The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill , as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today from my home on the island of Newfoundland, which is the ancestral homeland of the Mi'kmaq and Beothuk peoples.
It is also one of Canada's three proud oil-producing provinces.
Before getting into my remarks on the legislation before us today, let me start with this. We just came out of a vote and question period and when we debate in this place, they are debates of great importance. They are issues that matter to us, who have the privilege to sit in this hallowed chamber, and to Canadians across the country. There is a lot of passion around these issues, particularly around issues of energy, oil and gas, climate change, the economy. We are at a particular moment in time, a defining moment, one where globally we are charting pathways now to net zero.
Over the past couple of weeks, there have been several significant developments. The International Energy Agency issued a report on pathways to net zero, the first analysis that is compliant with limiting a rise in global temperature to 1.5°C. Canada called on the IEA to conduct the report, because the world needs to know what it will take to get to net zero.
In my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Dame Moya Greene issued a report on our future. It is an unflinching look at a dire situation. There is no sense beating around the bush there. There is a lot of hard work ahead of us and a lot of tough decisions.
Just yesterday, a landmark decision by a court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut emissions by 45% by 2030. Shareholders of another major oil producer, Chevron, backed a proposal to cut emissions generated by the use of the company's products. ExxonMobil shareholders voted just yesterday to install two new independent directors in a rebuke of the company's efforts to address climate change to date. Some have called May 26 “big oil's day of reckoning”.
What all these events demonstrate is that the world is calling for increased climate ambition. The market is demanding it. Investors, we learned yesterday, are demanding it. Governments are taking action and companies are taking action. Suncor has committed now to net zero in a clear sign of Canadian leadership. There is a clear direction in which the world is heading. We know where the puck is heading. It is heading toward net zero, and we will have many important debate and conversations on Canada's pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050, how that will change our energy mix in the future, the economic opportunities that it presents, particularly for oil and gas workers who will lead the effort to lower emissions. They are already doing it.
There will be tough conversations, difficult and passionate debates, but the debate before us today on this legislation is one that we can all agree is of the utmost importance and cannot be derailed by the broader conversations about our energy future. This is about the people at the heart of the country, about our workers and protecting them. That fact is what needs to guide our debate here today.
This issue is important to me. It is personal. It is about an industry that has brought so many benefits to my province. It impacts the workers here, my neighbours and friends who work in the offshore.
I remember vividly the industry's nascent days. I was a young fellow working for Brian Tobin, when he was premier some 20-odd years ago, when the first platform, Hybernia, was under construction. Hopes were sky-high after so much despair over the cod fishery collapse. It was a bleak time. Families were split because so many young people had to go west to make a living.
Today, it is a proud and mature industry. It is one that has accounted over the years for 30% of our economy and one out of every 10 jobs, 10% employment over the years. It has provided the provincial government here with more than $20 billion in royalties between 1997 and 2019, funding key public services, from health and education to highways and hockey rinks.
The offshore industry in the Atlantic has also created jobs and wealth for Nova Scotians prior to and during the recent decomissioning of its two gas projects: $8.5 billion in capital spending over 20 years, producing $1.9 billion in royalty payments between 2000 and 2017. It was a long road to get to that point, to realize the economic benefits of this industry, and there were many doubters along the way.
For starters, low world oil prices made the whole notion seem like a fantasy prior to the energy crises of the 1970s, but we also had to deal with monumental challenges posed by safely extracting oil in a treacherous and unforgiving North Atlantic. We owe it to these workers to protect them and to do so with the best occupational health and safety regime in the world. We must protect these workers.
How best do we do that? By adopting a world-class safety regime. I believe that and I support that. Bill will help.
Let us be frank about what we are debating today. This is a three-clause bill. It extends health and safety regulations for workers in the offshore, for workers who work in a high-risk environment.
I know my colleague across the way, the member for , understands, very well, the risks that these workers face. In fact, I remember the CEO of ExxonMobil Canada telling me that the Newfoundland offshore is the harshest environment in which his company operates in the world.
Bill would give Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia an additional year, to December 31, 2021, to finalize the numerous health and safety regulations that stem from the 2014 legislation, regulations to make our workers safer. Should Bill S-3 become law, the transitional regulations from 2014 will apply retroactively to January 1, 2021.
As I said, it is a three-clause bill. We all agree that no worker in any workplace should go unprotected. Therefore, I would hope that this bill would pass easily. It should pass quickly and today. It should be the last day that it is debated in this House.
In fact, my office has reached out to my opposition critics and colleagues across the way so that we could do just that every step of the way. To the member for , the member for , the member for and the member for , I am happy to report that these were constructive conversations and that we had a constructive relationship between us on this. I urged them to work with the government, in the spirit of protecting Canada's workers, to send the bill to the standing committee and urged the standing committee to study it at its earliest opportunity. I appeared before the standing committee alongside departmental officials. Before Bill was introduced in this House, it went through a similar process in the other place and I appeared in front of our hon. colleagues from the other place, who held committee hearings on this bill, to explain why we are where we are today.
The extent to which this three-clause bill continues to be debated is not because of the substance of the bill. As I mentioned, I think there would be unanimity across all parties in this House to support the passage of the legislation. If they read a Hansard of the second-reading debate on this bill, they would be forgiven for thinking that the debate was circular.
Nearly every speech by every member of every party in this House agreed on the importance of the bill and the importance of passing it quickly. Nearly every speech by every member of every party in this House referenced the 1982 Ocean Ranger tragedy that left 84 dead and the royal commission of inquiry that led to many safety improvements. Nearly every speech by every member of every party in this House referenced the fatal crash of Cougar Flight 491 in 2009 and the ensuing commission of inquiry that Mr. Justice Robert Wells conducted, which led to the sweeping reforms contained in the Offshore Health and Safety Act passed in 2014. These were raised in nearly every speech by every member of every party in this House.
There is no daylight between us in terms of protecting our workers, and there should not be, so why are we still debating this? Why does a three-clause bill merit hours of additional debate, when there is unanimity on the importance of protecting workers here, while Canadians expect their Parliament to get on with the business of building back better and recovering from COVID-19? Simply put, there is a load of politics afoot, let me say that. There is a concerted desire to delay debate on anything and everything, regardless of the issue; and, in this case, ironically, to further delay the very thing that the opposition members are lambasting this government for delaying.
Many speeches referenced that it has taken far too long to put in place permanent regulations, that a further delay of 24 months would be far too long, and we listened and we agreed. We accepted the amendments from the other place to drop it to 12 months. We heard that the delay in having a permanent occupational health and safety regime for protecting offshore workers is unconscionable. To the members across the way today, I say, “look, fair game, I agree”; I say “yes, it has taken far too long”. It is frustrating. I am frustrated. I said it during the committee hearings in the other place, I said it before the standing committee, and I will repeat it today: This has taken far too long.
Now, I could list the reasons why the complex work of drafting regulations in partnership with two provincial governments and two offshore boards, respecting our joint management frameworks and the jurisdiction of provinces, all takes time. I could speak about the 15,000 pages of documents that they have to go through to align with and incorporate by reference the over 173 domestic and international health and safety standards. I could speak to the time that we lost by needing to fix the initial interim regulations because the industry told us it did not work for them, that it burdened them; I could speak about how that fix set us back. I could also speak to how this very pandemic that we are in has set us back; how the sudden, abrupt shutdown of workplaces forced us to adapt to working from home, how adapting took time. Mr. Speaker, just think of how long it took this House to adapt and put in place measures to safely continue with our work. Those are all very legitimate and contributing factors as to why we are where we are today, but those reasons do not make workers safer, they do not support workers and they do not advance this legislation.
We need to pass this bill. We need to get on with the business of finalizing these permanent regulations with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and with industry.
Despite these challenges, our officials and their counterparts in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in Nova Scotia have passed many milestones. We are close. I instructed my officials to get this work done by the new proposed deadline. I am confident we will. I know we will.
However, we need to pass Bill today, without further delay. If the opposition members really want to protect workers, they now have the opportunity to do so by putting partisan politics aside, doing what needs to be done and passing this bill.
As a son of Newfoundland and Labrador, I am proud of what we have achieved in this industry since it began to take root in the 1960s. The offshore industry has made life better for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It has kept families from separating in order to find work on the mainland. It also gave some of them the expertise so that they could find good work on the mainland.
I am also proud of the reality that not since the time of Brian Mulroney and John Crosbie has there been a federal government that has done more for the offshore. It was this government that gave $2.5 billion to Newfoundland and Labrador as a part of the renewed Atlantic Accord in 2019. It was this government that supported workers in the offshore during a pandemic with close to $400 million to maintain jobs and lower emissions. It was this government that reduced the time for exploratory drilling assessments from over 900 days to 90, without losing an ounce of environmental integrity.
I recently announced 16 projects funded through the offshore component of the emissions reduction fund with an eye to the future; projects that use carbon capture, wind and other renewable sources of energy to power the industry's operations; projects that will lower emissions; real projects that are creating real jobs for the workers who are building our low-emissions energy future right now.
As I conclude my remarks, let me plainly state that the only thing that matters during debate on this bill is the people involved, the workers: protecting them, supporting them and believing in them. The workers on those platforms in the North Atlantic, the workers who service them, the workers who are at the heart of this industry that made our province what it is and the workers who are building our prosperous and cleaner future need to be protected. We need to protect them with a safety regime that is world class. They deserve absolutely nothing less.
Bill will help us get there. Let us do our jobs. Let us pass Bill S-3.
Mr. Speaker, in the interests of getting this important legislation passed so we can get it to the next stage and provide these protections for workers I could give a 20-minute speech, but I will be giving a significantly shorter speech on this.
There is one personal note I want to add. I was texted this morning, after I completed my speech, that my first niece was born today. Her name is Maeve Elizabeth Danielle Penner, and her mom is doing great. We are all very happy and blessed to have this new beautiful baby girl in our family.
I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act. It is about time this important legislation to protect the safety of workers made its way through the House of Commons.
The Liberal government failed to get this legislation passed in a timely manner, which has put the safety of offshore workers at risk. We debate a lot of important issues in the House, but out of the many pieces of legislation I have seen the government put forward over the past few years, few bills could be more important than ensuring the safety of workers. In this case, we are talking about offshore energy workers.
How did we get to this point? We are now in a situation where important safeguards have been allowed to lapse. These safeguards were put in place by a previous Conservative government over five years ago, but not acted upon by the current Liberal government until it was too late. Thankfully, no one appears to have been harmed by the lack of action on this file, but it remains inexcusable that we have come to this point in the first place.
At the end of last year, the Liberals allowed the existing temporary safety regulations for our offshore oil and gas workers to expire. In effect, this stripped key health and safety protections for these Canadian workers who risk their lives every day to ensure we have the resources to heat our homes and drive our vehicles to work. These workers, in this case primarily from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, are a pillar that supports the economy of the province and this country.
The province has elected a lot of Liberal MPs. The comes from the province, yet it appears that little attention has been paid to this important issue.
Most people would not know it, but I had the privilege of working in our onshore energy sector. I donned my personal protective equipment and H2S monitor and went to work in Canada's energy industrial heartland in Edmonton, Alberta. I spent two summers in university working the shutdowns at the Imperial Oil refinery in Strathcona. On site we had plenty of heavy equipment moving around and we did the jobs that needed to be done to ensure the facility could run smoothly, create jobs and support our economy. I remember working the night shift, 12 hours a day, day in and day out, for weeks. I picked up extra hours at the end of each shift and put on a HiVis vest to do traffic control and ensure that the tired workers would not accidentally be run over as they went home from their shifts. I stood watch as skilled workers went deep into systems to ensure that first aid would be readily available for them in case of danger. This was on the land. I can only imagine the dangers faced by those on the east coast who get on a helicopter and head out to platforms far at sea, sometimes in bad weather.
Tragedies from our past demonstrate just how critical it is for these safety regulations to be in place. Canadians were devastated in 1982 by the news of the Ocean Ranger rig and 84 workers who lost their lives when it capsized during a storm, and again in 2009 by news of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 crashing into the North Atlantic, resulting in the tragic deaths of 17 offshore oil workers. This tragedy led to the Cougar inquiry, the results of which were taken by governments to pass this important legislation. After each of these disasters, there were investigations into their causes and recommendations on how to avert these dangers in the future. I am sure that politicians spoke to the devastated families, promising that never again would this be allowed to happen, yet here we are today debating legislation that should have been passed months, if not years, ago.
It was the previous Conservative government that recognized the very real need for these protections. That is why, in 2014, the government passed safety regulations through the Offshore Health and Safety Act. That is exactly the kind of leadership that we need in this country: We need a government that is proactive and not reactive, and that takes prompt action to protect the safety of our workers.
These temporary regulations were set to expire in 2019. They gave the Liberal government years to implement permanent offshore energy safety regulations. The Liberals had to extend that deadline for another year. They extended those temporary regulations to December 31, 2020. The Liberals had time to get the job done.
For many of those years, they had a majority. The fact is, even now in the current minority government, the Liberals have the political support to get the job done but they have not, until now, and that is inexcusable. It was not days, and it was not the month of the deadline in December, that the Liberal government finally introduced Bill in the other place. Where was the Liberals' sense of urgency? It really feels like an afterthought, as if the safety of these workers was not of great importance to the government. Why did the , the and the Liberal government wait until the last minute to do their jobs? An important deadline has been missed. Key protections are missing. The Liberal government dithers. Perhaps if the government had not chosen to prorogue Parliament and waste many additional days of productive debate, we could have had this passed before the deadline. We will never know, but what we do know for sure is that the Liberal government did not care to make this a priority.
I am also disappointed, for another reason, that this legislation was not introduced until last year. It would have been a fitting tribute to Judge Wells from Newfoundland and Labrador, who did so much to advocate for the safety of offshore workers. Sadly, in October 2020, Judge Wells, who headed the Cougar inquiry, passed away at the age of 87. Judge Wells was a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister provincially, and was a Rhodes scholar. As commissioner, his key contribution to the inquiry was the recommendation that helicopters have 30 minutes or more of run-dry capability. He also recommended founding a full search and rescue base in St. John's. I wish the government had its act together and had passed this legislation in advance of the deadline so that Judge Wells could have seen his legacy put permanently into action. All the same, I want to commend him for his service to our country and to his province. He will be remembered for his commitment to the welfare of offshore energy workers and their families.
The delayed passage of Bill is just another example of how the current Liberal government has failed to prioritize the needs of the men and women who work in our oil and gas sector. In fact, I noted with some surprise that the said the words “one of three oil-producing Canadian provinces”, seemingly unaware that more than three provinces in this country produce oil. If it was not bad enough that the government was failing to get key safety legislation passed by the deadline, it also seems intent on phasing out the livelihoods of these oil and gas workers.
We know that Newfoundland and Labrador relies on the energy sector more than every other province, including Alberta. We know that the future of Newfoundland and Labrador requires a strong offshore oil and gas sector. In fact, it is so important to that province that the word “oil” is mentioned nearly 150 times in the recent Greene report outlining the economic future of Newfoundland and Labrador, yet the Liberal government continues its attack on the oil sector with bills like Bill and Bill in the previous Parliament, and by not acting on key legislation like Bill , which we are debating today.
Something close to 147 days have passed since the Liberal delays allowed for the existing legislation to expire. That is 147 days that hard-working offshore oil and gas workers have been left in limbo without protections.
I want to recognize the hard work done by those in the other place in passing Bill as expediently as possible. Recognizing the urgency of this bill, it is unacceptable that after passing in the Senate so quickly, the bill waited in the lineup to get through the House of Commons' agenda. We knew that members in the House were intent on getting the legislation through quickly at second reading and passed immediately.
I sit on the natural resources committee, and we moved with unprecedented speed to get this bill through. It was one meeting. It is my sincere hope that we can push forward with the debate today, get the bill passed and secure these key protections for our offshore oil and gas workers.
As members of the House, protecting Canadian workers must be a key priority. That is why the Conservatives have been co-operative in working to get this bill passed as quickly as possible. The failure to protect offshore energy workers is unconscionable and must end. It is time that we finally get the job done and secure these protections so these workers can continue going about their jobs safely and so we can ensure the prosperity and future not only of Newfoundland and Labrador but of our nation, Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say I am happy to be able to speak today to Bill at third reading, which would extend the transitional offshore occupational health and safety regulations for one more year to allow the finalization of the permanent regulations.
That is to say I am happy to speak to it, because I hope it will pass today. We certainly want to see it pass today because we have been waiting a very long time to see the governments, both federal and provincial, come up with permanent occupational health and safety regulations in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore. We have been waiting for this since the early nineties. There is a long and sad history of an attitude toward offshore health and safety, which does not in any way compare to the kind of health and safety regulations that have been available to onshore workers in this country for many years.
We have heard all sorts of excuses about the delay. We have to pass this legislation, and I am happy to pass this legislation, but I would have been very happy if we did not need this legislation. In fact, we would not have needed this legislation if the government had been more diligent in pursuing the object of the legislation that was passed in 2014, which itself was very late.
The talks about the delay and all the complications and consultations that have to take place. He lamented on several occasions that there were 300 pages of regulations. I wonder what page they are on. I really do. They have been working on 300 pages of regulations since 2014. That is six years at 50 pages a year. What page are they on now?
I do not mean to be flippant about it, but I think to use that excuse entirely misses the point that there does not seem to have been a serious effort to actually put in place permanent regulations. They are very necessary, and there is a reason for it.
I am afraid the reason is that the companies thought the regulations were too burdensome. That debate has been going on since the early 1990s, when occupational health and safety was taken away from the federal labour department and the provincial labour department and given to the C-NLOPB. It has already been pointed out that they have divided obligations to ensure they are looking after offshore health and safety, environmental protection, production schedules, and the promotion and development of the industry.
As has been pointed out by the member for and others, there is an inherent conflict there and, at the very least, a lack of focus on the important things. There are good examples of why that is a problem, and I will come to a specific one that illustrates that problem and also the problem of the lapse in the regulations. This lapse has been allowed to happen by the failure of the government to bring in this legislation before the regulations expired, which they did on December 31 of last year.
We have no enforceable regulations now in the offshore. They have been given instructions to follow them, and the companies have agreed to follow them, but it is very clear that they are not enforceable. No one can be charged or convicted of an offence under regulations that are not in force.
Starting way back in 1992, they had draft regulations, and the draft regulations were used as a guideline. It was believed at the time that the companies, and the companies had convinced the governments, knew best about how to manage safety in the offshore. They understood the industry, and they understood how it works. They would have used them as guidelines, but there was no right to refuse unsafe work, no enforceable obligations for occupational health and safety tests, and no ability of inspectors to lay charges in case something went wrong.
The excuse was always that we could take away their permits and stop them from operating, but that never happened. That did not happen in the offshore because that was too big a step to take. There were no inspectors regularly inspecting offshore, looking for infractions, dealing with them or even performing investigations after incidents had taken place. It was basically left up to the companies.
We have experienced, and we have seen, great disasters. The mentioned them. Everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador who was around at the time can remember vividly the sinking of the Ocean Ranger in 1982 and the loss of 84 lives.
It was a great and horrendous tragedy in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it, as was pointed out, led to an inquiry. The inquiry found the causes of the disaster. As always, there were multiple causes, most of which involved a lack of proper safety and a lack of proper planning for safety in the event of something occurring.
The same thing happened in 2009 with the Cougar Helicopters crash, flight 491, where 17 individuals lost their lives. That was the result of the failure to adequately ensure the helicopter was operated properly, even though there had been a crash in a similar helicopter a couple of years prior in Australia, and the cause of that crash was known.
This is something that we see happening in the offshore. Unfortunately, we see very serious incidents, but luckily, not many more disasters have taken place. The offshore companies have placed an emphasis on safety. I will not take that away from them. They continuously talk about it, but they also want to be in charge of it. They do not really want anyone else telling them how they should be behaving or making sure they are doing things right.
When it came to the helicopter inquiry by Justice Wells, who was a fine jurist and very fine man, he made a series of recommendations with respect to the offshore. The most important one, he said, was that there ought to be an independent regulator that would only have responsibility for looking after offshore health and safety.
An independent regulator would be able to focus on that, and it would not be subject to regulatory capture. This is a well-known term for when the companies have control over the process with ongoing consultation. They ensure that their voices are the loudest and heard by all who have a say. They also delay things, if necessary, to see if they can have a better opportunity to get the regime they want.
I very much believe that this is part of the