Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members, for inviting me to be here in front of the committee to talk about offshore matters generally.
I've had an opportunity in the last three or four days to examine the bill. The bill is a complex piece of legislation. Somebody has worked hard—more than one person, I suspect—on this bill. I know that it's been under consideration for a number of years. Quite honestly, I think it's a good job and I think it will help to formalize some of the concepts that people knowledgeable about the industry and the regulatory people have thought about for some time. To see it enshrined—I hope to see it enshrined—in legislation is a good thing.
A couple of things impressed me most. One is that the bill talks about and mandates the involvement of workers in the processes of safety. That was something that was important to me during the two years and three or four months that I was the inquiry commissioner. In my report, the theme that workers must be involved emerges constantly. Now, I was concerned with helicopters, not safety on the offshore installations, but in both cases workers must be involved, and the fact that there's legislation going to involve them formally, I think, is a very, very good thing.
Another thing impressed me. I have great confidence in the wisdom of non-experts. We need experts in this complex age very much, but experts should be advisers. There's no better illustration probably than Parliament itself, which has expert advice on many things, but in the end decisions are made by governments and parliaments that are not necessarily expert in particular fields.
The idea of advisory committees, to me, is a very welcome thing to see in this. My own report recommends that advisory committees be established to have expert advice but nonetheless to guide the experts, if you like, or guide the decision makers, more importantly, in the important decisions that they have to take. Maybe I get this from years of dealing with juries as a counsel and as a judge, but I have the greatest respect for the wisdom that ordinary men and women have that comes forth when they're asked to consider things. These two things I mention.
Of course, the other thing this act does is to bring the offshore into the fold of occupational health and safety generally, because the offshore has been off on its own in the past. This brings them into the broader context of occupational health and safety. That's important in another way also, in that it helps in the development of a safety culture or safety cultures. Safety cultures are one of the most important things. They're hard to define. Some of the writers on safety have described them simply as the way we do things around here—but that's an extremely important component of safety. I think the offshore involvement with other safety cultures will both strengthen other safety cultures and allow them in the offshore to be strengthened by that involvement. That's extremely important, I think, in the safety field.
I won't say more about this in the short time in which I'm making general remarks, but I want to pay tribute to the people in the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board for the progress that has been made in the last four and a half years since the tragic accident in March 2009.
Perhaps the most important in my mind has been the raising of the search and rescue capability provided by the operators to the world-class standard, because at the time of the accident it wasn't at the world-class standard. There was no dedicated helicopter. The regular transport helicopter had to be refitted, seats taken out, and hoists put in to become a search and rescue helicopter. On the day of the accident, that took about 50 minutes, so the search and rescue helicopter didn't get in the air for about 50 to 55 minutes. That's a long time in search and rescue when people are in the North Atlantic, either as a result of a crash or a ditching.
At any rate, that was so important to me as I began to learn in the inquiry process that, as you probably know, I made an interim recommendation that a start on that process should be made immediately. The C-NLOPB responded and the oil operators responded and last spring.... It took a lot longer than I thought, taking about a year. You can't buy one of these helicopters as you can buy a car, for example. Then you need other things. You need an important hangar with all the facilities. You need facilities from bedrooms to cooking facilities to whatever in the hangar because you're going to have people there 24/7 when they're on duty. Then one needs permission to build a new hangar.
All this was expensive, but the oil operators came through and last spring was a very significant day, and for me personally, too, when I went to the opening of that facility, because that marked a transition. It brought the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board to a world-class standard with a 20-minute response time. I think that was a marvellous thing and I congratulate C-NLOPB, the oil operators, and the industry generally for making that happen.
Other things have also happened in the last three or four years. There has been greater worker involvement in committees, particularly in safety forums, which are ongoing. I've been to two of them. I went to one two or three weeks ago. I was invited to go and the discussion was very fruitful and important and worker involvement was there. I'm glad to see in Bill C-5 that workers and their unions and representatives of safety committees are involved. These are good things.
Survival suits, as Mr. Barnes has said, have been improved substantially, and that is a good thing. The other important thing that has been done is that the C-NLOPB has now got top-notch aviation expertise in-house, and also outside the house that it can call on. That is of fundamental importance because up to then, the C-NLOPB had no expertise in aviation. It relied on the operators. It relied on Transport Canada, and that's fine as far as it goes, but in a dangerous offshore environment, which we have in the North Atlantic, you need expert advice and knowledge right at the scene of aviation of what's possible and what should be and on what C-NLOPB, as an institution, has to watch for and be on top of.
These are good things that have happened. There are many more just in the training.
When I took the training it was in a pool with a temperature of probably 20 degrees or something like that, and it was calm. That didn't make it much easier to go into the dunker, which is an experience for anyone. But now, after ExxonMobil—if I'm correct—provided $3.8 million to bring the training facility up, I visited it after the work was done and it was quite something, with simulated thunder and lightning, waves, storms of rain and wind. It was as realistic as anything could be. If I had been invited on that day to take the training, I might not have done it.
We have made a lot of progress, and this is probably the first time in a formal setting such as this that I, as the former commissioner, have been able to pay tribute to what has been done.
Now, I doubt if you will be asking me all that many questions on the bill itself. If you do, I'll do my best to answer them, if you give me the reference and what to look at, but something that took 10 years to prepare can hardly be digested in three, four, or five days. Anyway, that's that.
I suspect you have other questions for me in other areas, which I'll do my best to address. But thank you very much for this opportunity to make an opening statement.