Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with my hon. colleague from Churchill.
I would like to begin by saying that the NDP will support, at report stage, this bill to amend the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act to enhance the safety and transparency of offshore petroleum activities.
These amendments would, primarily, create a new offshore workplace health and safety regime, which is a good thing. Bill C-5 addresses long-standing gaps in the legislation, as well as regulation-making authorities associated with workplace health and safety standards and how they apply to offshore petroleum extraction operations in the law. This is an important measure that the NDP has been seeking for some time.
Despite the federal government's refusal to implement recommendation no. 29 of the Wells Inquiry, Bill C-5 is a positive and necessary improvement to the current offshore health and safety regime because it places safety practices into legislation.
Bill C-5 is the culmination of over 12 years of negotiations, which started in 2001. In fact, I wonder what took the government so long to put these worker protection measures into law.
The bill also establishes a framework that clarifies the individual and shared roles of the federal government, the provincial governments, regulators, operators, employers, suppliers and employees. That is a lot of people, and I understand that the whole issue of the safety of our workers is rather complex and important, crucial even.
The bill is based on three basic principles.
First, offshore occupational health and safety laws must provide offshore workers with protection at least as good as that of onshore workers. That seems pretty basic to me. A worker must be protected regardless of where he or she works, whether offshore or onshore. No matter what environment a person works in, the conditions should be standardized and safe. No one wants to lose a colleague, a parent, a sister, an uncle or an aunt in a workplace accident. It is always tragic. During question period today, my colleague mentioned that we have already lost six miners in northern Ontario. That is six too many. It is the responsibility of all governments, federal and provincial alike, to ensure that our workers are safe.
Second, it is important to protect workers' rights: the right to know, the right to participate, the right to refuse unsafe work and the right to be protected from reprisals if they should blow the whistle on unsafe working conditions.
Third, it is necessary to support an occupational health and safety culture that emphasizes shared responsibility in the workplace.
New Democrats in the provinces in question had long been calling for these changes to be enshrined in law, but the Conservative government seemed reluctant to follow through. Nevertheless, we are pleased that this bill was introduced in the House.
However, it is disappointing that the federal government prevented us from making workers even safer by creating a stand-alone safety regulator.
I would like to quote the Honourable Robert Wells, who in a 2010 inquiry report on offshore helicopter safety said:
After a full study of the Transportation Safety Board’s Report, I have concluded that not only should such an independent safety regulator be created, it should also be given a clear and unambiguous safety mandate. This need is more urgent in the light of the TSB Report.
Justice Wells recommended that, even in the event that the recommendation was not considered feasible, a separate and autonomous safety division be created within the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.
Unfortunately, the government has no interest in creating a stand-alone safety regulator. I am not the only one saying so. When he was the natural resources minister in Newfoundland and Labrador, Tom Marshall said the same thing.
The NDP is determined to work in partnership with the provinces to achieve better results, something that seems very difficult for my Conservative colleagues to do.
Bill C-5 also authorizes the Minister of Natural Resources and the provincial employment ministers, in consultation with the Minister of Employment and Social Development and the Minister of Transport, to develop offshore health and safety regulations. In addition, the Minister of Transport would be required to develop health and safety regulations for offshore workers in transit, because the bill also applies to workers who are moving between offshore marine facilities or structures, and that is a good thing.
This bill is definitely a step in the right direction. It may not be a big enough step, but it is a step nonetheless. It would have been a bigger step had the Conservatives not refused to consider, for example, the entirely reasonable NDP amendment that would have included a mandatory review of the law in five years. This type of provision is found in a number of laws. It is quite acceptable to review a law every five years, because things change. In order to adapt to new conditions, the laws in force must be reviewed so that they can be strengthened and so that they are an appropriate response to needs. They have to be evaluated and amended, if necessary. We thought it was a very reasonable amendment.
The principle of this amendment was supported by a number of key witnesses and corresponds to the position taken by Justice Wells on this issue. We believe that our amendment is necessary, I will repeat, for due diligence and good governance, especially given the complex nature of the bill and the fact that it pertains to several levels of government.
Nevertheless, we will support the bill, which is a positive and necessary improvement to the current regime. Furthermore, it will protect offshore workers at least as well as onshore workers. That is a good thing, and that is why I am pleased to rise in the House to give this speech in support of the bill.