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 C-45, 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 St. John's East 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 C-5 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.