Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to stand and speak for a few moments on Bill C-5, an act to amend the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act and other acts and to provide for certain other measures. This is a piece of legislation that exists as a result of negotiations that have been going on for literally 12 years between the federal government, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia. It mirrors legislation that has already been passed in both of those provincial legislatures, so we will not be amending it here. If we were to do so, it would mean that they would have to go back to the drawing board.
Bill C-5 is an attempt to strengthen offshore health and safety practices in the oil and gas industry, which have been separated and left to regulation. That is a problem that I have certainly seen with other legislation. In my former jurisdiction of Nova Scotia, the government for 20 years did the same thing with the Trade Union Act, on the one hand, and with health and safety legislation on the other. What we found out, certainly in the case of health and safety legislation, was that it was not good enough to do it all by regulation. We had to make sure that the rules of the road, the principles, were properly articulated. The regulations would be there to make sure that those principles were carried forward.
It is good to see that the three governments involved here see that this is important to have done. Therefore, we will be supporting the bill at second reading.
The bill would put the practice into legislation based on three basic principles. Number one is that offshore occupational health and safety laws must provide workers with protection that is at least as good as what exists for onshore workers. This is a situation that has existed for far too many years and is finally being addressed here. Number two is the protection of employee rights; that is, to know, to participate, to refuse, and to be protected from reprisal will be covered in the bill. Number three is support for an occupational health and safety culture that recognizes the shared responsibility in the workplace.
We support this legislation. We think it is a step in the right direction for offshore safety, but more work still needs to be done. We hope that the federal government continues to work with the provinces to strengthen offshore safety regulations and that an independent stand-alone safety regulator is created for the future. That last point is something that came out of the Wells commission that recommended that a stand-alone regulator be put in place. It was something that was not agreed to by the parties and therefore does not exist. We think it is very important. I am going to speak a little more about that here this afternoon.
As usual, a bill like this comes to the floor of the legislature as a result of hard lessons, and in this case, lessons learned from years of offshore tragedies.
It has been more than 30 years since Canada's worse offshore disaster. In 1982, 84 people were killed when the drill rig Ocean Ranger sank off Newfoundland. A royal commission was subsequently convened in 1984, and that commission criticized the industry for poor safety training and equipment and lax inspections.
I want to take a moment to read a section from a book that was written by a good friend of mine, someone who lost her brother in that disaster back in 1982.
Susan Dodd wrote an exceptional piece of work called The Ocean Ranger, Remaking the Promise of Oil, which not only talks about that disaster, what led to it, what resulted from it, and the devastation it caused to the families involved but very much documents the problems that resulted as a consequence of legislators not paying attention. It was a result, frankly, of the power of the oil and gas sector to basically have its way and go about its business and of governments saying, “Thank you very much. We'll take some royalty revenue from you, but we'll try not to get in your way”.
I want to read, if I may, a passage from the book, which I think underlines why it is so important that we not only pay attention to the bill but that we also think about the role we play here as legislators to ensure that we do everything in our power to provide the laws, the regulations, the rules of the road, and the protections that would ensure that people living and working in this country and for this country are safe.
Let me quote:
The shock of the Ocean Ranger disaster was not that oil production was dangerous, but rather the realization that governments had betrayed people's faith. People trusted governments to use reasonable regulation to mitigate the risks of oil jobs. That trust was misplaced. There were no provincial safety regulations in the Newfoundland offshore when my brother and his eighty-three co-workers died.... Time and again, publics trust governments to ensure that companies operate with reasonable prudence. Time and again we are shocked by a new disaster caused by corporate negligence. We say we will “never forget.”
We do it all the time in this House.
Then we forget. And then it happens again.
The author goes on to talk about the fact that the most recent example is 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and injured 17 more, resulting in the worst U.S. marine oil spill in history.
It is a fascinating book. I urge all members, or anyone interested, to take a look at it. Again, it is The Ocean Ranger, Remaking the Promise of Oil, and the author is Susan Dodd.
It is particularly important for those of us living on the coast, and in my case, living on the east coast. We know that Shell has invested over $1 billion to further explore an oil field off our coast. BP, in another area offshore, is further investing nearly $1 billion in exploring a similar development.
In other words, we cannot pretend that it is not coming again, that we are not going to be out there again. There are rigs out there off Newfoundland. We know that there are drilling rigs and exploratory rigs out there. There is equipment moving around our coast. We need to make sure that the people working in our offshore and the people servicing the offshore are provided with the necessary protections to ensure that these kinds of disasters do not happen again. It is important that we do that now.
I should say, of course, that a more recent review of offshore safety came in 2009, after the crash of Cougar Flight 91, which killed 17 people. The Wells inquiry into the Cougar crash made a number of recommendations, most notably the creation of an autonomous and dedicated safety regulator, which is not included.
My colleague, the member for St. John's East, raised a question in the House today about a recommendation that has gone before transport to ensure that airplanes and helicopters are able to operate an hour after they no longer have any oil or have run dry. It is an important safety measure that would have ensured that the disaster I referred to, Cougar Flight 91, did not happen. We continue to ask the government questions about why it is that it is unwilling to introduce that particular requirement for the offshore.
While I am disappointed, as others on this side have said, that this bill does not call for an independent safety regulator, I believe that it is a step in the right direction.
Again, it implements many of the principles of occupational health and safety. As I have said, offshore occupational health and safety laws must provide workers with protections that are at least as good as those that exist for onshore workers. The protection of employee rights to know, to participate, to refuse, and to be protected from reprisal needs to be included.
That is an issue that has been raised in this session of the House in relation to Bill C-4, the omnibus budget bill. In there are changes that lessen the responsibilities of health and safety inspectors. We are concerned about the implications those changes would have on Bill C-5. As I said, this bill talks about setting up a balance between health and safety protections onshore and offshore and about providing clear protection of the rights of employees to know, to participate, to refuse, and to be protected from reprisal. We are concerned that the omnibus budget bill, in fact, lessens those rights in federal jurisdictions and therefore may have some implications here. I understand that in a recent briefing on this bill, we were unable to get answers to those particular questions, but we will continue to ask.
Finally is support for an occupational health and safety culture that recognizes the shared responsibilities in the workplace.
As I have suggested to members, we will continue to see further exploration, further development of natural resources, off our coasts. We need to make sure that we provide the environmental protections necessary, if we are going to go forward, to ensure that no problems exist and that no problems are created that endanger our natural resources, coastlines, industries, fisheries, environment, marine life, or oceans. It is an issue that has come up on the east coast and in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
We know that the issue of the development of the Old Harry site is a controversial one. It is controversial for reasons like this. We must make sure that we have protections in place for the people who work on any particular drill site and that the environmental protections are in place before any company is allowed to proceed with any development.
In the Gulf, as we have heard in this House, if there is an oil spill, God forbid, it takes upward of a year for the Gulf of St. Lawrence to empty and the water to cycle around. It would be absolutely devastating to Quebec, New Brunswick, the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and, of course, to the waters that flow into and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is important that we pay attention to how we are moving forward and ensure that all of our laws are properly constructed to cover any potential problems that may exist.
This is a situation where laws are just now catching up with a disaster that happened 30 years ago, in which 84 people lost their lives. We have to be able to respond more quickly. We have to make sure we can look forward and learn from what is happening in other jurisdictions. Let us not wait until the worst case scenario actually presents itself, and let us bring legislation forward to prevent the kinds of disasters we have talked about, which happened in the past and are happening in other jurisdictions.
That is why we need to move forward and work closely with the provinces, in this case Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. On another offshore related issue, the Province of Nova Scotia has extended a moratorium against oil and natural gas development in Georges Bank. That area was determined to be extraordinarily vulnerable, a very sensitive ecosystem, very much a nursery for the fishery throughout the east coast. It has been determined in the past by both the federal and provincial governments working together that we needed to prevent any industrial development in that area of the ocean.
As well, the Province of Nova Scotia has passed legislation to make sure that will not happen, but the federal government, this time, has failed to work with the Province of Nova Scotia. We will continue to push the government on that question. The moratorium must be extended to protect the industry that now exists, the fishery, to protect the ecosystem, to protect our oceans and to protect our environment throughout the east coast.
Again, that is another part of the legislative framework that needs to be put in place to ensure that, as developments continue to move forward, we have the protections in place to ensure that damage is not done to what already exists and what might exist well into the future.
Both BP and Shell Oil are set to conduct new deepwater oil exploration off Nova Scotia for the first time since 2005. We believe that our workers deserve nothing less than to feel safe not only in their workplaces but, in the case of the offshore industry, in transit to the workplace as well.
I hope the government will continue to work with the provinces involved to make sure that offshore safety regulations are strengthened and that we can avoid offshore tragedies like Cougar flight 91, the BP spill in the Gulf, and the Ocean Ranger disaster.
It was a pleasure to participate in this debate. I look forward to any questions.