I am actually a professor in the foundation year program at the University of King's College, in Halifax. My field of study is social and political philosophy.
I am the author of a book on the aftermath of the Ocean Ranger disaster. At the moment, I'm collaborating with Dr. Mélanie Frappier, from the history of science and technology program at King's, on a textbook for Oxford University Press. That book is called Engineering in Canada: Results, Risks, and Responsibilities. We're using Canadian case studies to provide engineering students with an introduction to their professional code of ethics.
My work on occupational health and safety developed by accident, quite literally. My oldest brother, Jim, was one of the 84 men who died on the Ocean Ranger. It still gets to me, it's amazing.
Anyway, as you know, in the wake of that disaster, the Government of Canada and the Province of Newfoundland conducted a long inquiry, first, into the causes of the loss, and second, into the appropriate regulatory organization for the Canada-Newfoundland offshore.
In those days, one of the biggest problems was turf wars between Ottawa and St. John's. Chief Justice Hickman's decision to house the permit-granting function with the occupational health and safety regulatory function was deliberate. When I interviewed him for the book on the Ocean Ranger, he was really clear that he thought those groups should be under the same organization in order to prevent what he saw as one of the main political causes of the Ocean Ranger disaster, and that was fragmentation among bureaucracies, among the power holders.
More importantly, and I often need to reiterate this point, the cause of the Ocean Ranger disaster was not the weather. It was a lack of political will to regulate in 1982.
Both Newfoundland and Canada wrongly assumed that the oil companies would self-regulate, that they would comply with the rules that covered them when they operated in American jurisdictions, and those companies did not.
The lesson of the Ocean Ranger disaster is that the kind of regulatory regime in place is less important than the government's expression of political will. If there is no will to enforce regulations, then we risk setting up our people and our environment for deadly exploitation. This is definitely what we learned at Westray, as well, because if the existing legislation had been enforced at Westray, that explosion and those deaths would not have happened.
Within companies, the first priority, the raison d'être of the organization, is to maximize pay for shareholders. This is not hostility or antipathy; it's a matter of priorities. Government's job is to ensure that the collective goods of the electorate are enhanced by, not just protected from, corporate activity. The regulatory needs of the offshore in Canada changed with time, obviously.
In 1982, one of the most pressing problems was a combination of thoughtlessness about occupational health and safety, a combative relationship between federal and provincial authorities, and a deadly naïveté about the professionalism of rig operators.
The New Orleans-based operator of the Ocean Ranger, Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company, was one of the most experienced rig operators in the world in 1982. Even the most cursory glance at Chief Justice Hickman's report will show you that ODECO was negligent by any common-sense use of that term.
ODECO's deadly mismanagement of the Ocean Ranger was possible only because the Province of Newfoundland and the Government of Canada were preoccupied with fighting over anticipated revenues, and they were naively confident that the so-called experts in the industry would perform professionally.
This dynamic will certainly repeat itself if government is once again complacent about its regulatory responsibility. It is worth remembering that although ODECO no longer exists, it and its fleet were purchased by Diamond Offshore Drilling, which still uses the name “Ocean” in the names of their vessels.
The well owner was Mobil Oil, so I'm glad to see how clearly Bill C-5 points to the responsibility of the owners to ensure that the rig operator behaves professionally in relation to safety.
Today, one of the central problems that this bill seems to address is clarity around functions and the need to keep regulations up to date in the changing industry.
I have given a lot of thought to what I could add to your discussion that...[Technical difficulty—Editor]
First, the regulatory structure will be exactly as effective as the political will that supports it. Where there is no political will, that is, where it is assumed that corporations are best left to their own expert judgment, there can be no effective regulation. That is where disaster begins.
The fact that this bill does not implement recommendation 29 from the Wells commission seems to me to be potentially a red herring. If the political will to regulate is communicated, safety will be respected. A stand-alone safety division would be effective only if it had resources and a commitment from government to prosecute when appropriate. Simply creating the office will not do the trick. It would require an investment.
Second, failure to regulate leads not only to loss of life and destruction of the environment, but also to the public's losing confidence in the legitimacy of government. This happened to an extent after the Ocean Ranger loss, certainly after the Westray disaster, in the States after the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the oil spill, and we're seeing the same kind of dynamic after the Lac-Mégantic disaster. These events are also political disasters.
Third, I would like to see a fines system that earmarks revenues for research and development. When I interviewed John Crosbie for the book, he said, “We still don't know how to get those men off those rigs.” That was a sort of typically gendered statement, but anyway....
Industry does not have an internal motivation to study evacuation systems. Government needs to take that on, and in this case I would say in partnership with Memorial and Dalhousie engineering schools. We can't leave research and development simply to industry. They have different priorities than the good of the public. We need independent researchers working on evacuation and rescue technologies.
Fourth, the advisory council might, in cooperation with governments, business, and universities, convene a conference on regulation every three years. Having a regularized conference would help Canada keep up with changing industry and international standards. We could invite regulation experts from Europe as well as from the U.S.A. We might use Hickman's conference that he conducted after the Ocean Ranger as a model for that.
I would love to see governments consider local, by which I mean provincial, hiring and training requirements. The training would have to go with it, right? Otherwise things like the Ocean Ranger disaster happen.
My sixth and final point is a question. It goes back, I think, to the spirit of the recommendation on the Wells commission around the independence of safety regulators. The question is this: Does Bill C-5's clarification of the roles of the various officers entail an increase in the number of government officers responsible for regulating work on the rigs? It seems to me that investment in regulatory personnel would be a real expression of political will to regulate safety in the offshore.