
In summary, there is no doubt that Bill would significantly enhance worker safety in the offshore by creating a much more transparent safety regime, with clear responsibilities for all involved. Our Conservative government worked with our provincial partners on this. I want to emphasize that this was a partnership, because this legislation has to be mirrored at the federal and provincial levels. It would give us a much more modern, efficient, and stringent offshore safety regime, one that is supported by strong laws and standards that are second to none.
The Conservative government is committed to freer trade and to maintaining an open marketplace that welcomes investment. It is committed to providing a regulatory regime for major projects that is fair, transparent, and predictable. It is committed to enhancing Canadian competitiveness in the economic sector.
I am encouraged and really pleased to see that members from the opposite side are going to support this bill. It represents a big and important move of the yardstick forward in terms of offshore health and safety for our workers and in terms of the well-being of their families. I appreciate their support. Hopefully, we will be able to get this passed quickly.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to weigh in on this important issue again. I had the opportunity to speak on this at second reading, at which time I indicated my support for this legislation and for the measures. I was pleased that the two levels of government, the two provincial governments and the federal government, were finally able to reach agreement. The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Province of Nova Scotia passed mirror legislation, and the federal government is now following suit.
I want to focus my presentation today on where we go next. It is extremely important that we get the best piece of legislation that we can to serve the purposes laid out in the legislation. However, if we do not have the enforcement and the political will to make it happen then, frankly, we will go back to the decades when the offshore on the east cost was covered by draft regulations. We will go back to something we see far too often as it relates to private industry, in particular in the fields that are so dangerous. I speak of the whole practice of voluntary compliance. In that, governments expect the companies and individuals involved in any particular industry to be safe and careful and to not put workers at risk.
We know that public sector and private sector entities conduct risk analysis at every opportunity, before they put in any constraints on their practices whatsoever. Before a private sector company introduces any, in this case, safety measures or the use of safety equipment, it will do a very careful analysis on what the chances are that anything is going to happen, that there are going to be problems, that there is a risk there will be a loss of limb and life and, even at that point, what the exposure of that company is to liability.
That is why it is so important for governments to take their responsibility seriously in protecting people who are not protected, whether they are citizens, customers, clients, or workers. In the case of the Ocean Ranger, the 84 people who lost their lives, and in the case of the Cougar helicopter, the 17 people who lost their lives, nobody represented them. Nobody went to the effort to ensure there were constraints on the private sector companies that controlled what was going to happen to them when those workers at their jobs were carrying out their responsibilities. That is why it is incumbent upon us, not only to pass legislation to prevent these kinds of things, but also to ensure that the legislation is enforced, to ensure there is the political will in place, and that there are provisions in the legislation to ensure that people or companies that contravene provisions of the legislation are held accountable.
We had a terrible tragedy in Nova Scotia, in 1992, where 26 miners lost their lives. There was a royal commission held that made a number of recommendations. It led to Bill , which was passed in this House, I believe in 2004.
It was called the Westray bill, and it was done to assign corporate responsibility. That legislation makes all decision-makers in a company responsible for the results of bad decisions or decisions that lead to the loss of life. Yet, since 2004, 22 years after that disaster happened, there have been a couple of charges but absolutely no convictions.
That underlines my point. We need to make sure that the responsibilities are laid out in the legislation. We need enforcement. We also need to make sure that people are held accountable. Ultimately, it all comes down to political will.
This legislation would only take us part of the way. We are only beginning to move in the right direction toward ensuring that the industry has a proper health and safety regime, as well as regulations.
However, our responsibility does not end here. We need to ensure that as development continues we work harder to make sure the people working in this environment are protected, and that the environment itself is protected.
I want to refer to Lana Payne, the Atlantic director of Unifor, who testified at the natural resources committee. She said that “Canada is still far behind other industrialized oil economies such as Norway, the United Kingdom, Australia...[and] the United States” in having “powerful stand-alone authority in charge of safety and the environment...”.
The member who spoke before me seemed to suggest that we do not have a stand-alone regulator here. We do not need it. It is a small jurisdiction. It is smaller than the Arctic or the west coast or some of these other countries. The member should say that to the 82 families who lost loved ones when the Ocean Ranger went down. He should say that to the 17 families of the workers who lost their lives when the Cougar helicopter went down.
If development is going to be conducted off the coast of our country, then we need to ensure that proper protections are in place, as in other countries. We have not done enough. We need to do better. We in the New Democratic Party will do everything in our power to ensure that this country does a better job in this area.
It is important for the federal government to continue working with the provinces and offshore boards in this area. There is no doubt about that.
I wish the government had considered the amendment that was introduced by our members on the natural resources committee. That amendment would have seen a review by the minister after five years. We would have known whether the legislation was actually accomplishing, not only what it set out to accomplish, but whether the government was showing the political will to enforce it and to hold people accountable. That happens with other legislation. It is not new. Things change, and try as we might, we might miss provisions that we should have perhaps picked up on. A five-year review would indicate whether we had run into any difficulties. A five-year review would ensure that 10 years or 13 years out we have done our due diligence with respect to making this happen.
I will refer to the intervention by my friend Dr. Susan Dodd, who wrote the book The Ocean Ranger: Remaking the Promise of Oil . Susan lost her brother when the Ocean Ranger went down. I spoke at some length about Susan's work in this area at second reading, but let me say again how much I value her opinion and the exhaustive research that she engaged in to prepare her book.
Before committee, Susan rightly identified that the “failure to regulate leads not only to the loss of life and the destruction of the environment, but also to the public's losing confidence in the legitimacy of government”. Disasters, such as the Ocean Ranger, Westray—and I referred to the explosion of the coal mine in Pictou County, in 1992—and the Deepwater Horizon, are also political disasters. People appropriately asked why it was that regulations did not exist or were not strong enough. Why were there weaknesses in the system and why were they not addressed years before?
Too often, changes to health and safety come about as a reaction to an event rather than as a preventative measure. I would suggest that this needs to be changed.
When I was preparing for these remarks, I looked at the Westray example. I was a member of the legislature in 1992 when that disaster happened. Within the next day or so, I sat with families in Stellarton who were trying to understand the magnitude of the disaster and whether their loved ones might still be alive. In the initial days of that disaster, it was a rescue effort.
We had a commission of inquiry, which did not table its reports until 1998. There were 74 recommendations, and section 73 led to Bill C-45.
I talked abut the need to hold decision-makers accountable. In the Westray situation, they found that there were decisions made or not made that directly led to the explosion and the loss of life. Everyone recognized that the people who had the responsibility for making decisions did not make those decisions, or they made decisions understanding that a result there could be a disaster, an explosion, which happened. Those people need to be held accountable, and that is what led to Bill C-45.
Here we are 22 years later, and we still have not been able to hold people accountable for these kinds of workplace disasters. That is why I worry very much about our sense of satisfaction when we pass a piece of legislation like this.
We have been at this for 13 years. We worked with the other jurisdictions and we got it through. When it passes through this House and finally receives royal assent, we have done our job. However, that is just the beginning. That is the point I am trying to make; it is simply just the beginning. We need to do so much more to make sure that we fulfill our responsibilities in representing the people of this country.
Let me make it clear. I certainly do not have all the answers on how we protect workers in the offshore industry or how we protect our environment. That is why I feel compelled, as an individual MP and a member of this House, to say we need to be ever vigilant and be always listening and always paying attention, so we can ensure that the right thing is done, that we correct our mistakes, and that we move quickly, because we are responsible to represent not only people who work in that industry but also the environment, in the event of oil spills. As my colleague from said, there will be a third rig in operation in 2017, even farther off the coast of Newfoundland. They are exploring, again, off the coast of Nova Scotia and in the gulf. It may be inevitable that there will be further development of these resources, but we cannot proceed without ensuring that we are protecting the people who work in the industry and protecting the environment, because once those disasters happen, those lives are lost and that environment is damaged, in many cases, forever.
Let me make a couple of suggestions.
First, I call upon the current government, and any government, to support the recommendation that has gone before Transport Canada to ensure that all airplanes and helicopters that are used for search and rescue and to transport workers to and from the oil rigs must have the capability to operate for an hour after they have no oil or have run dry. That has been a recommendation--in fact, it was 30 minutes, I believe—and that recommendation has still not been put in place. Even after it was determined to be one of the problems that led to the disaster with the Cougar helicopter, that still has not been implemented. I think it is extremely important that we ensure regulation is put into place. We know this is a fairly standard requirement for helicopters that operate off the coast, to give them time to land safely.
Second, the government needs to reverse its cuts to search and rescue and ensure that our SAR teams have the equipment necessary, and in working order, to carry out their missions as quickly as possible. These are life and death situations that these people are responding to in Atlantic Canada and around our coasts. It is too often the case that search and rescue missions are hampered because our dated equipment is not functioning or the teams are unable to arrive in a timely manner.
I think it is important that I also make a plug for the environment, in this respect. As I have already said, Canada is lagging behind once again. While the government has recently introduced legislation to increase oil and gas spill liability to $1 billion, this amount pales in comparison with the actual costs of the spill cleanup and the impact on our environment and local economies.
To wrap up, there is still a lot of work to be done to strengthen the safety of the offshore industry for our workers and for our environment. While Bill is a step in the right direction, I think it is incumbent upon the government to continue to work with the provinces, the stakeholders, and industry to prevent future disasters.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North to speak to Bill , the offshore health and safety act.
This bill is a culmination of over 12 years of negotiations that started back in 2001 between the federal government and the provincial governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. Now, as we all know, no bill is perfect. This bill is certainly not perfect, but 13 years later this bill is well past due. I am glad to see that this important step forward is being taken.
It is far past time that this legislated offshore safety regime be put into place. All workers, whether they work onshore in our communities or offshore, deserve to work in a safe environment and to have their rights protected. This bill places the overall responsibility for occupational health and safety on the operator. This means that the employer is responsible for implementation and coordination, although employees are still expected to take all reasonable measures to comply with occupational health and safety measures.
There are basically three principles in this bill: first, the offshore occupational health and safety laws must provide workers with protections at least as good as those that exist for onshore workers; second, the protection of employees' rights; and third, support for an occupational health and safety culture that recognizes the shared responsibilities in the workplace.
These basic principles address protections that should be available to all workers. It is a shame that offshore workers have had to wait this long for these protections to be afforded to them.
It comes as no shock to me that the Conservatives waited this long to bring this legislation to the House. This is not the first time we have seen the Conservatives drag their feet and delay long overdue legislation.
However, now that we have finally reached the point where we can give these offshore workers the protection they deserve, this bill represents a very necessary improvement to the current offshore health and safety regime, by finally placing safety practices in legislation.
My NDP colleagues and I have been calling for this type of strengthened regime for several years, and we are proud to support Bill at this stage.
I mentioned earlier that this bill is not perfect, and I would like to explain my comment. The glaring deficiency in this bill is the federal government's refusal to implement recommendation 29 of the Wells inquiry. The Wells inquiry took place after the March 2009 crash of a helicopter approximately 30 nautical miles from St. John's, that left 17 dead and 1 lone survivor.
Before Justice Wells made recommendation 29, he said:
I believe that the recommendation which follows this explanatory note will be the most important in this entire Report.
This is a direct quote from the author of this inquiry who made this recommendation. He pointed out that recommendation 29 was “the most important” of all the recommendations. Here is what it said:
29. (a) It is recommended that a new, independent, and standalone Safety Regulator....
An alternative option was also recommended in this report. However, unfortunately, Bill fails to establish either of these options. It seems the government is not committed to establishing this necessary reform and closing the gap that remains.
On this side of the House, we are committed to working with the Nova Scotia government and the Newfoundland and Labrador government to further strengthen health and safety by working towards the creation of an independent stand-alone safety regulator, as recommended by the Wells inquiry.
As Canadians, we should strive to set an example for the rest of the world. We should be leaders on the global stage. However, time and time again, we are faced with examples showing that we are not keeping up with global best practices. This has been apparent.
I made a speech just the other day when we debated Bill . Canada is not keeping pace with the international standards set for nuclear and offshore gas liability. I will give an example, specifically how we are not even making the polluters pay for it themselves. I talked about my son and my daughter and the liability issues that are in Bill .
The current liability for offshore gas, oil, or nuclear disasters is about $75 million, which we would now increase to $1 billion. We have seen the nuclear disaster in Japan and the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, we had the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on the west coast, where I am from. We know for a fact that $250 billion is the rough estimate now of the cost of the disaster in Japan. The cost is in the tens of billions of dollars in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is the same for the Valdez disaster in the Pacific Ocean off B.C.
My point is that we are increasing the liability for these disasters to $1 billion for the corporations, the people who are producing the gas and oil, and the private industries that are operating our nuclear plants and so on. I will use an analogy from my own home shortly. The sum of $1 billion is not enough to clean up the mess that has caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. In other words, corporations are getting a free ride if there is a disaster, because guess who would be left holding the bag? It would be the taxpayers, Canadians, who are held liable for the rest of the cleanup.
We are not looking at other countries and the standards that are out there. We could look at other countries, such as Germany and other European countries, that have substantially higher liability for these issues.
I used the example of my kids the other day. My son is seven years old. He makes a mess and he does not want to clean it up. He cleans up a little bit of it, and he wants his sister to clean up the rest of it. His sister comes to me and says no, it is his mess and he should clean it up. My wife and I have explained to my son that it is his mess and that he needs to clean it up. He cannot pass on his mess to someone else.
That is what we are doing. We are not looking at other standards. That is what we are doing with regard to the liability issues for nuclear disasters, oil, and gas.
We need to look at other governments among our partners, including south of the border and other nations, to find ways of improving it. That is the case in this particular situation, where one of the major recommendations is to have an independent regulator, as Justice Wells pointed out. We need a new independent and stand-alone safety regulator, and we need to look at what other countries are doing for best practices. We have not done our job here. That was one of the recommendations made by the Wells inquiry. It clearly pointed out that this was the most important recommendation. Again, it was ignored by the Conservatives.
Countries like the U.K., Australia, Norway, and the United States have all recognized the value of an independent offshore regulator and have taken steps to put it into action. Why should the Canadian offshore gas industry and Canadian workers be treated any differently? That is my question for the Conservatives. Why should our offshore industries and workers be treated any differently from their counterparts in our partner countries around the world, whether in Europe or south of the border?
Instead of setting an example, with Canadians being leaders in a particular area with other countries to follow, we are lagging behind. It is time we reversed this trend.
Here is another example. We are world leaders when it comes to conducting elections. We are viewed as a model for other countries. We also learn from other countries. We use some of their best practices and they use some of ours. I am very proud as a Canadian that our election model is used worldwide to conduct fair elections. What are we doing in our country? We have had the top three electoral authorities, the elections commissioner, Elections Canada people, and Mr. Neufeld, testify at committee that the changes being brought forward by the Conservatives in the unfair elections act will not strengthen our current electoral system. In fact, they will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Canadians. That is not an example we want to set. We want to go in the right direction. The right direction is to improve the systems that we have in place and to ensure that not only are our democratic values protected, but also our offshore workers, so that they have the same safety level as onshore workers. It is a very disturbing trend that we are witnessing from the government. We need to improve the safety of our workers, onshore and offshore.
Not only does the bill not provide an independent, stand-alone safety regulator, or an autonomous safety division within the petroleum board, but our efforts to provide for a review of the bill in five years were also voted down by the Conservatives at committee. This, yet again, demonstrates the Conservatives' lack of interest in further strengthening the bill. Allowing for a review of the bill in five years' time would have provided an opportunity to re-evaluate whether an independent safety regulator were needed. Even if the government did not put in the safety regulator in the first place, we asked at committee for a review after five years. Perhaps they would find evidence that we do need an independent safety regulator.
When we talk about evidence, it is very clear that science and facts do not really figure into the Conservative equation, whether on the environment or jobs. The government is using Kijiji facts to inflate the number of jobs created in the country. I have never actually used Kijiji, so I looked it up today. It is a website for people to trade household goods. In fact, one can actually buy a used tie on Kijiji, or used shoes, and there are other things created on the site. The fact that the government, which is allergic to research and facts, uses Kijiji of all websites to inflate the number of jobs available in the country makes ones suspicious of the other facts brought forward by the government.
I talked about the unfair elections act. The Conservatives say there have been many irregularities and that we need to strengthen our Elections Canada Act. They say “We need to make it fair, that there have been 15,000 irregularities.” When asked how many people were charged since Confederation with fraudulent use of voter identification cards and voter fraud, the answer is zero. The government cannot come up with any examples. Oh, it does have examples it makes up. I know that the member for brought up some facts that he had to retract because they were false. Those are the kinds of facts and figures that Conservatives make up. It is unfortunate that they do this.
The real facts would be for them to concede that they are not appointing the regulator now, but that we should further evaluate the issue. That would make sense, that we would look at it five years from now and re-evaluate the situation to see if we needed a regulator. But the Conservatives turned that down. I have been here for a number of years now and we have seen thousands and thousands of recommendations made at committee to improve bills. We have heard from expert witnesses and stakeholders begging the government to make changes that would be beneficial to the stakeholders, the very people the laws would affect, and we have seen very few if any amendments adopted at committee stage.
I know that was not always the case. Usually members of Parliament were able to propose amendments to bills and improve them. That is the work of Parliament, to improve the legislation brought forward. That is my job, to bring forward the views of my constituents and the very people who are being affected by this. But, unfortunately, the Conservatives, who get their marching orders from the 's Office, are told how they should go about this. We are seeing the same thing happen with the unfair elections act at committee. Reasonable amendments have been provided to improve the bill, but the Conservatives have again chosen to reject the amendments on a technical basis. Due diligence and good governance require the review of legislation, particularly in this case where we are dealing with complex legislation involving multiple levels of government. The behaviour here is consistent with the Conservatives' unwillingness to consider amendments that would strengthen the legislation coming to the floor of the House. It is not the first time we have seen this, and I can guarantee it will not be the last.
Finally, I want to point out how refreshing it is to see a bill that represents the collaborative efforts of the provinces and the federal government, although it has taken eight or nine years to bring it to this stage. I am happy that finally the Conservatives were able to collaborate with the provinces.
I can give a couple of examples where Conservatives have failed to collaborate. I would like to announce to the House that I am very pleased that Port Metro Vancouver is up and running. Port Metro Vancouver is one of the largest ports in Canada. It employees directly or indirectly 60,000 workers. There has been a strike going on for the last four weeks. This dispute has been simmering since 2005. The truckers had brought to the government's attention over the last eight or nine years some of the issues they were having locally. What have governments been doing? They have done nothing over the last seven years to address these issues.
Last week, the went to Vancouver and said it was not a federal problem, but a B.C. problem. The B.C. government said that it was not its problem, that it was actually the federal government's problem. So with a problem that has been simmering for eight or nine years, the federal government and the provincial government could not figure out whose problem it was and we have lost billions of dollars as a result from the strike. I would put the blame squarely on the Conservative government and its inability to collaborate with the province.
Again, this bill could be greatly strengthened. One of the things it lacks is recommendation 29, which calls for an independent regulator.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today and speak on Bill at third reading stage.
I wish to announce from the outset that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for .
Of course, being from the west coast, I was not as familiar with the industry in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, which has taken off in the last generation. I was very impressed, therefore, when the member for and the member for spoke so passionately about the impact the offshore oil and gas industry in their jurisdictions and reminded Canadians from coast to coast to coast just how important that industry is to our national economy. About 35% of Canada's light crude oil is being generated by that industry, and it is expanding.
I had the opportunity, I confess for the first time, to be in St. John's several months ago and to see the enormous impact that industry has had in that jurisdiction, and in Nova Scotia as well, and to learn how proud the people of that jurisdiction are with respect to the contribution it has made to their economy. For that reason, it becomes even more important for us address the issue of worker safety in that industry.
I was shocked to learn that there has been no statutory safety regime in either jurisdiction for a generation. Essentially, the industry has been operating without any kind of legislated jurisdiction or legislated regime for the protection of worker health and safety for a generation, but has been relying instead upon merely draft regulations. As my friend for pointed out very accurately, the only thing that could be done in the event of a problem was to shut the whole thing down, which, of course, is often something regulators would be loath to do.
However, in place of that, we now have a very comprehensive bill before Parliament, finally. It is a bill that was made in collaboration with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador so as to provide a consistent regime to deal with this burgeoning industry. I think it is for that reason alone that the official opposition is in entire accord with the need to move on with the proposed legislation.
When I say move on, I would point out that it has taken over a decade to get us to this place with legislation. I understand and respect that there has been collaboration to work closely with the provinces in this regard, perhaps something that has not been done by the government to any great degree. However, I think that the proof is in the pudding, and we now have a regime to which the Province of Nova Scotia has given royal assent, as did the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in May of last year.
We are getting on with it, they are getting on with it, and the workers want us to get on with it. I see all Canadians would certainly understand the need to enact a regime as comprehensive as the one before us.
I should say that enforcement is really what is critical here. A number of important principles in the legislation have been spoken to by members opposite as well as members from the official opposition, and there are three principles that I think we would all subscribe to.
First of all, offshore occupational health and safety laws must provide workers with protections that are at least as good as those for onshore workers. There can be no doubt that is only fair and appropriate.
Second, there is the protection of the employees' right to know, to participate, and to refuse unsafe work, and in doing so to be safe from reprisal. This second principle is one that in the last two or three decades has been made a significant part of labour law in this country, and it is about time that the offshore workers of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia enjoyed the same rights.
The third principle is the support for an occupational health and safety culture that recognizes shared responsibilities in the workplace. We can talk about laws and we can make laws, in this case with scores of pages, and then make many scores of regulations under the statute, but unless there is a culture of safety in the workplace, it really amounts to nothing.
As we examine a regime like this, the extent to which there is enforcement is also critical. It was Shakespeare who said, “...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. If this law is not implemented carefully, responsibly, and with that culture of health and safety that has been referred to, it really will be nothing more than paper, and no one wants it to be that way. No one wants it to be that way, when we look back in sadness on the Ocean Ranger disaster or the helicopter crash in 2009 that killed 17 people. We are dealing with the importance of a robust regulatory regime. That is what we are here to discuss.
At a broader level, this legislation is a great example of co-operative federalism at its best. The notion that we can sit down with the provinces, which have their own circle of jurisdiction, the federal government, which has its jurisdiction, and the offshore boards, federal and provincial, that have been created, and work together and produce something like this is one of the things that makes Canada such a great country. Our willingness to work together makes this a great country.
It is sad that it has taken this long. It does not appear to be a priority for the Conservative government. Given the delay, it does not appear to be the priority one would have expected, but nevertheless we are here and we are pleased to debate such an important piece of legislation.
I mentioned the three principles that I think are so essential to this legislation. I should salute the work of Mr. Justice Wells, who came up with a number of recommendations after the helicopter crash, which have been saluted by people on all sides of the House today. He worked hard. It is telling and it is sad, and we have heard this before in the debate today, that the recommendation he thought the most important is not part of this legislation.
Mr. Justice Wells states the following in his report, “I believe that the recommendation which follows this explanatory note will be the most important in this entire Report”. What is that recommendation? Recommendation no. 29 states that “...a new, independent, and stand-alone Safety Regulator be established to regulate safety in the C-NL offshore”.
If that were not considered feasible, Mr. Justice Wells gave an alternative that the government “...create a separate and autonomous Safety Division of C-NLOPB [the board], with a separate budget, separate leadership, and an organizational structure designed to deal only with safety matters”.
Mr. Justice Wells, the architect who brought this to the attention of the regulators so forcefully, said the most important thing is an independent, stand-alone regulator, and the Government of Canada sadly has refused to accept what he himself characterized as the most important recommendation in the entire report.
Obviously, we cannot be happy with this legislation entirely, notwithstanding that we finally have it, when such an important piece of the puzzle is missing, a piece of the puzzle that is found in so many of our sister jurisdictions with offshore oil and gas, the British with the North Sea, the Norwegians, Australia, and the United States now. Yet Canada does not think we need to go there.
If there is anything we understand from regulatory culture, it is the notion of regulatory capture. The need to have an independent board to do the job is something that most people, at least in other jurisdictions, seem to take for granted now. But for reasons that escape me, our government seems to think that is not adequate even though it had been sought by so many, the provinces, the workers, and the like. Sadly that is missing.
The bill could be much better but we will support it proudly because of the fact that the workers were involved. There were consultations. I just hope that going forward they will continue to be involved.
I wish there had been a way to have a five-year review, as sought at committee, because that has been done so effectively when other Conservative governments were around. The present Conservative government does not believe in that. Nevertheless, it is critical that we look at that in the future, as the bill will inevitably come forward for amendment. Maybe we could do it better. Maybe we could do what Mr. Justice Wells said we needed to do as the most important feature. Maybe we could do a better job of protecting those workers in those dangerous occupations off the shores of Atlantic Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill . This bill has a very long title, but it is a very important bill and Canadians, particularly the NDP, have been waiting for it for over 13 years. We have been calling for the implementation of more health and safety standards for workers in the offshore oil and gas industry.
Before I begin speaking about the bill, I would like to point out the excellent work that my NDP colleagues have done in committee. They helped this bill move forward so that it could be examined today. Some of the members in question include the member for , who did excellent work; the member for ; the member for , who worked extremely hard not only on natural resource issues but also on environmental issues and who has a great deal of knowledge in this field; the member for ; the member for , who gave an excellent speech today; and the member for , who also examined this bill.
I mention this because Canadians do not really know about the work that is done in committee. I often talk to my constituents in Drummond about the importance of the remarkable work the NDP does in committee. We always hope that that work will be as objective as possible, that it will be not be partisan and that it will be for the good of all Canadians.
My constituents know that I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development since soon after I was elected in 2011. For three years, I have been trying to work with my colleagues in such as way as to provide as much benefit as possible to the people in the greater Drummond area and throughout Canada in order to improve bills and conduct studies that will improve the quality of the environment and sustainable development.
The Standing Committee on Natural Resources examined Bill to improve the health and safety of workers in the offshore oil and gas industry. It is important to understand the significance of the work that was done by my NDP colleagues. They proposed an amendment to improve the bill by including a provision that would require the department to conduct a review of the implementation of the act within five years of the legislation coming into force.
This interesting bill makes improvements, which I will talk about a little later, but it could be fine-tuned. For that reason it is important to have a review period. However, we do support the bill at this stage. Any important bill includes a review period.
For example, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act includes a review period. In fact, the review is supposed to be happening now. I do not know what the Conservatives are doing. They are asleep at the wheel and are forgetting to review certain laws. In any case, I am concerned about their reviews, when they actually do conduct them.
When they reviewed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act they scrapped it altogether. We went from having thousands of environmental assessments to a few dozen. That has resulted in serious problems such as the approval of the Enbridge pipeline. Reversing the flow of the pipeline was done without a proper environmental assessment.
The same thing is happening with Bill .This bill will not undergo a proper review because the Conservatives did not accept our amendment that the legislation be reviewed in five years.
Bill fixes long-standing problems with the legislation and also the authority to make regulations pertaining to occupational health and safety standards and their application to offshore oil and gas operations in the Atlantic.
The bill amends the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord in order to enshrine the workplace health and safety regime into the legislation. This is an important measure and the NDP will support it.
However, the bill does not respect recommendation 29 of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry. As hon. members know, there was a serious accident. Following that accident, the people of the region were very concerned. There was an inquiry led by the Hon. Robert Wells.
Bill does not include a provision to create an independent regulator. A number of my colleagues have mentioned that today. In fact, they have done excellent work. They have done a fine job of explaining the importance of the workers and showing concern for their health and safety, including the helicopter pilots and other members of the crew.
The bill does not have any provisions for creating an independent, stand-alone safety regulator or implementing separate safety divisions within petroleum company boards of directors.
It is truly disappointing because the NDP went to great lengths to ensure that the bill would be reviewed after five years. This could provide the opportunity to create an independent offshore authority. I am not sure what the Conservatives are afraid of, why they have this need to control everything and manage everything from their offices. This could be handed over to a stand-alone and independent regulator. That would help ensure better health and safety for our workers. We know that these people experience tough situations. They do dangerous work. They are very brave. These professionals do excellent work for their region and to take care of their families. However, we must ensure their health and safety.
This bill is a step in the right direction, but it does not include a provision for a five-year review, which would have allowed for the implementation of a stand-alone and independent authority. That is too bad.
Although the Conservatives refuse to implement recommendation 29 of the Wells inquiry, Bill is still a constructive and much-needed improvement to the current occupational health and safety regime for offshore areas because it enshrines practices into law. That is good news.
The NDP is very proud to support Bill because we have been calling for improvements to this regime for years. This bill has been a long time coming. For more than 13 years, we have been calling for this bill to move forward and for it to be implemented. Unfortunately, it is long overdue.
I would also like to mention that the NDP finds it very troubling that this work is not being done in collaboration with provincial governments more often. It is very important that the federal government respect provincial governments and its provincial counterparts.
Unfortunately, when it comes to health, the federal government imposes new approaches without sitting down with provincial health ministers. That is wrong. At least in this case it signed an agreement with its provincial counterparts. That is a good thing, and something that should happen all the time.
As I can see that I do not have much time left, I will answer any questions.