Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to join with my NDP colleagues, since we are the only ones taking part in this debate, in supporting Bill C-5 at third reading.
First, however, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Gatineau.
We in the NDP believe that Bill C-5 is particularly important, because it is intended to correct major problems in the current legislation and in the authority for making regulations associated with occupational health and safety standards in the offshore oil and gas industry.
In concrete terms, all this means that passing Bill C-5 would enshrine safety practices in the legislation. The employer would assume primary responsibility for occupational health and safety and would be required to take part in implementing and co-ordinating the measures needed to ensure employee safety.
For their part, employees would now have the opportunity to refuse to perform an activity that they have reason to believe is not safe. This provides some critical autonomy for our workers, who are always concerned about their safety and security in the workplace. Employees would also be protected from reprisals if they report a situation they consider unsafe.
Bill C-5 is a necessary and constructive improvement in occupational employee health and safety in offshore areas, and this is why the NDP is proud to support it. Employee protection has always been, and will always be, a priority for the NDP, in every field of work.
In our view, it does not matter whether the workers are land-based or working in offshore sites. They deserve the same level of protection. The provinces have the same view. Back in the day, the NDP government of Nova Scotia put a great deal of work into this issue. Newfoundland and Labrador also worked hard and sent numerous requests to the federal government for this kind of occupational safety system to be implemented. Of course, the NDP in Newfoundland and Labrador was very active in pushing the analysis and discussion on this issue forward.
Clearly, we in the NDP are going to support all the efforts that have been made by the provinces and we are delighted to see the improvements that will be implemented when the bill is passed.
The amendments we are talking about here were requested over 10 years ago by the provinces, primarily Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, as I mentioned. It was high time that the federal government considered this issue. It is a matter that will also become more and more important for Quebec, as there is more and more discussion of oil development off our coastline, regardless of any personal views on the subject. These could also be important measures for Quebec workers, who may well be working in these areas in the future, here again, notwithstanding anyone’s personal opinion about oil development per se.
We in the NDP would also like to commend the federal government and the provinces for their willingness to work together, which made it possible to arrive at the bill that is before us today. It is a sign of openness to dialogue and co-operation that I personally find quite surprising on the part of the Conservatives, as we have grown accustomed to a great deal more inflexibility and intolerance from them. Nevertheless, I hope they have developed a taste for this new approach and that they will decide to continue along this path. Let us think positively. We can always hope that this method of working in co-operation with, rather than against, the provinces will be a model for dealing with any future issues they will have to address together with the provinces.
These days, safety is a major concern. With a great deal of effort, we got back to the issue of workforce training. Here again, however, there were disputes, because the Conservatives’ approach was simply to bully the provinces, asking them to do what they were told, failing which they would no longer support them. They would not get the funding requested and would be the losers. Be that as it may, I will continue to encourage them. I will therefore ask the Conservatives to maintain this admirable receptiveness with the provinces in the future.
With respect to the bill now before us, it has to be said that it is not a cure-all, and does not resolve all the existing problems. Despite the efforts of the NDP and the repeated requests from the provinces, Bill C-5 still does not contain a provision to establish an independent offshore safety regulator.
This measure had originally been proposed by Justice Robert Wells in his 2010 report. He stated the following in the report: “I believe that the recommendation which follows this explanatory note will be the most important in this entire Report”.
This was recommendation 29, which called for the creation of a new, independent, stand-alone agency to regulate offshore safety. This recommendation is important, because it would finally lead to the establishment of a single independent agency responsible for regulating safety.
The issue came into prominence following an accident that caused a death. It was in that context that the debate focused on the creation of such an independent agency. It is very important for us in the NDP, and unfortunately it is not included in the current bill.
In comments made a little earlier by my colleagues, both Conservative and Liberal, I heard complaints about the fact that we were still discussing this bill, that we were wasting our time and that we should pass it at once. I wonder where they were 12 years ago, when the negotiations began.
Both Liberal and Conservative members have taken this issue lightly, and done absolutely nothing. In their place, I too would wish to avoid the subject, I would not want to talk about it, and I would want it to be voted on as quickly as possible in order to forget about what was not done in the past.
I found it was unfortunate to be hearing these comments, because the experts who testified before the committee made clear the importance of having such an agency, in order to put in place the necessary measures to protect our offshore workers. Unfortunately, we have come this far and still nothing has been done. Elected representatives in Newfoundland and Labrador, among others, have deplored the fact that the agency is not included in the bill.
An NDP government would take all the necessary action, and hold all the necessary discussions, to work with the provinces to set up such an independent agency. In our view, it is a priority. Yet it does not seem to have been a priority for the current government or for the previous Liberal governments.
In 2015, the political landscape will have changed, as we will have a New Democrat government that will at last be able to achieve the practical results so long awaited by the offshore workers. This is really important to us.
In his remarks a little earlier, my colleague from Brossard—La Prairie mentioned that the NDP had proposed an amendment in committee to try to improve the bill. The amendment called for a provision to ensure that the effectiveness of the legislation would be reviewed five years after it was passed. Therefore, it would have been possible to see whether it could be improved, possibly through the creation of an independent agency, as recommended by Justice Wells. We are not yet at that point.
I do not wish to say that the Conservatives are acting in bad faith, but I see no other reason. We are therefore going to insist on this. Because of the bad faith of the government in place, the amendment was defeated. The result therefore is a law that is somewhat lacking, but nevertheless represents a definite improvement for the workers.
With a view to additional protections for those working offshore, the NDP can support the bill. As I was saying, it is unfortunate that we were not successful in resolving all the problems that had nevertheless been made very quite clear by the provinces and by numerous experts. Some years ago, one of those problems was directly demonstrated by the death of a worker, yet we are still engaged in the same debate. However, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has stated that the current federal government clearly did not have the desire to establish such an agency.
In spite of everything, being able to incorporate better measures in the legislation for occupational health and safety is a significant step in the right direction. Given the expanding development of offshore oil and gas, this step should have been taken a long time ago. We are nevertheless getting the desired results. That is good. The NDP is very proud to support this bill.
I also wish to reiterate my pride in the work done by New Democrat MLAs in Newfoundland and Labrador and the then NDP government of Nova Scotia. They worked very hard to achieve this outcome. They can be proud of the work they did.