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Crucial Fact

NDP MP for St. John's East (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 71.20% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Veterans April 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, veterans are not the only ones being forgotten by the government. Decades of Canadian Forces members and civilians who were exposed to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange are also being ignored. It is not so in the U.S., where the Governor of Maine is working with the U.S. Department of Defence and veterans affairs to help Maine national guard members exposed to Agent Orange at Gagetown get ongoing compensation and health care.

When will all Agent Orange victims in Canada see this kind of help and full compensation from their government?

Search and Rescue April 2nd, 2014

Mr. Speaker, yesterday it was revealed that since 2007 over $47 million has been wasted on false search and rescue responses caused by outdated emergency beacons. When already overstretched search and rescue assets are deployed on a false alarm and are not available for a real emergency, that puts lives at risk. These beacons are outdated, ineffective, and harder to find in an emergency. They have not even been tracked by satellite since 2009 and the government has failed to act.

When is the government going to ensure that these unsafe beacons are replaced?

Search and Rescue March 31st, 2014

Mr. Speaker, new fixed-wing search and rescue capability is desperately needed now to save lives off our coast, especially in British Columbia and the north, yet because of continued Conservative mismanagement in procurement, six whole years have been wasted. This restart is on top of the minister's decision to push off more than $3 billion in procurement spending until after the next election.

These planes have been promised for more than a decade. Can the minister explain what it will take to make these desperately needed planes a priority for the government?

Offshore Health and Safety Act March 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier for her speech.

I wonder if she would care to comment on the fact that the minister responsible for this bill, the Minister of Labour, was asked three times this morning why the government refused to accept an amendment to review this provision for an independent safety board in five years' time, as was proposed by the NDP, and we did not get an answer. There was no explanation given as to why that review would not be permitted and put into the legislation.

Offshore Health and Safety Act March 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member on her speech. She is someone who is familiar with the labour movement, as the former president of B.C. Teachers Federation. I wonder if she would comment on the fact that it has taken so long to get to the point where, after 13 years of discussion, we finally have this bill, and only now do workers offshore have the same rights as anyone else to refuse unsafe work and to participate in workplace committees and have an enforceable code for safety violations.

Fire Safety and Prevention March 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the recent tragedy at L'lsle-Verte in Quebec brought home painfully the vulnerability to fire of seniors who reside in personal care homes across the country, and it has renewed calls for improvements to safety standards.

This week the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has been on Parliament Hill telling us what we can do to make nursing homes and personal care homes safer. Thankfully, there is something we can do, and that is to install sprinkler systems in all personal care homes. The fire chiefs want the National Fire Code amended to make them mandatory. Some jurisdictions have already done so—Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario recently, and the City of Vancouver, for example—but a change to the National Fire Code, when it comes up for revision in 2015, would make it a national standard, which will save lives, if followed.

Please join me and the fire chiefs in urging the adoption of this important change, which would make our seniors safer and prevent future tragedies.

Offshore Health and Safety Act March 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the intervention and compliments from my learned friend and colleague for my speech, but I think he knows that I cannot answer why the Conservatives would reject it, other than to speculate.

There appears to be an unfortunate lack of collegiality at committee. Politicians obviously posture, especially in the House of Commons, but in committees one would expect to have a greater level of collegiality. In some committees there is that collegiality. I am looking at the prominent member of the fisheries committee, which has had collegiality as an operating principle over many years. However, when it comes to dealing with legislation, we do not see the collegiality that should exist to improve and make things happen.

That was a reasonable—though I would not call it a compromise. New Democrats were not going to get what we wanted. However, the committee should have been able to put that on the radar of the current government, or the next government. It may not be the current government. We are hoping it will not be the Conservative government, but it might be. Whatever government is in place, it would be on the radar of that government that this should be looked at. The bureaucracy and those involved would then look forward to this happening in five-years' time and be able to prepare to deal with that.

It is very unfortunate. That is all I can say. I do not know why that is, except stubbornness. Whatever is in the legislation that Conservatives put there is all that they want to do.

Offshore Health and Safety Act March 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question, and particularly for his observation about how the Conservative government has been working with respect to recommendations of a health and safety nature.

Safety does cost money. We have seen the resistance by industry to advances that cost money. They obviously do not want to spend money where they do not have to. It does require a government that is vigorous in insisting that the things that need to happen do happen, for the sake of offshore worker safety. We see some of that here, but we do not see it going far enough.

The night flights offshore are a good example. Why do we need night flights? We need them so we can operate the same number of helicopters for a greater period of time. The alternative is to have more helicopters. If we had an extra helicopter, we would not have to fly at night. However, extra helicopters cost money. There has to be a crew.

There is a trade-off being urged between worker safety and cost. We would clearly prefer to come down on the side of worker safety. If night flights are more dangerous, we should be able to insist that there are more helicopters in place. If helicopters that have a run-dry capability of 30 minutes are available, then they should be used, not the ones that do not have the capability. They may cost more money and there may be a cost in replacing them, but the value of the lives and safety of workers has to take precedence over that. We do not see that kind of attitude coming from the Conservative government.

Offshore Health and Safety Act March 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I have been involved for a long time. In fact, I participated in the Ocean Ranger inquiry when it was launched in 1982, as a new young lawyer in St. John's, in Newfoundland and Labrador. A great deal of effort and anxiety went into coming up with these recommendations.

Unfortunately, as the member pointed out, the recommendation of having a rescue helicopter available was, shockingly, not implemented until after the Cougar helicopter crashed, more than 25 years after the recommendations were made.

I do not have a compendium of all of the recommendations. Clearly, the Ocean Ranger recommendation is now in place. It was not thanks to this legislation, but it was thanks to the recommendation of former Justice Wells that we have the helicopter for search and rescue purposes. There are outstanding recommendations, as the hon. member has pointed out, and they should be attended to. An evacuation system is a recommendation that has been worked on over the years. I do not think that we have the right system yet. There are still other recommendations that need to be looked at.

Offshore Health and Safety Act March 27th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak at third reading on Bill C-5, 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.