An Act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Offshore Health and Safety Act to postpone the repeal of its transitional regulations.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 27th, 2021 / 3:05 p.m.
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Honoré-Mercier Québec

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank my kind colleague for his important question.

This afternoon, we will begin report stage and third reading of Bill S-3, regarding offshore health and safety. Tomorrow, we will resume second reading debate of Bill C-21, on the Firearms Act.

On Monday, we will resume third reading stage of Bill C-6, on conversion therapy. That evening, we will consider in committee of the whole the main estimates for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

On Wednesday, we will consider Bill C-22, on criminal justice reforms, at second reading.

Tuesday and Thursday will be allotted days.

Once again, I thank my colleague for his very important question and wish him a great afternoon.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2021 / 3:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Seamus O'Regan Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today from my home on the island of Newfoundland, which is the ancestral homeland of the Mi'kmaq and Beothuk peoples.

It is also one of Canada's three proud oil-producing provinces.

Before getting into my remarks on the legislation before us today, let me start with this. We just came out of a vote and question period and when we debate in this place, they are debates of great importance. They are issues that matter to us, who have the privilege to sit in this hallowed chamber, and to Canadians across the country. There is a lot of passion around these issues, particularly around issues of energy, oil and gas, climate change, the economy. We are at a particular moment in time, a defining moment, one where globally we are charting pathways now to net zero.

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been several significant developments. The International Energy Agency issued a report on pathways to net zero, the first analysis that is compliant with limiting a rise in global temperature to 1.5°C. Canada called on the IEA to conduct the report, because the world needs to know what it will take to get to net zero.

In my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Dame Moya Greene issued a report on our future. It is an unflinching look at a dire situation. There is no sense beating around the bush there. There is a lot of hard work ahead of us and a lot of tough decisions.

Just yesterday, a landmark decision by a court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to cut emissions by 45% by 2030. Shareholders of another major oil producer, Chevron, backed a proposal to cut emissions generated by the use of the company's products. ExxonMobil shareholders voted just yesterday to install two new independent directors in a rebuke of the company's efforts to address climate change to date. Some have called May 26 “big oil's day of reckoning”.

What all these events demonstrate is that the world is calling for increased climate ambition. The market is demanding it. Investors, we learned yesterday, are demanding it. Governments are taking action and companies are taking action. Suncor has committed now to net zero in a clear sign of Canadian leadership. There is a clear direction in which the world is heading. We know where the puck is heading. It is heading toward net zero, and we will have many important debate and conversations on Canada's pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050, how that will change our energy mix in the future, the economic opportunities that it presents, particularly for oil and gas workers who will lead the effort to lower emissions. They are already doing it.

There will be tough conversations, difficult and passionate debates, but the debate before us today on this legislation is one that we can all agree is of the utmost importance and cannot be derailed by the broader conversations about our energy future. This is about the people at the heart of the country, about our workers and protecting them. That fact is what needs to guide our debate here today.

This issue is important to me. It is personal. It is about an industry that has brought so many benefits to my province. It impacts the workers here, my neighbours and friends who work in the offshore.

I remember vividly the industry's nascent days. I was a young fellow working for Brian Tobin, when he was premier some 20-odd years ago, when the first platform, Hybernia, was under construction. Hopes were sky-high after so much despair over the cod fishery collapse. It was a bleak time. Families were split because so many young people had to go west to make a living.

Today, it is a proud and mature industry. It is one that has accounted over the years for 30% of our economy and one out of every 10 jobs, 10% employment over the years. It has provided the provincial government here with more than $20 billion in royalties between 1997 and 2019, funding key public services, from health and education to highways and hockey rinks.

The offshore industry in the Atlantic has also created jobs and wealth for Nova Scotians prior to and during the recent decomissioning of its two gas projects: $8.5 billion in capital spending over 20 years, producing $1.9 billion in royalty payments between 2000 and 2017. It was a long road to get to that point, to realize the economic benefits of this industry, and there were many doubters along the way.

For starters, low world oil prices made the whole notion seem like a fantasy prior to the energy crises of the 1970s, but we also had to deal with monumental challenges posed by safely extracting oil in a treacherous and unforgiving North Atlantic. We owe it to these workers to protect them and to do so with the best occupational health and safety regime in the world. We must protect these workers.

How best do we do that? By adopting a world-class safety regime. I believe that and I support that. Bill S-3 will help.

Let us be frank about what we are debating today. This is a three-clause bill. It extends health and safety regulations for workers in the offshore, for workers who work in a high-risk environment.

I know my colleague across the way, the member for St. John's East, understands, very well, the risks that these workers face. In fact, I remember the CEO of ExxonMobil Canada telling me that the Newfoundland offshore is the harshest environment in which his company operates in the world.

Bill S-3 would give Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia an additional year, to December 31, 2021, to finalize the numerous health and safety regulations that stem from the 2014 legislation, regulations to make our workers safer. Should Bill S-3 become law, the transitional regulations from 2014 will apply retroactively to January 1, 2021.

As I said, it is a three-clause bill. We all agree that no worker in any workplace should go unprotected. Therefore, I would hope that this bill would pass easily. It should pass quickly and today. It should be the last day that it is debated in this House.

In fact, my office has reached out to my opposition critics and colleagues across the way so that we could do just that every step of the way. To the member for Calgary Centre, the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay, the member for Jonquière and the member for St. John's East, I am happy to report that these were constructive conversations and that we had a constructive relationship between us on this. I urged them to work with the government, in the spirit of protecting Canada's workers, to send the bill to the standing committee and urged the standing committee to study it at its earliest opportunity. I appeared before the standing committee alongside departmental officials. Before Bill S-3 was introduced in this House, it went through a similar process in the other place and I appeared in front of our hon. colleagues from the other place, who held committee hearings on this bill, to explain why we are where we are today.

The extent to which this three-clause bill continues to be debated is not because of the substance of the bill. As I mentioned, I think there would be unanimity across all parties in this House to support the passage of the legislation. If they read a Hansard of the second-reading debate on this bill, they would be forgiven for thinking that the debate was circular.

Nearly every speech by every member of every party in this House agreed on the importance of the bill and the importance of passing it quickly. Nearly every speech by every member of every party in this House referenced the 1982 Ocean Ranger tragedy that left 84 dead and the royal commission of inquiry that led to many safety improvements. Nearly every speech by every member of every party in this House referenced the fatal crash of Cougar Flight 491 in 2009 and the ensuing commission of inquiry that Mr. Justice Robert Wells conducted, which led to the sweeping reforms contained in the Offshore Health and Safety Act passed in 2014. These were raised in nearly every speech by every member of every party in this House.

There is no daylight between us in terms of protecting our workers, and there should not be, so why are we still debating this? Why does a three-clause bill merit hours of additional debate, when there is unanimity on the importance of protecting workers here, while Canadians expect their Parliament to get on with the business of building back better and recovering from COVID-19? Simply put, there is a load of politics afoot, let me say that. There is a concerted desire to delay debate on anything and everything, regardless of the issue; and, in this case, ironically, to further delay the very thing that the opposition members are lambasting this government for delaying.

Many speeches referenced that it has taken far too long to put in place permanent regulations, that a further delay of 24 months would be far too long, and we listened and we agreed. We accepted the amendments from the other place to drop it to 12 months. We heard that the delay in having a permanent occupational health and safety regime for protecting offshore workers is unconscionable. To the members across the way today, I say, “look, fair game, I agree”; I say “yes, it has taken far too long”. It is frustrating. I am frustrated. I said it during the committee hearings in the other place, I said it before the standing committee, and I will repeat it today: This has taken far too long.

Now, I could list the reasons why the complex work of drafting regulations in partnership with two provincial governments and two offshore boards, respecting our joint management frameworks and the jurisdiction of provinces, all takes time. I could speak about the 15,000 pages of documents that they have to go through to align with and incorporate by reference the over 173 domestic and international health and safety standards. I could speak to the time that we lost by needing to fix the initial interim regulations because the industry told us it did not work for them, that it burdened them; I could speak about how that fix set us back. I could also speak to how this very pandemic that we are in has set us back; how the sudden, abrupt shutdown of workplaces forced us to adapt to working from home, how adapting took time. Mr. Speaker, just think of how long it took this House to adapt and put in place measures to safely continue with our work. Those are all very legitimate and contributing factors as to why we are where we are today, but those reasons do not make workers safer, they do not support workers and they do not advance this legislation.

We need to pass this bill. We need to get on with the business of finalizing these permanent regulations with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and with industry.

Despite these challenges, our officials and their counterparts in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in Nova Scotia have passed many milestones. We are close. I instructed my officials to get this work done by the new proposed deadline. I am confident we will. I know we will.

However, we need to pass Bill S-3 today, without further delay. If the opposition members really want to protect workers, they now have the opportunity to do so by putting partisan politics aside, doing what needs to be done and passing this bill.

As a son of Newfoundland and Labrador, I am proud of what we have achieved in this industry since it began to take root in the 1960s. The offshore industry has made life better for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. It has kept families from separating in order to find work on the mainland. It also gave some of them the expertise so that they could find good work on the mainland.

I am also proud of the reality that not since the time of Brian Mulroney and John Crosbie has there been a federal government that has done more for the offshore. It was this government that gave $2.5 billion to Newfoundland and Labrador as a part of the renewed Atlantic Accord in 2019. It was this government that supported workers in the offshore during a pandemic with close to $400 million to maintain jobs and lower emissions. It was this government that reduced the time for exploratory drilling assessments from over 900 days to 90, without losing an ounce of environmental integrity.

I recently announced 16 projects funded through the offshore component of the emissions reduction fund with an eye to the future; projects that use carbon capture, wind and other renewable sources of energy to power the industry's operations; projects that will lower emissions; real projects that are creating real jobs for the workers who are building our low-emissions energy future right now.

As I conclude my remarks, let me plainly state that the only thing that matters during debate on this bill is the people involved, the workers: protecting them, supporting them and believing in them. The workers on those platforms in the North Atlantic, the workers who service them, the workers who are at the heart of this industry that made our province what it is and the workers who are building our prosperous and cleaner future need to be protected. We need to protect them with a safety regime that is world class. They deserve absolutely nothing less.

Bill S-3 will help us get there. Let us do our jobs. Let us pass Bill S-3.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2021 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Mr. Speaker, in the interests of getting this important legislation passed so we can get it to the next stage and provide these protections for workers I could give a 20-minute speech, but I will be giving a significantly shorter speech on this.

There is one personal note I want to add. I was texted this morning, after I completed my speech, that my first niece was born today. Her name is Maeve Elizabeth Danielle Penner, and her mom is doing great. We are all very happy and blessed to have this new beautiful baby girl in our family.

I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill S-3, an act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act. It is about time this important legislation to protect the safety of workers made its way through the House of Commons.

The Liberal government failed to get this legislation passed in a timely manner, which has put the safety of offshore workers at risk. We debate a lot of important issues in the House, but out of the many pieces of legislation I have seen the government put forward over the past few years, few bills could be more important than ensuring the safety of workers. In this case, we are talking about offshore energy workers.

How did we get to this point? We are now in a situation where important safeguards have been allowed to lapse. These safeguards were put in place by a previous Conservative government over five years ago, but not acted upon by the current Liberal government until it was too late. Thankfully, no one appears to have been harmed by the lack of action on this file, but it remains inexcusable that we have come to this point in the first place.

At the end of last year, the Liberals allowed the existing temporary safety regulations for our offshore oil and gas workers to expire. In effect, this stripped key health and safety protections for these Canadian workers who risk their lives every day to ensure we have the resources to heat our homes and drive our vehicles to work. These workers, in this case primarily from the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, are a pillar that supports the economy of the province and this country.

The province has elected a lot of Liberal MPs. The Minister of Natural Resources comes from the province, yet it appears that little attention has been paid to this important issue.

Most people would not know it, but I had the privilege of working in our onshore energy sector. I donned my personal protective equipment and H2S monitor and went to work in Canada's energy industrial heartland in Edmonton, Alberta. I spent two summers in university working the shutdowns at the Imperial Oil refinery in Strathcona. On site we had plenty of heavy equipment moving around and we did the jobs that needed to be done to ensure the facility could run smoothly, create jobs and support our economy. I remember working the night shift, 12 hours a day, day in and day out, for weeks. I picked up extra hours at the end of each shift and put on a HiVis vest to do traffic control and ensure that the tired workers would not accidentally be run over as they went home from their shifts. I stood watch as skilled workers went deep into systems to ensure that first aid would be readily available for them in case of danger. This was on the land. I can only imagine the dangers faced by those on the east coast who get on a helicopter and head out to platforms far at sea, sometimes in bad weather.

Tragedies from our past demonstrate just how critical it is for these safety regulations to be in place. Canadians were devastated in 1982 by the news of the Ocean Ranger rig and 84 workers who lost their lives when it capsized during a storm, and again in 2009 by news of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 crashing into the North Atlantic, resulting in the tragic deaths of 17 offshore oil workers. This tragedy led to the Cougar inquiry, the results of which were taken by governments to pass this important legislation. After each of these disasters, there were investigations into their causes and recommendations on how to avert these dangers in the future. I am sure that politicians spoke to the devastated families, promising that never again would this be allowed to happen, yet here we are today debating legislation that should have been passed months, if not years, ago.

It was the previous Conservative government that recognized the very real need for these protections. That is why, in 2014, the government passed safety regulations through the Offshore Health and Safety Act. That is exactly the kind of leadership that we need in this country: We need a government that is proactive and not reactive, and that takes prompt action to protect the safety of our workers.

These temporary regulations were set to expire in 2019. They gave the Liberal government years to implement permanent offshore energy safety regulations. The Liberals had to extend that deadline for another year. They extended those temporary regulations to December 31, 2020. The Liberals had time to get the job done.

For many of those years, they had a majority. The fact is, even now in the current minority government, the Liberals have the political support to get the job done but they have not, until now, and that is inexcusable. It was not days, and it was not the month of the deadline in December, that the Liberal government finally introduced Bill S-3 in the other place. Where was the Liberals' sense of urgency? It really feels like an afterthought, as if the safety of these workers was not of great importance to the government. Why did the Prime Minister, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Liberal government wait until the last minute to do their jobs? An important deadline has been missed. Key protections are missing. The Liberal government dithers. Perhaps if the government had not chosen to prorogue Parliament and waste many additional days of productive debate, we could have had this passed before the deadline. We will never know, but what we do know for sure is that the Liberal government did not care to make this a priority.

I am also disappointed, for another reason, that this legislation was not introduced until last year. It would have been a fitting tribute to Judge Wells from Newfoundland and Labrador, who did so much to advocate for the safety of offshore workers. Sadly, in October 2020, Judge Wells, who headed the Cougar inquiry, passed away at the age of 87. Judge Wells was a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister provincially, and was a Rhodes scholar. As commissioner, his key contribution to the inquiry was the recommendation that helicopters have 30 minutes or more of run-dry capability. He also recommended founding a full search and rescue base in St. John's. I wish the government had its act together and had passed this legislation in advance of the deadline so that Judge Wells could have seen his legacy put permanently into action. All the same, I want to commend him for his service to our country and to his province. He will be remembered for his commitment to the welfare of offshore energy workers and their families.

The delayed passage of Bill S-3 is just another example of how the current Liberal government has failed to prioritize the needs of the men and women who work in our oil and gas sector. In fact, I noted with some surprise that the minister said the words “one of three oil-producing Canadian provinces”, seemingly unaware that more than three provinces in this country produce oil. If it was not bad enough that the government was failing to get key safety legislation passed by the deadline, it also seems intent on phasing out the livelihoods of these oil and gas workers.

We know that Newfoundland and Labrador relies on the energy sector more than every other province, including Alberta. We know that the future of Newfoundland and Labrador requires a strong offshore oil and gas sector. In fact, it is so important to that province that the word “oil” is mentioned nearly 150 times in the recent Greene report outlining the economic future of Newfoundland and Labrador, yet the Liberal government continues its attack on the oil sector with bills like Bill C-69 and Bill C-48 in the previous Parliament, and by not acting on key legislation like Bill S-3, which we are debating today.

Something close to 147 days have passed since the Liberal delays allowed for the existing legislation to expire. That is 147 days that hard-working offshore oil and gas workers have been left in limbo without protections.

I want to recognize the hard work done by those in the other place in passing Bill S-3 as expediently as possible. Recognizing the urgency of this bill, it is unacceptable that after passing in the Senate so quickly, the bill waited in the lineup to get through the House of Commons' agenda. We knew that members in the House were intent on getting the legislation through quickly at second reading and passed immediately.

I sit on the natural resources committee, and we moved with unprecedented speed to get this bill through. It was one meeting. It is my sincere hope that we can push forward with the debate today, get the bill passed and secure these key protections for our offshore oil and gas workers.

As members of the House, protecting Canadian workers must be a key priority. That is why the Conservatives have been co-operative in working to get this bill passed as quickly as possible. The failure to protect offshore energy workers is unconscionable and must end. It is time that we finally get the job done and secure these protections so these workers can continue going about their jobs safely and so we can ensure the prosperity and future not only of Newfoundland and Labrador but of our nation, Canada.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2021 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to say I am happy to be able to speak today to Bill S-3 at third reading, which would extend the transitional offshore occupational health and safety regulations for one more year to allow the finalization of the permanent regulations.

That is to say I am happy to speak to it, because I hope it will pass today. We certainly want to see it pass today because we have been waiting a very long time to see the governments, both federal and provincial, come up with permanent occupational health and safety regulations in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore. We have been waiting for this since the early nineties. There is a long and sad history of an attitude toward offshore health and safety, which does not in any way compare to the kind of health and safety regulations that have been available to onshore workers in this country for many years.

We have heard all sorts of excuses about the delay. We have to pass this legislation, and I am happy to pass this legislation, but I would have been very happy if we did not need this legislation. In fact, we would not have needed this legislation if the government had been more diligent in pursuing the object of the legislation that was passed in 2014, which itself was very late.

The minister talks about the delay and all the complications and consultations that have to take place. He lamented on several occasions that there were 300 pages of regulations. I wonder what page they are on. I really do. They have been working on 300 pages of regulations since 2014. That is six years at 50 pages a year. What page are they on now?

I do not mean to be flippant about it, but I think to use that excuse entirely misses the point that there does not seem to have been a serious effort to actually put in place permanent regulations. They are very necessary, and there is a reason for it.

I am afraid the reason is that the companies thought the regulations were too burdensome. That debate has been going on since the early 1990s, when occupational health and safety was taken away from the federal labour department and the provincial labour department and given to the C-NLOPB. It has already been pointed out that they have divided obligations to ensure they are looking after offshore health and safety, environmental protection, production schedules, and the promotion and development of the industry.

As has been pointed out by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and others, there is an inherent conflict there and, at the very least, a lack of focus on the important things. There are good examples of why that is a problem, and I will come to a specific one that illustrates that problem and also the problem of the lapse in the regulations. This lapse has been allowed to happen by the failure of the government to bring in this legislation before the regulations expired, which they did on December 31 of last year.

We have no enforceable regulations now in the offshore. They have been given instructions to follow them, and the companies have agreed to follow them, but it is very clear that they are not enforceable. No one can be charged or convicted of an offence under regulations that are not in force.

Starting way back in 1992, they had draft regulations, and the draft regulations were used as a guideline. It was believed at the time that the companies, and the companies had convinced the governments, knew best about how to manage safety in the offshore. They understood the industry, and they understood how it works. They would have used them as guidelines, but there was no right to refuse unsafe work, no enforceable obligations for occupational health and safety tests, and no ability of inspectors to lay charges in case something went wrong.

The excuse was always that we could take away their permits and stop them from operating, but that never happened. That did not happen in the offshore because that was too big a step to take. There were no inspectors regularly inspecting offshore, looking for infractions, dealing with them or even performing investigations after incidents had taken place. It was basically left up to the companies.

We have experienced, and we have seen, great disasters. The minister mentioned them. Everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador who was around at the time can remember vividly the sinking of the Ocean Ranger in 1982 and the loss of 84 lives.

It was a great and horrendous tragedy in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it, as was pointed out, led to an inquiry. The inquiry found the causes of the disaster. As always, there were multiple causes, most of which involved a lack of proper safety and a lack of proper planning for safety in the event of something occurring.

The same thing happened in 2009 with the Cougar Helicopters crash, flight 491, where 17 individuals lost their lives. That was the result of the failure to adequately ensure the helicopter was operated properly, even though there had been a crash in a similar helicopter a couple of years prior in Australia, and the cause of that crash was known.

This is something that we see happening in the offshore. Unfortunately, we see very serious incidents, but luckily, not many more disasters have taken place. The offshore companies have placed an emphasis on safety. I will not take that away from them. They continuously talk about it, but they also want to be in charge of it. They do not really want anyone else telling them how they should be behaving or making sure they are doing things right.

When it came to the helicopter inquiry by Justice Wells, who was a fine jurist and very fine man, he made a series of recommendations with respect to the offshore. The most important one, he said, was that there ought to be an independent regulator that would only have responsibility for looking after offshore health and safety.

An independent regulator would be able to focus on that, and it would not be subject to regulatory capture. This is a well-known term for when the companies have control over the process with ongoing consultation. They ensure that their voices are the loudest and heard by all who have a say. They also delay things, if necessary, to see if they can have a better opportunity to get the regime they want.

I very much believe that this is part of the delay that has led to where we are today. In the case of the government, I think it is shameful to have a lack of diligence in ensuring that there would not be a lapse in the regulations during which they cease to be enforceable, which has happened.

Yes, they are revived retroactively, but that does not do anything to provide enforcement to take place if something happens in the interim. In fact, the legislation that is before us today, which will pass, has a very specific reference to that issue. There is a clause in the bill that specifically says:

No person shall be convicted of an offence under a provision of a regulation revived under subsection (1) if the offence was committed during the period beginning on January 1, 2021 and ending on the day before the day on which this section comes into force.

This means that this section would not come into force until it is passed by the Governor General. Therefore, we have a lapse which specifically makes it impossible to charge anyone for something that may happen in the interim. This may be a technicality, but nevertheless, that is the reality of leaving that gap in place.

I will illustrate this point with an incident that was made known to the public on May 17 of this year by the Hibernia Management and Development Company, HMDC, the operator of the Hibernia platform. It reported that on May 13, 2021, two workers were engaged in the lift of a container when part of the crane rig assembly was dropped. There were no injuries, but there was a 10-metre drop, which could have been fatal.

The incident had the potential for a fatality, based on the dropped object prevention scheme calculator, which is an industry standard. This resulted, of course, in the ceasing of operations and an investigation to be carried out.

I will read from the last two paragraphs of HMDC's report, which says, “HMDC ceased all crane operations and has initiated an investigation into the root cause of the incident”, and rightly so. However, the next line reads, “The C-NLOPB is monitoring HMDC's investigation of the incident.”

Is it not interesting that the investigation into a safety incident that was a potential fatality was done by the company? Is it not the role of the body responsible for health and safety on the offshore to conduct an investigation and determine what the cause is? Is it not its role to find out from an independent objective body, responsible for health and safety investigations and ensuring that adequate systems are in place, if there was a violation of a regulation so it could potentially lay a charge?

No, it was being conducted by the company itself. That situation exists now under the current regulations, which were put in place in 2014. They are the ones we are discussing as to whether they should be made permanent or what the permanent regulations should be. To me it is illustrative of the whole history of the ongoing regime of offshore health and safety in the offshore in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in Nova Scotia as well.

This has been complained about in legislatures. When I was in the legislature in Newfoundland and Labrador as a member of that House of Assembly, I complained many times about the inadequacy of offshore health and safety regulations. The same thing was happening in Nova Scotia. It was under the same regime.

Only after the results of the Wells inquiry into offshore safety was it was decided that there ought to be enforceable regulations. These transitional regulations, which are there now, were brought in. It was decided there would be a consultation to make permanent regulations, but we still do not have permanent regulations six years after that legislation was passed.

As has been pointed out, not only did a delay take place, and we can list all the reasons why, though I will not rehash them, as the minister did a great job listing all the reasons why 300 pages of regulations could not be dealt with in six years, but it was to the point that it was not until the first week of December, with the regulations about to expire on December 31, that the government acted to extend these regulations for another year to allow it to complete the process.

That is obviously a failure of diligence, priorities and taking seriously the need for what we have been calling for for more than 25 years, which is that workers be protected by an effective, enforceable offshore health and safety regime. That is just not good enough. It shows a terrific disrespect for the importance of the health and safety of Newfoundland and Labrador workers and workers from all over the country who work offshore. We need to make sure that proper regulations are in place.

I say with some regret that we have not seen the proper respect for the recommendations that were made by Justice Wells. We have not seen a proper respect for the need for employer-employee involvement. There were advisory boards that were part of the legislation in 2014. This is 2021, and we do not have an offshore health and safety advisory board in place in Newfoundland and Labrador because the governments have failed to appoint them.

Only recently did the federal government appoint anyone on their side. The province has not done so yet. What is going on? Why is it that the workers in the offshore of Newfoundland and Labrador do not get the respect they deserve from government? Why are they not treated the same as workers would be on land?

Health and safety advisory committees are standard fare. There is supposed to be consultation. The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, the union representing two of the rigs offshore, has told me it has not been consulted on who the appointment should be representing workers. It is written into the legislation, but it has not been consulted.

What is going on? This is a serious case of neglect of the importance of this issue. It is a serious case of undervaluing the need for a regime, which has been recommended by Justice Wells. As I pointed out, he was a very thorough, considerate, judicial personage who, with a tremendous amount of experience and respect, made these recommendations and said they ought to be in place, they ought to be enforceable and they ought to be done by an independent board. This would ensure there is no opportunity for regulatory capture and ensure there is a focus, specifically in this case, on the health and safety of workers. We have tried everything else, so let us follow the example of Norway, Australia and the United Kingdom. They suffered in some cases from very serious disasters in their offshore and understood that it was necessary to have an independent body, which they now have.

I have a few minutes left, but I do not intend to use all of my time. We are agreeing, of course, to pass this legislation speedily today. We have been consulted on this for quite some time and have indicated our intention to support the bill, with speedy passage. However, we do want take the time to ensure that people know that this is, in fact, a very black mark on the Government of Canada, both this one and the previous one, since it failed to take up the proper recommendations and follow through. Indeed, there is a mark on the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as well for not appointing people to the offshore health and safety advisory board and insisting that the government play a role as well.

There are partners in this process and they all have their obligations to fulfill. In the case of the Government of Canada, it is the lead on this. It is the one with the experts and expertise. It has been putting its shoulder to the wheel, but it has not been putting its shoulder to the wheel very quickly, and the delays are unconscionable.

I would like to see this passed today, but I hope that despite whatever has happened between December and today with the passage of the bill, the people who are working on these 300 pages have gone through a few more pages. I certainly hope they were not waiting until we passed this legislation to get down to brass tacks and finish the job. We are prepared to finish the job today with respect to the legislation, but I wanted to point out the failings of the government in not getting the job done earlier and leaving the gap in place.

In the case of the incident that I referred to, if there was a reason for a violation of the regulations that existed, although I am not suggesting that there was at all, no charges could be laid because the bill we are passing today says specifically that we cannot do that. This points out and illustrates the difficult problems, as well as the the government's failure in not properly bringing this legislation before the House in a timely fashion.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2021 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-3, which is before Parliament today. As a member of Parliament from Newfoundland and Labrador, this issue is obviously important not only to me as a parliamentarian, but to many across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Let me start by saying that, unfortunately, there are many tragic events that shape the history, culture and strength of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Most of them have happened in the offshore industry or are somehow linked to the ocean, as ours is an ocean province of Canada.

One of them is definitely the Ocean Ranger disaster. That itself was a catalyst for safety in the offshore oil and gas industry. On February 15, 1982, the drilling and exploration of the industry off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador resulted in a tragedy like none other we had seen in our history. Just 267 kilometres from St. John's, 84 crew members tragically lost their lives. There were no survivors.

On March 13, 1985, we had the Universal helicopter crash in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, which killed six people. It is another tragic, sad and unfortunate event in our history.

That brings us to March 12, 2009, just 12 years ago, when Cougar flight 491 crashed, killing 17 people en route from St. John's, Newfoundland, to the oil fields off our coastline. It is another sad, historic and tragic event that has shaped the province that we are proud of and call our home.

Those of us who live in Newfoundland and Labrador and work in occupations in the offshore oil industry, the offshore fishery or the many other industry sectors know that we work in a climate that is rugged. We work in an environment that is often harsh. We also know that in our history there has been tragic loss. We would like to think that in some cases we can do more to prevent tragic loss in the future.

In 2009, when the accident with the Cougar helicopter happened, I was the leader of the opposition for the Liberal Party in Newfoundland and Labrador. I remember that day very well and remember the days that followed. A regulatory body was appointed to look at safety in the offshore industry. I watched as many families crumbled in the midst of the tragedy and as they mourned their loss and the province mourned its loss. They were difficult days, and it was difficult to look into what needed to be done to create more safety and more protection for workers in that industry.

It has been a long and difficult road. I was an opposition leader at the time. I have served as much of my career politically in opposition as I have served in government. It is always easy to point a finger and ask, “Why was this not done?” or “Why could that not have been avoided?” Realistically, we live in a world where, unfortunately, we have come to learn from tragedy and to do better. That is what we are trying to do today in this country. We are trying to do better. We are trying to ensure that the safety, welfare and protection of people in the offshore oil and gas industry, whether in Newfoundland and Labrador or anywhere else in this country, are considered and that the safety regulations are upheld.

Earlier, one of my colleagues, who I work with at the natural resources committee, spoke about the work of Chief Justice Wells, as did my colleague for St. John's East, who was in the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature with me. Hansard can be checked, but I think between the two of us, not a day was missed to raise the issues of health and safety in the offshore industry.

Chief Justice Wells was appointed to do a job, which, in my opinion, he did well. He had a team of individuals who really worked hard to ensure that the recommendations and regulations around this industry would be sufficient, at least a starting point, to where we needed to go. The regulations came into force to a certain degree and, as the member for St. John's East outlined, some of them we still work toward. Just recently, the federal government made the first appointments to the health and safety board, and I am assured the province is falling in line and this board will be active in short order.

There are several things I want to highlight today.

This bill came to the natural resources committee, on which I sit as a member. We had an opportunity to question the minister, to evaluate the bill and study it on its merits. It absolutely got dealt with in short order and was supported by the entire committee, which is made up of all parties. I want to extend thanks to my colleagues on the natural resources committee for doing just that. They understood the importance of this and the task at hand for us. Therefore, we moved ahead.

For those who are not sure what this debate is about today, Bill S-3 would extend the application of six transitional occupational health and safety regulations under the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act. The transitional regulations were implemented in 2014 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, along with a five-year automatic repeal date to allow for the development of permanent regulations, which is where we are today. The repeal date was subsequently extended by one year via the Budget implementation Act, 2018, No. 2.

I want to assure members today that we are very committed to ensuring that the highest priority of health and safety and environmental protection in all aspects of our natural resources industries, most definitely in the sectors we are debating today, is held up and given the priority and interest that it deserves. I have heard different people in this debate ask why the bill has not moved forward more quickly and why it was not done a year ago. There is some legitimacy in the question and I accept that, but this bill is one that cannot be taken lightly.

The transitional occupation health and safety regulations under that act, as we know, were extended. We also know that these regulations are very complex and are to be looked at in tremendous detail and implemented in a course of action that reaches, protects and secures those who work in the industry to the greatest extent of our ability.

We launch many pieces of legislation in the House of Commons that we wish we could do in record time. A lot of times we set deadlines that cannot always be met, but no one should ever doubt our commitment to the safety, welfare and health of the offshore workers in every industry sector in Canada, in this case, the offshore workers in Newfoundland and Labrador. We know that occupational health and safety regulations are important to all employees in all industries and workplace settings in Canada, including those in the offshore, and we need to do what we have a responsibility to do as a government to ensure they are enacted and followed.

In 2014, when the government amended the accord's act to clarify the legal framework for offshore occupational health and safety and to establish the transitional regulations, that was a highlight for us. Since that time, we have worked diligently with the government and industry in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia to develop permanent regulations that are tailored to the offshore, one of the most remote and dangerous places to work in our country today.

Will I be offended by those who feel we should have done it much more quickly than we have? I will not be, because these permanent regulations are there to protect lives. It is not a political gain and no one is playing games here. This is very serious business. Protecting the lives of those who work in a dangerous industry like we have in offshore oil and gas in Newfoundland and Labrador needs to be done cautiously and to the greatest extent possible to ensure that lives are protected in all aspects.

I am very proud of our record as a government when it comes to responding to the oil and gas industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I was around in the days when the C-NLOPB was created, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. It is a world-class regime. We have grown to be proud of it in Newfoundland Labrador because we built it. It is ours, and it is working for people in our industry and for our industry as a whole. Can we improve upon it? Of course, we can. There is always room to improve.

When we look at the oil industry in this province, we have some of the lowest emissions per barrel in the world. It is sweet light crude. It is oil that will be a part of the mix for a very long time. When we are looking at future dependency on the oil industry itself, we are looking to sweet light crude. We are looking to places like Newfoundland and Labrador where we can produce low-emissions oil, where we can contribute to a world that is carbon conscious. That is so important for us in this industry, in this province.

I would like to mention the Atlantic accord, which we renewed. We all know that the Atlantic accord has been one of the most positive negotiations to have occurred between Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador since our Confederation. I will always compliment those who had a hand in it doing so, just like I am proud of our government for renewing the Atlantic accord for Newfoundland and Labrador, a $2.5 billion renewed accord.

We invested $400 million for workers and in lowering emissions in the oil and gas industry. When we were going through a pandemic, we did not walk away from workers in the oil and gas industry. We held on for them. They were not always easy days or easy negotiations, but through a lot of support and tremendous leadership of groups like the C-NLOPB, the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association and many others, we were able to work with them on the industry recovery assistance fund and make other investments in the offshore oil industry for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Therefore, we did invest $400 million for workers in this province and to help lower emissions in the industry.

We helped move the environmental assessment for exploratory wells from 900 days, as it was, to 90 days. That in itself was a tremendous shift for the industry, allowing it to monopolize time and to invest money in different ways and to protect workers in this province.

We are proud of these things. As the members all know, this past year, since March, 2020, we have been living in a different environment and a different climate. Whether it is in governance, investment, oil development or environmental protection, we have all been living through a different time. Yes, maybe we would have liked to move things around the regulations a lot sooner, but we are moving them, and we are moving them in the right direction.

When people live in a province like I do, that has had to succumb to so much tragedy and challenge in industry sectors, they will understand how very important it is to ensure that the health and safety of workers in the offshore industry and the oil industry in Newfoundland and Labrador are protected. When people work in an industry like this, they know it is built on pride but they also know it is an industry that can suffer tremendous loss, and that is the unfortunate thing about it.

I have a few more points to share.

I want to commend the minister, the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, for the work he has done in leading this industry for us in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada and for the contributions he has made both in investment and in changing environmental legislation and, in this case, in providing the regulations for the protection of workers in the offshore industry. I appreciate the work he has done and his leadership on this issue. I also appreciate the work of all MPs in Newfoundland and Labrador and for their support on this, raising their voices over many years to ensure the protection of safety for workers in the industry.

I also want to commend the private sector, and I speak of Cougar Helicopters. I know that in the aftermath of what happened in 2009, it did a tremendous amount of work and made investments to ensure the health and safety of all its workers who travel with it and are affiliated with the company and the offshore industry. I have met with them many times. I am confident when I say the company has some of the best search and rescue capabilities today that exist anywhere in the country and probably anywhere in the world. It has not only emerged as a company that protects the rights, health, well-being and safety of workers in Canada, but it has brought those lessons and precedents for good, safe operations to many other jurisdictions around the world. I want to recognize it for what it continues to do day in and day out in this province.

Last, I want to recognize the work of Noia and Charlene Johnson, who I have dealt with on a number of occasions when dealing with the oil industry and listening to the messages of workers and industry stakeholders within the province. We have certainly respected their voices. We respect the tremendous amount of knowledge and the depth of experience their organization brings to issues like this and to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and for always being aware that we work in an industry that is tragic, an industry that is relentless on most days.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a history, from the early days of going to the ice in the seal hunt to today going to the offshore oil rigs. We have had a history of working in difficult and challenging environments. We have had a history of working in some of the most weatherbeaten areas of the world.

When one walks the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador, one recognizes that. One only has to look at the geology that encompasses this land we call home to see the ancient rock, to see the wear and tear of our shorelines over many years and see how rugged the ocean can be and how difficult and harsh the environment is that we often work in as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

I thank my colleagues, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Canada, the Senate, everyone who has had a role to play in this, including the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, and I hope we can see the passage of these amendments and this bill today so we can move on with doing the important work that needs to be done in protecting the health and safety of offshore workers in Newfoundland and Labrador's oil industry.

I am happy to take some questions.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2021 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is good to be able to enter into debate on this important subject, certainly when it deals with one of the most important industries in this country and specifically Bill S-3. It deals with the safety of workers within Canada's oil and gas sector, specifically the offshore oil and gas sector. I will get into some specifics around this bill and highlight some of the realities faced by an industry that I am quite familiar with when it comes to the onshore side of oil and gas. I am less familiar with the offshore, but certainly am proud of the contribution that it makes to the Canadian economy.

I want to start by addressing a number of things that the minister stated in his remarks when we opened the debate on Bill S-3 a bit earlier this afternoon. I do find it quite tragic, actually, that even the minister's own department talks about all of the provinces in this country that produce oil and gas, but he seems to reference quite often that there are three oil and gas-producing provinces in this country. In fact there are more than seven, with some further legacy production associated with it, and the impact of oil and gas is truly national whether on the revenue side of the government's balance sheet, through royalties or the fact that the economic impacts are truly significant.

When we have an industry like the oil and gas sector, in any of the dozens of communities that I represent small businesses are impacted by oil and gas. In many cases, we see a truly national impact through that economy. I want to specifically address that and a couple of other things that I will get to. Whether intentionally or not, either way, it is troubling that the impact of the oil and gas sector is seemingly diminished in both our current national economy but also the important place that I believe it has in the coming years and decades. Even as the members opposite like to often talk about this transition, the reality is that oil and gas still plays a key role, and I will get into some of the specifics around that.

Further, we are seeing a bit more often, especially when the Liberal hypocrisy on Line 5 and KXL is being called out, that the Liberals seem to up their rhetoric when it comes to the transition side. It seems to be the trend of left-leaning parties to bolster and talk about the impending energy transition. They will talk about the tough decisions that have to be made, and, yet, they refuse to acknowledge the reality that exists within an industry that is not going away anytime soon but can lead the world when it comes to an industry that will see demand. Even the most conservative estimates see oil and gas demand increasing for about two decades. We saw a significant decrease in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that is estimated to exceed pre-pandemic levels in the coming months, maybe sooner, depending on the rate of economic recovery.

I find it troubling that there is a lot of talk around how tough decisions have to be made, how we have to somehow punish the proud workers within these sectors in the offshore side of the industry off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, the workers in a factory that has contracts with oil sands companies, or the constituents whom I represent who travel to work in camps up north or check wells locally, some even part-time. In fact, I was speaking to a retiree here recently who still checks a few wells on a part-time basis to help supplement their income. It is troubling that there is such a narrow focus and a refusal to acknowledge the reality that exists in Canada's energy sector.

Finally, politics are being played with the talk around the delay. It could not be further from the truth that the Liberals are quick to blame the opposition for all the ills of the world, that is simply not true. The reality is the government has mismanaged the legislative agenda and, in fact, not just in this Parliament. Canadians have a lot of understanding, given the fact we have faced a global pandemic and that there are significant challenges associated with a number of bills that nobody could have anticipated.

Canadians and the opposition acknowledge that. However, here is the reality, the government, time and time again, has demonstrated that it does not negotiate in good faith, that it is willing to play political games, and that it is more reactive than anything when it comes to the issues it faces.

I will point back to prior to when I was elected. About halfway through the last Parliament, it seemed like the government got busy on the legislative side of things. I remember reading a column about halfway through the last Parliament. I am paraphrasing but the headline was something along the lines of it being the least effective legislative majority government in recent history, and it even pointed back to some previous minority Parliaments, saying they were more effective at getting legislation passed.

Then all of a sudden, in the final couple years of the last Parliament, it was almost like the Liberals forgot that Parliament even existed. There are a lot of examples I could get into that showed they truly show contempt for Canada's national democratic institutions. I will try to hold back on that front today, as we are working diligently to get this legislation passed. It is troubling that the trend seems to be continuing, and that the minister simply plays politics. The parliamentary secretary and members stand up and simply blame opposition members, because they want to speak to important issues, like Bill S-3. The Liberals are saying that if the opposition even wants to debate, then somehow it is holding up important legislative issues, delaying the process, and on and on with those sorts of excuses.

It is very troubling. This was prior to the pandemic, and I saw it first-hand. Shortly after being elected, I saw the way that the Liberals and previous minister responsible dealt with the new CUSMA, the renegotiated NAFTA. It was astounding to listen to the government trying to blame the opposition for its failures on a trade agreement that had true and significant impacts. That is one thing, but instead of taking responsibility, the Liberals blamed their political opponents, trying to pivot and explain it away. Instead of answering questions, they simply blamed delay, and we saw the poor outcomes that were the result.

It was before the pandemic that I started to see this trend as an elected parliamentarian. It is unfortunate that we saw it time and time again throughout the pandemic. The members opposite like to say how prorogation only lost a day and a half of Parliament, making these sorts of declarations, pointing to the legislative calendar. They know full well that the reality is very different. I could go into that, but I do want to get to the specifics of this debate on Bill S-3, an act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act.

When I first saw this bill introduced, specifically because it had to do with the energy industry, which is a personal interest of mine, I looked into it. I was surprised to see that this was an extension of transitional regulations that had been extended a number of times before. There is the need for certainty for workers, as has been pointed out quite a number of times throughout the course of the afternoon. Workers deserve certainty around the environment they are asked to work in.

One of the changes that took place, as was pointed out earlier, was the change from a 24-month extension to a 12-month extension.

I hope that the government is working proactively and not reactively. I hope we do not have to debate another bill like this come next fall, because the government was not able to get some of these agreements done on what is, admittedly, a very complex set of regulations that deal with provincial and federal jurisdiction and health and safety in a very challenging work environment. However, this is not to say that the bill speaks to the importance of time to ensure that there is respect for the stakeholders in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia to ensure that there is that fulsome and proper agreement.

I would note that the bill seems to anticipate that there would be delays, and we are debating it now close to the end of May. I anticipate that the bill will likely pass today, but it anticipated the fact that this probably would not get done and so it would make these transitional regulations retroactive to the end of last year where they had expired previously.

I would note, and a number of others have made some good points about this, that it is so important to respect our democratic institutions. Certainly, I do not think there is any question that all members of Parliament want to ensure that workers have a safe workplace. I do find it troubling that the government would take for granted the legislative process to the point where that would be forced to be written into legislation. I truly believe that had the government been more proactive, had it been more willing to work through the processes that evolved, we could have come to a much better agreement that would not have left that uncertainty that exists when it comes to the retroactivity and ensuring that there is no lapse, because workers certainly deserve that.

We see, as is often the case, that when workplace measures are brought into force, it is in the context of tragedy. Although I am not as familiar with the offshore industry as I am with the onshore in Alberta and Saskatchewan, I do believe that it is important to note a couple of the disasters that I have read about and learned more about since this debate came forward.

For example, there was the 1982 Ocean Ranger disaster when more than 80 people passed away and the tragedy associated with that, the 2009 Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 crash, and a number of other incidents where, tragically, Canadians have lost their lives. Closer to home, to translate some of these losses, I am aware of individuals who have lost their lives working in what is a challenging environment, the oil and gas sector. I will get into some of my experience with that in a moment.

Certainly, the demands to keep the lights on require risks. It is important to ensure that, as parliamentarians, we create the frameworks required for the certainty of those workers, the corporations and all those involved with the extraction of these resources to ensure that there is accountability, certainty and clarity as to how that works.

This brings me to the conclusion of some of the specifics on why I think Bill S-3 is so important and why I look forward to being able to support it. As mentioned by the previous speaker, the parliamentary secretary, the government is hopeful that it can complete these negotiations and have an agreement so that these transitional regulations are able to be replaced with permanent ones within the next year. I do hope that is the case, but there is part of me that is very pessimistic when I look at the history of this government.

I want to take advantage of the few minutes left of my time to talk about a number of things that are incredibly important for the context around this discussion.

I will start by simply saying this. I was made aware recently that a state employee pension fund had decided to divest itself of Canadian oil and gas shares. I had my staff look into that. Certainly, I was curious. That pension fund is entitled to do that, obviously. Its job is to ensure security for pensioners, but I had my staff look into the reasoning behind it. What I found was that this pension fund, under the guise of environmental protection and environmental social governance, was divesting itself of Canadian energy. The fund managers talked about it in the context of net zero by 2050. They wanted to ensure their fund was acting in a way that would encourage net zero by 2050.

Here is what was very troubling about that pension fund. When we looked a little bit more into some of the other holdings that fund has, there was hypocrisy. It has significant investments in oil and gas production in other parts of the world, and in companies that do not have nearly the same environmental record as Canadian companies that this pension fund had divested from, specifically. A number of these companies had even committed and laid out a specific framework saying how they would be at net zero going forward, yet the pension fund sold off its investments in those companies that were environmentally responsible. I would suggest that was largely because of a type of environmental activism that is more focused on image than on the reality that exists on the ground. On the other side, the fund was still invested in other corporations that are extracting oil and gas from other jurisdictions with no plan to get to net zero by 2050.

Canada's oil and gas sector is about 10% of Canada's GDP. It has contributed about half a trillion dollars directly to government coffers. About 500,000 Canadians have direct and indirect jobs from it. A lot of Canadians do not even realize how absolutely significant those indirect jobs are. Some of the vehicles produced at a factory in Ontario are being sold because of oil and gas. The buses at a factory in Quebec are being used, and large contracts are being given to oil sands producers. When it comes to the energy industry, including offshore, there is a lot of specific technology aiding in research and development, including the fact that energy can and should be a part of our green future. One of the most troubling realities is the hypocrisy in the conversation around oil and gas, and Canada's role in it. Canada can be the supplier of choice and I hope that we remain so.

I will wrap up my speech with some facts about Atlantic Canada's offshore oil and gas industry. More than 5,000 people are employed in it directly, and there are 600 supply and service companies. In the last two decades it has had cumulative expenditures of almost $70 billion, and more than $20 billion of cumulative royalties. These are industries worth supporting. These are industries worth fighting for. That includes ensuring that the workers have the protections that they need, which is what Bill S-3 is about.

Overall, I would urge parliamentarians to take seriously the reality, and the place that this sector and its workers have in Canada's present and Canada's future.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

April 30th, 2021 / 10:45 a.m.
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Nickel Belt Ontario

Liberal

Marc Serré LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I am addressing the House from my home on the Robinson-Huron Treaty territory of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and Wahnapitae peoples.

As members know, this is a very important bill. When we look at the oil-producing provinces here, with the minister's own province of Newfoundland, this is really an important issue to the minister. This is really an important issue that affects his neighbours and friends when we look at offshore issues that we have dealt with.

When the minister first started to work here, with former premier Brian Tobin, he was 20 years old, and that was 20 years ago. At the time, there was only one platform under construction, which was the Hibernia. When we look then and now, we know that developing the platform designs and fabrication work completely ensures that we could work safely in one of the harshest environments there is. Ultimately, achieving first oil was crucial for the financial future of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Today, we have a proud and mature industry, one that has accounted for 30% of the province's GDP, 13% of the labour compensation and 10% of employment over the years. It has been successful because of the people at the heart of this, the determined and proud workers, but also because of efforts by this government to support the industry. Let me be clear: There has been no government that has done more for the Newfoundland labour offshore than this government, not since the time of Brian Mulroney and John Crosbie.

In the face of challenges, we had our workers' backs. We introduced a dedicated offshore component to the emissions reduction fund to address our common mission to lower emissions, and we look forward to having more to say on this program soon.

We provided $320 million to the provincial government to support workers and increase the environmental performance of the offshore, real action to maintain jobs and protect the future of this sector. We cut through a system that represented government at its worst, reducing regulatory hurdles and cutting down on a lot of the environmental assessments, from an astounding 905 days to 90 days, without losing an inch of the environmental integrity. We did this understanding how crucial the sector has been for Newfoundland and Labrador.

The industry provided the province, the provincial government, with more than $20 billion in royalties between 1997 and 2019, funding key services and infrastructure, from health and education to highways and hockey rinks. A similar story could be told for the offshore impact of our neighbours in Nova Scotia. That province's two natural gas projects created jobs for Nova Scotians before they were decommissioned.

When we look at the capital spending, it was about $8.5 billion over 20 years, and $1.9 billion in royalty payments between 2000 and 2017. Most importantly, our offshore impacts people, supports workers, builds communities. In my province, in Newfoundland, where the minister is right now, and it also applies to Nova Scotia, this industry has created an opportunity to generate hope, reunite families and establish livelihoods.

Building this industry has not been easy. We have had to deal with the engineering challenges of safety, extracting oil in the unforgiving North Atlantic, where storms can cause rogue waves as high as 20 or 30 metres, in what the CEO of Exxon Mobil has described to me as a very harsh environment to operate in, one of the harshest places in the world.

The first was the Ocean Ranger tragedy in 1982, which left 84 people dead, 54 of whom were Newfoundlanders. The resulting royal commission led to many safety improvements. The minister was young at the time, but he remembers the delivery of The Evening Telegram newspaper, which carried the news. It was something that shook the minister and a lot of people in the community. Equally agonizing was the sense of helplessness and pain.

Despite these challenges, tragedy struck again in 2009. Mechanical problems sent a helicopter taking 18 workers to the offshore platform plunging into the Atlantic. Only one somehow miraculously survived. A public inquiry after the 2009 tragedy led to the proposed reforms that were largely incorporated under the Offshore Health and Safety Act passed in 2014.

That brings me to the objective of the legislation we are now debating. Bill S-3, as amended by our colleagues in the other place, would give Canada, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland better health and safety regulations for our workers. Passing it would make sure that transitional regulations from 2014 would apply retroactively to January 1 of this year.

I realize this whole process is taking far too long and we are all frustrated. I will explain the reasons for the delay shortly, but let me first speak about the spirit of the act. The Offshore Health and Safety Act clarifies the roles of both levels of government, as well as regulators, in preventing accidents and injuries. It outlines the safety roles played by everyone involved, from owners, operators and employers to supervisors, employees and contractors.

In addition, the act added the following to the safety regime: a new appeal process when someone is accused of violating the rules; the establishment or clarification of employee rights, including the right to refuse dangerous work without the risk of reprisal; a workplace culture that makes clear that these safety concerns are a shared responsibility of everyone involved; an efficiency regulatory regime that contains no jurisdictions of inconsistency; and finally, the inclusion of the transportation of employees to and from these sites.

I want to focus now on the parts of the act that are especially relevant to today's discussion. I am referring to the creation of the 2014 transitional regulations so that three governments could take the time to do this right and finalize permanent regulations.

This transition arrangement was set to expire at the end of 2020. The Government of Canada is asking, through Bill S-3, for an additional year, to December 31 of this year, to get this done. I would be among the first to acknowledge that it seems at first glance rather surprising that we would take up to seven years to finalize this process. This is complex work. These regulations run close to 300 pages. They need to be translated. We need to go over them with a fine-tooth comb to ensure they are precise and consistent in both official languages.

These regulations incorporate by reference 173 domestic and international health and safety standards, which are contained in a document totalling more than 15,000 pages. We need all three levels of government to vet and approve these finalized regulations, which would involve multiple ministries and two joint management regulatory boards. We have to respect our joint management framework. We have to work in partnership, and sometimes that takes more time, but that is how we develop the best legal framework in the world to protect our workers and how we constantly improve it. That is why it is the best. It is strengthened by consulting others, unions, companies and Canadians.

Other challenges are that while others on these permanent regulations—

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

April 30th, 2021 / 12:15 p.m.
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Nickel Belt Ontario

Liberal

Marc Serré LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I will pick up where I left off before question period.

As I mentioned earlier, our government is consistently working to improve the regulatory framework, and we have to do this the right way. This is strengthened by consulting with others, by consulting with unions, companies and Canadians.

Stakeholders objected to a number of unnecessary administrative burdens. We agreed and scrapped them in order to cut the red tape. Another challenge is that not all interim regulations for 2014 complied with international standards because the government of the day cut corners in order to rush this through. That caused problems and uncertainty with rigs that came from other jurisdictions.

Therefore, in 2017, in the middle of this, we had to fix it, and it took time to clean this mess up. As well, we have to remember this is happening against the backdrop of a global pandemic, which changed everything. It changed how we work and where we work. It is not the reason we did not meet our deadline, but it has certainly exacerbated the delays.

For example, we were scheduled to start full-day, in-person drafting sessions the week of March 23 and then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, we were all working from home, with justice department drafters left to figure out how to do this virtually and securely. The pandemic, simply put, cost us time. All our technical advisers at both the federal and provincial levels are with their respective occupational health and safety departments. They have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.

Despite these factors, I agree this has taken too long, but I assure the House we will get this done in the right way. Natural Resources Canada has a detailed implementation schedule, working in co-operation with the Department of Justice and the two provincial governments. We are close, and the Minister of Natural Resources has directed his officials to get this done by year's end.

Bill S-3 would give us the breathing space to get there. Safety is paramount and any shorter time frame would mean shortcuts would be taken, and when it comes to the health and safety of workers, shortcuts are unacceptable.

We must provide these workers with the best protections by adopting a world-class safety regime. I believe in it, and I support it.

Bill S-3 will really help us, and I urge members to support it.

We have spoken to our colleagues across the aisle on the importance of passing this bill quickly, and I want to express my appreciation to them and to the House leaders for agreeing to that. We continue to do the necessary work of protecting our workers today and in the future.

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April 30th, 2021 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, with the tragedies that have occurred offshore on the rigs, it is really important that we do this. We are getting Bill S-3 done and are getting it right. We are making sure that the safety regulations and labour codes will make sure that we get this right.

We are continuing from the framework of 2014, and we have to make sure that it is implemented in the right way. We will continue to look at other ways to protect the health and safety of our workers. It is important that we look to do this by December 2021.

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April 30th, 2021 / 12:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her important question about workers, Unifor and unions.

Obviously that is important. We are committed, and we are are holding consultations with Unifor and many unions. It is important for us to move forward, while taking into account the 300 pages of regulations. We also need to take into account the Canada Labour Code, workplace health and safety, the consultations between the federal government and two provinces, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, and a possible election.

It is really important to continue the work that we have already started. We said that the delay was unacceptable. However, we did the work and we will continue to do more.

It is important that the House support Bill S-3 with the changes made by the Senate so we can ensure that the bill passes by the end of the year.

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April 30th, 2021 / 12:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg McLean Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. speaker, I am pleased to finally have the opportunity to speak to Bill S-3 virtually in the House of Commons.

As I am here safe while doing my job, I am reminded that offshore workers do not have the same protections. In fact, it has been 120 days since offshore oil workers were stripped of their health and safety regulations because the Liberal government let the temporary safety regulations expire. Safety at work should not be a luxury or a privilege. It should be the most basic guarantee given to workers. By failing to keep workers safe on the job, the Liberal government is failing in its most basic responsibility.

The Conservatives understand how important this is. In 2009, 17 people on board Cougar Helicopters flight 491 were killed when their helicopter crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. It was a routine flight carrying them to work on an offshore oil rig.

The Conservative government at the time knew that we needed to do whatever we could to prevent another tragedy, so we got to work without delay on completely overhauling the health and safety regime for the offshore oil industry. In 2004, we put in place world-class safety protections for offshore oil workers.

The Liberals have had five years to finalize permanent regulations after that regime was introduced. It failed to meet the deadline in 2019, and instead extended the temporary regulations by another year, until December 31, 2020. When the Liberals extended the deadline in 2018, they buried the time limit extension in an omnibus budget bill. They probably missed an opportunity to do this last year, because they decided not to present a government budget for two years.

The government brought this bill forward in the Senate in December 2020, days before the interim regulations for worker safety in the offshore were due to expire. Anticipating the inevitable reality that the House of Commons would not be able to see it through our legislative process prior to the end of the year, the legislation includes language to retroactively impose the transitional regulations that lapsed on December 31, 2020. In the interim, we have a regulatory void.

Today is April 30, 2021, and it has been 120 days since the Liberals let those regulations expire. Offshore oil workers are back where they were in 2009, when the Cougar crash happened. Frankly, it is shameful that the Liberals have allowed things to get to this point. Workers have gone months without protection. It is complete negligence of the government's basic responsibilities, and there is no reason for us to be in this position today.

Offshore oil workers do some of Canada's most challenging and, sometimes, most risky work, and they deserve better protection on the job. However, after six years, we are not here today to finalize permanent safety regulations for the offshore oil industry. Instead, we are just trying to get the temporary regulations back in place so that we can keep workers safe while the Liberals ask for more extensions.

I will be clear on our position on Bill S-3. As Conservatives, protecting workers is our top priority. We support getting this bill passed as quickly as possible so that workers do not have to go another day without safety protections. I have personally been asking the government, over the past several months, when it was finally going to move Bill S-3 forward, because every day that we wait is another day that offshore workers are unprotected.

These delays and excuses need to stop. There is nothing more important than Canadians' safety when they show up for work every day. We cannot end up back in that position again.

Offshore oil workers need permanent protection in terms of health and safety. We will not stop pushing until that happens.

In the meantime, Bill S-3 is an urgently needed stopgap to protect workers in the offshore oil industry. I want to thank the Senate for passing this legislation as quickly as possible, and I hope we can do the same here in the House of Commons.

We in the House need to recognize that even though the government is delaying, offshore oil work does not stop. There are people going to work every day in the offshore oil industry who are continuing to hold themselves to the highest safety standards, even without government regulations. Their work does not stop, and they are committed to keeping themselves and their neighbours safe, even when the government is failing to do its job.

I want to recognize my colleague in the Senate, Senator Wells, who proposed an amendment to Bill S-3 to shorten the extension time of the temporary regulations from what was originally introduced as a two-year extension down to a one-year extension. We know from committee testimony in the Senate that these regulations are pretty much completed, as they should be after six years. Based on the government's own planning in early 2020, a year is plenty of time to get these regulations finalized.

Members may not understand why we cannot just keep renewing the temporary regulations, but as someone who is very familiar with the oil and gas industry, I want to underscore how urgent permanent regulations are for the offshore industry. Technology in the oil and gas industry has advanced leaps and bounds since 2014. The temporary regulations introduced in 2014 were used as a stopgap measure while permanent regulations could be finalized to keep up with technological changes and keep workers protected in the long term. This is becoming more and more urgent as technology advances beyond what was available in 2014 and beyond the protections in that set of regulations.

It needs to be a priority for the government to implement permanent updated regulations as soon as possible. That is why it is important for this to be the last extension of the stopgap measures. Workers need up-to-date permanent regulations. They cannot go another two years without updated regulations, and they should never again go another 120 days unprotected by any health and safety regulations.

I will end my speech today by reminding the government that these regulations are not some far-removed technical set of rules that can be put off another few years while it focuses on flashier legislation. These are regulations that directly impact people's lives and livelihoods. They mean that workers can do their jobs, that they know they will be safe and that families can trust that their loved ones will come home to them safe at the end of the day. Communities will be able to trust they will not experience a repeat of the absolute devastation of Cougar flight 491 in 2009, which killed 17 people, or of the Ocean Ranger disaster in 1982, which killed all 84 people on board.

The Liberal government needs to stop telling offshore workers, their families and their communities that they do not matter. No one can express this better than Robert Decker, the sole survivor of Cougar flight 491. Understandably, after what he experienced he rarely speaks in public, but he wrote to the Senate about Bill S-3. The fact that he had to relive his trauma to urge the government to act should tell us all we need to know about how dire this situation is.

What he has to say is extremely powerful, and I will leave members with his words. He said:

...those charged with the legislative oversight of safety in the offshore have not learned and don’t care.

While I no longer work in the offshore, my friends and former workmates still do. I want them to have every opportunity to return home to their families. It is not a lot to ask.

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April 30th, 2021 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris d'Entremont Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Calgary Centre for sharing his time with me today to speak to Bill S-3.

On December 31, 2020, our offshore oil and gas workers were instantly stripped of their health and safety protections. This date saw the expiry of a transitional, or what we could call temporary, safety regulations that had been in place for the previous six years. They came with the 2014 version of the Offshore Health and Safety Act.

Since then, for almost four months, there have been no codified regulations protecting offshore workers’ rights to health and safety, despite the fact that our workers, day in and day out, are still engaging in challenging and sometimes risky work. In Canada in 2021, no worker who puts their safety at risk in their workplace should ever have to do so without being protected by health and safety rights.

Bill S-3 seeks to extend these same transitional regulations for two extra years to the end of 2022 in order to provide time for the government to finally implement the long-awaited permanent regulations. During the study of this bill, many witnesses were heard from, including the minister and his senior officials, from industry, the unions, and individuals.

To indicate to everyone how important this bill is and how seriously it has been studied, I will tell of Mr. Robert Decker. He has been mentioned a few times here today, and he was the sole survivor of the helicopter crash in 2009. He does not often speak publicly about it, but he shared a brief on his experience. For him to reach out and send the committee such a note, as he did, not only speaks to the importance of safety, which we all know and we have all heard about, but it also speaks to the necessity of getting this done and getting it done quickly.

Offshore health and safety requires our attention and speaks to the fundamental role of government, which is the protection of its citizens. Unfortunately, on this side of the House, we too often need to remind the government of its responsibility, and that is a shame.

Whether it is concerning the protection of our communities or the security of women regarding domestic violence, or the protection of our women in uniform, the victims of sexual misconduct in our armed forces, we still have to remind the government of its responsibilities and fight for that. Why is it so hard for the government to take responsibility for protecting its hard-working citizens?

Offshore workers should be able to arrive for their shift every day knowing that the government have implemented the proper regulations to ensure that they will be as safe as possible and that they will be able to return home to their families. For so many in our Atlantic provinces, just like in my beautiful province of Nova Scotia, these issues are not just a matter of legislation. They are personal, affecting their lives and their loved ones' lives.

In recent decades, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has had to face devastating offshore tragedies, some that have been mentioned a couple of times today. There was the Ocean Ranger disaster on Valentine’s Day of 1982. The Ocean Ranger was a semi-submersible drilling rig, and it was described as indestructible. I would like to share a short but important and meaningful summary of this tragedy.

On February 14, 1982, there was a storm off the coast of Newfoundland, which capsized the rig, resulting in the tragic deaths of all 84 people on board. There were no survivors. This was Canada’s worst tragedy at sea since the Second World War. A very good friend of Senator Wells, who supports this bill and has spoken passionately to it as well, Mr. Darryl Reid was one of the 84 who lost their lives. Gerald Keddy, a retired colleague from this House of Commons, also served on the Ocean Ranger. He lost a number of his friends that day.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, as in Nova Scotia, these tragedies hit directly because they are small, tight communities. Everyone is within two or three degrees of separation. I can certainly understand the feeling. Nova Scotia has had its share of tragedies during the last year, and everyone has been affected by them. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by one of them.

Later on, almost 30 years later, on March 12, 2009, Cougar helicopter flight 491 crashed into the North Atlantic after experiencing mechanical trouble. The helicopter was ferrying 18 offshore workers to oil platforms off the coast of Newfoundland. Tragically, 17 lost their lives and the only survivor was Mr. Robert Decker.

I completely understand and deeply share Senator Wells' frustration regarding the fact that the minister in charge of getting this done, and who has not done it, is also a Newfoundland and Labradorian. Once again, I find it sad that we have to speak out to ensure the protection and rights of the courageous workers who have more dangerous occupations than others.

Catastrophes, like the ones mentioned earlier, have brought so much devastation to Newfoundlanders. They are deeply rooted. Like the Portapique tragedy in Nova Scotia, no one ever forgets, even several years later. The victims of any tragedy should never be forgotten. Health and safety legislation and regulations affect so many. Bolstering offshore health and safety means decreasing the likelihood that these devastating events will happen and the likelihood that more parents, spouses and children will spend their lifetime grieving.

In Canada, prioritizing the health and safety of our workers should never be part of any debate; it should be a given. Many Canadian industries are investing time and money in implementing a safety culture and are working tirelessly to ensure that workers stay safe. Offshore workers deserve to know that we care about their safety.

Offshore petroleum boards, the one in Newfoundland and Labrador, the other in Nova Scotia, play critical roles in meeting our health and safety goals. However, these boards cannot do it alone; they require the co-operation of government to prioritize these issues and to push forward necessary legislation and regulations.

The 2014 Offshore Health and Safety Act was a promising step forward. Bill S-3 simply asks for the extension of two years. The government's legislative summary states that it is necessary because of the complexity of the regulations and the need to secure agreement from Newfoundland and Labrador, and from Nova Scotia, which I am sure are ready to go.

The 2014 Offshore Health and Safety Act outlines a path toward permanent health and safety regulations for our Atlantic offshore. However, I understand that the act of putting permanent OHS regulations into place is one that requires study and coordination, so transitional regulations were put in place when the Offshore Health and Safety Act was enacted, giving the government a five-year period of time to conduct the necessary analysis and to determine permanent regulations. These transitional regulations were necessary at the time, but critical elements were still delayed awaiting this five-year window, including the establishment of an occupational health and safety advisory council. What few people know is that an extension was already given in the second budget in 2018. That was a one-year extension tucked into the 884-page omnibus bill.

Offshore workers have been waiting for too long. Bill S-3 should represent the final extension of the deadline to adopt permanent health and safety regulations.

Furthermore, the Department of Natural Resources must submit an implementation progress report to the House before the end of the parliamentary session, including the implementation schedule to the expiry of the transitional regulations.

The government has failed our workers. I ask again: What is more important to the government than bringing safety to some of our most at-risk workers? In the past six years, the government could not find the time to develop permanent regulations, ones that are simple and clearly based on existing provincial and federal regulations, and the practices of the board, including the provisions of conditions of licence. Why has it taken so long and why are we scrambling for an extension mere weeks from the expiry of the transitional regulations and mere days from Parliament adjourning, back in December, until 2021?

The safety of citizens is a fundamental responsibility of government. Of course, we want to see this bill pass quickly in this House of Commons so workers can be protected. Again, the largest question that continues to go through my mind is this. Why has it taken six years for us to get here?

With those short comments, I am looking forward to a few questions before I have to get off to the health committee, which has already started.

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April 30th, 2021 / 1 p.m.
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Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak in the House today about Bill S-3, which virtually everyone seems to agree on.

However, I would like to voice a few of my concerns about the bill. I will start by summarizing the bill and the position of the Bloc Québécois. Then I will illustrate my position with a parallel before wrapping up my remarks.

First, I would like to point out that this bill merely amends an act so that two regulations can be repealed no later than seven years after the clause comes into force. It would allow extra time to do things right. Essentially, it is very simple.

This bill does not affect Quebec. Although I am sharing the position of the Bloc Québécois on the bill, it concerns Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, the federal government and the provincial governments because of the occupational health and safety initiative. We hope that the provinces themselves will speak out on the issue.

Nevertheless, as I often say, the Bloc Québécois is a party that defends workers and advocates for their health and safety. We have tabled many bills aimed at defending workers, including our federal anti-scab bills, aimed at solving a problem that Quebec addressed a long time ago.

We care about workers. I would like to remind the House that, last week, I was defending my bill that also aims to protect retirees and workers and their pension funds. This issue is one that the Bloc Québécois really cares about and that is part of our values.

I would like to draw a parallel to illustrate my concerns about Bill S-3, in that I hope that it will be adopted quickly in order to avoid leaving a gap. We know very well that leaving a gap hurts Canadians and their well-being by threatening their health and safety. As for my parallel, I remember the early days of 2020, at the beginning of the current government's term. We discussed Newfoundland and Labrador extensively for other reasons.

It was the beginning of the Ocean Decade, and the Prime Minister of Canada's way of celebrating was to authorize 40 exploratory drilling projects in a marine area recognized by the United Nations for its ecological and biological importance.

Now we are talking about Newfoundland and Labrador again, in another context, but we saw things moving very fast. The government authorized 40 exploratory drilling projects and also decided to abolish the environmental assessment process. It did not modify it, it did not reform it, it simply abolished it.

It is interesting to note that the government can green-light projects in as little as 80 days. Today in the House, we are talking about repeals within five or seven years. In my example, it was 90 days. Essentially, the government is saying that it is greener than the Green Party, that it wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that it is doing a lot to achieve that very quickly, but we have absolutely no idea how it wants to go about it. The government has made a statement, but it is totally unsupported.

Even fishers in Newfoundland and Labrador expressed concerns at the time about what was happening. When we are talking about fishers, we are talking about workers and their working conditions. This is a protected area recognized for its diversity and richness. Very quickly, at the beginning of 2020, in the early days of its term, the government authorized exploratory drilling projects. The unions also weighed in on the matter because they were concerned about the health of the people and workers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That is the parallel I want to draw. I would like to point out the government's double standard. When it comes to defending the oil industry, rather than workers, the government can move very quickly. When it came to the House in early 2020, it tried to smooth the way for oil companies, to put it mildly, or even eliminate all obstacles for them. It only works that hard for the benefit of oil companies, not for the biodiversity of this world-renowned protected area or for workers.

It should be pretty clear that the Bloc Québécois and I support the bill, but we do not want to see any further delays. The government has proven that it can move very fast when it comes to exploratory drilling, so I imagine it is capable of moving fast on Bill S-3.

Still, I am worried there might be delays. Back in 2020, the government managed to act very fast for oil companies, but it seems disinclined to do the same for workers. Here again, unions are saying they need protection, and Unifor Quebec said it has to happen fast.

Tragedies have happened to people. I have not yet talked about how there have been a lot of incidents in the oil industry. I have talked about fisheries, but these incidents are obviously going to have repercussions for people in the oil sector itself. As I just said, I would like to see the government work quickly to pass Bill S-3. Protecting employees and workers should take precedence over protecting oil companies.

I think this is going to take a lot of work. It is faster and easier to destroy than it is to build. This bill, Bill S-3, is an opportunity to build something that is absolutely doable. I think this bill will get the unanimous consent of the House. I would like to remind the government that it was capable of acting very fast in Newfoundland and Labrador on another issue for the good of someone other than workers. I hope it will side with workers this time.

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April 30th, 2021 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter into the debate today at second reading of Bill S-3, an act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act. This act deals with safety regulations in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry in particular. However, I am very concerned about the necessity of this legislation and what it reveals about the Government of Canada's commitment to safety in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry.

We support the speedy passage of the bill, because it will restore the offshore health and safety regulations put in place in 2014. They were established as interim regulations, with an expiry date initially of December 31, 2019, allowing five years for the relevant parties to develop permanent regulations. Five years is a long time, and they did have regulations in place.

The deadline was extended for one year, but the government has allowed the regulations to expire, leaving no enforceable regime in the offshore to protect workers who are expected to go to work every day with the expectation that a regime is in place to protect them, but it is not there.

It is very well for the minister's parliamentary secretary to say that the government will make it retroactive, but that is not good enough. The legislation before us today specifically says:

No person shall be convicted of an offence under a provision of a regulation revived under subsection (1) if the offence was committed during the period beginning on January 1, 2021 and ending on the day before the day on which this section comes into force.

That is clearly indicative that the government has no ability at this point to enforce these regulations, which supposedly will be revived. It is shameful that the government would allow that to happen, particularly given the history and the importance of marine safety in Canada and, in this case, of our offshore oil and gas industry.

Some who are looking carefully at their screens in this virtual hybrid sitting will notice that I am wearing a necktie that is peppered with images of lighthouses. These are, of course, the most ancient and iconic symbols of the need for safety at sea. Other recognized symbols of the dangers of maritime life and work are the images of the bright yellow Cormorant rescue helicopters of the Canadian Forces, the bright red hulls and the fuselages of the Canadian Coast Guard ships and helicopters with the white stripes.

These are important images for Canada, which is a significant maritime country, with three oceans and the longest coastline of any country in the world. The protection of mariners and all offshore workers, including those in the fishing industry and the offshore oil and gas industries, are of paramount importance to Canada.

We know, from the early history of offshore oil and gas development in Canada, the dangers that this industry exposed workers to from the monumental tragedy of the Ocean Ranger disaster, which has been mentioned by a couple of speakers today.

In 1982, the Ocean Ranger, a semi-submersible offshore oil drill rig, sank with the loss of 84 lives, including many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and other Canadians who died in that great tragedy. The memory of that February 14, 1982, date is carved in the memory of those affected and all those in Newfoundland and Labrador who received this shocking news and had to relive these events over many months of a royal commission of inquiry, seeking answers and detailing important recommendations to ensure the safety of workers in this harsh environment.

Unfortunately, the legal regime that was put in place for the health and safety of offshore workers was inadequate. The labour portfolios of the various jurisdictions had responsibility for occupational health and safety, but as the jurisdictional issues were sorted out, responsibility was taken from these departments of labour in 1992 and given to CNLOPB, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

CNLOPB comes easily off the tongues of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who have an interest in the offshore and how it is managed. However, giving it the safety responsibility for occupational health and safety was not a wise decision in my view and the handling of that since then has been inadequate.

In its supposed wisdom of the day, the Newfoundland board and the Nova Scotia board, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, had in place draft regulations. They were not enforceable. It was not a situation in which somebody who did something contra to these regulations could actually be charged, treated as an offender, taken to court if necessary, fined or dealt with appropriately and be required to follow the regulations. It was a very different regime. The regime was there as draft regulations or really just a framework or a guideline.

That was entirely unsatisfactory to the workers involved. It was objected to by them and by the unions, by my party and both the Nova Scotia and the Newfoundland and Labrador legislators. There was very strong opposition to this approach.

I have familiarity with these regimes, as a lawyer, having had a client who was on the Ocean Ranger and having represented his family in the aftermath, seeking to get some compensation for those who had lost their lives and looking closely at the regulations that were involved.

In the 1990s and the 2000s, up to 2006, I was in the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature as well. I am very familiar with the arguments as to how these regimes were supposed to work. In fact, they were unsatisfactory as was also agreed to by Mr. Justice Wells in the commission of inquiry that took place after another sad tragedy, the crashing of the Cougar flight 491 in the Newfoundland offshore, with the loss of 17 lives in 2009. This was a serious problem that was caused by a fault in the helicopter involved.

After the sad loss of those 17 individuals, there was an inquiry, which also looked into these questions of how the offshore safety regime was managed. Mr. Justice Wells concurred that the situation and the regime were unsatisfactory, and called for enforceable regulations. He also called for an independent body to enforce those regulations. It was recognized that these regimes had a built-in conflict of interest and that, in accordance with their obligations and mandate to foster the industry, there was an inherent conflict of interest, which was recognized in other jurisdictions.

He did a very comprehensive report and his most important recommendation, as he called it, was recommendation 29, which was that there be an independent regulator for safety in the offshore. That followed the circumstances that existed in Australia, United Kingdom and Norway. Norway may have been the first. These regimes would require that there be an independent regulator so the issues of health and safety of workers be paramount and the only responsibility for those in charges.

This regime that is now in place in Canada failed to undertake that recommendation brought in by the Conservatives in legislation that was before the House in 2013 and passed into law in 2014. All of a sudden, as a result of these recommendations, we did have enforceable regulations. Workers had legislated the right to refuse unsafe work, which they did not have before, except in accordance with collective agreements in some of the rigs. Established by this legislation and by regulations in 2014 was a provision for an offshore safety advisory council where the representatives of both the provincial governments involved, the federal government and the workers would work to provide advice to the safety regulator for offshore safety regulations.

There is another failing of the government since the legislation was put in place. Believe it or not, since 2014, the requirement for the establishment of an offshore safety advisory council has not been put in place in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Nova Scotia board was put in place in 2019, and it has met twice a year since then. No board is in place in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That is a shocking dereliction of following up on the importance of the safety regulations. I am told that the federal part of the board has been appointed, but the provincial board has not. Indeed, one of the requirements of the legislation is that the workers' representatives and unions, if there are unions, should be consulted in the appointment of the persons representing workers.

I am advised that there has been no consultation with either the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour or the relevant union representing two of the rigs offshore. That is another failing of the government in terms of taking its commitments to the health of safety in the offshore seriously.

The fact is that the regulations were allowed to lapse. An extension passed through legislation in 2018 to extend the deadline for putting permanent regulations in place to December 31, 2020. However, the government waited until December of last year to do that. It then brought in legislation in the Senate to get the extension it required to continue on past the expiry that was coming up.

That is a shameful dereliction of duty. How did that happen? We heard the parliamentary secretary attempt to give an explanation today about how many pages were involved and how many regulations there were, etc. However, this has been going on for six years. The government has had six years to do this. It is now asking for another year. It has to be done, obviously, so we will support the legislation.

However, the most serious issue has been the failure of the government to recognize that these regulations were expiring. In fact, they were automatically repealed at the end of that period. As of December 31 of last year, they do not exist. There is no opportunity to enforce these regulations right now. No one can be charged.

The shocking part is the fact that the government showed a lack of foresight, failed to notice that the regulations would expire, or somehow or other did not take it seriously enough to ensure that the legislation was before the House of Commons prior to the end of last year.

These are some of the reasons why we are very unhappy with the level of commitment by the Government of Canada to health and safety in the offshore. Workers in the offshore are rightfully outraged that the government has failed to take this matter seriously.

We do need to have enforceable regulations. We do need to have the right to refuse unsafe work. We do need to ensure that we can ultimately have an independent regulator. Unfortunately, it is not good enough to repeat a mantra about how safety is our most important and first priority, and all those comments which give lip service to the safety, when we have these instances where the regulations are allowed to lapse and there is a failure to take these responsibilities seriously.

We will support the legislation. It needs to be fixed. It needs to be replaced and put back in place as soon as possible. It is not good enough to have the situation where we are faced with this circumstance and a failure by the government to act quickly.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

April 30th, 2021 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech.

He talked about the issue of the safety that Bill S-3 brings and the importance of speeding up its implementation. I would like to come back to a point that was raised by my colleague from Manicouagan, namely exploratory drilling in Newfoundland.

When it comes to oil drilling, the question is not if there will be incidents or accidents, but when. These have repercussions on the safety of workers, on fish stocks and on fishers. How can the Liberals claim to be a green government while continuing to promote 40 or so exploratory drilling projects in Newfoundland?