Mr. Speaker, I would like to put on the record that I am wearing a tie tonight.
I want to thank all the colleagues, but before I start I first want to say a little prayer and express thoughts for the 17 people who were killed in the terrible incident in March 2009 when the aircraft went down. Unfortunately, I guess sometimes it takes an accident for good things to happen. I want members of the government to know that the NDP will be supporting the bill at second reading, on the premise and in hope that the government will recognize that recommendation 29 is extremely important.
To reiterate, section 29 would make the safety aspect of the board completely stand alone. The reality is that we cannot have the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board or the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board patrolling themselves when it comes to safety. We need to have someone who is independent, a firm that has the authority to go in and double-check all the safety standards, to ensure that the legislation and the laws of the land are being monitored and followed properly, and to also ensure that the regulatory board does what it does in terms of oil and gas exploration but that the safety aspects of that are done by an independent board. Mr. Wells' report was very important.
The fact is that Bill C-5 is a culmination of over 12 years of negotiation, starting in 2001 between the federal government and the Provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. The proposed amendments to the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Atlantic accord implementation act aim to strengthen offshore health and safety practices in the oil and gas industry. Bill C-5 seeks to fill a legislative gap created by the 1992 amendments to the Atlantic accord that separated the health and safety issues, resulting in the provincial offshore petroleum regulatory agencies enforcing health and safety issues contained in draft regulations. Bill C-5 largely puts existing practices into legislation by placing authority and the fundamental principles of occupational health and safety within the accord acts. This is an important improvement to the offshore occupational health and safety regime that the NDP has been calling for in all relevant jurisdictions.
Very clearly, in July 2011, in phase II of the inquiry's report, the Hon. Robert Wells wrote:
The oversight role which I am recommending would not conflict with the roles of other regulators, but it would when necessary enhance other regulatory measures....
Worldwide, the thinking and practices of safety have developed and changed greatly in the past quarter-century. In the C-NL offshore, it is time for a new and more comprehensive approach to offshore safety regulation.
Bill C-5 fails to establish the options set out in recommendation 29 of the Wells report. The Newfoundland government stated that while discussions have been ongoing with the federal government on the implementation of recommendation 29, the federal government has not yet indicated any interest in establishing a separate safety agency. The NDP will remain firm and is steadfast in ensuring that the federal government and the provincial governments work together to ensure this independent, stand-alone safety aspect.
We are not quite sure why the government would have been reluctant to put this in there, but there has to be a particular reason why and we would like to know why. We were hoping that when we support the legislation being sent to the committee these questions will be asked. I am glad to see that the Liberals and most members will be supporting it. Hopefully Robert Wells will be invited to reiterate as to why he felt this was such an important recommendation. As well, we are hoping that the committee members on both sides will ask, and maybe just once in a committee will be able to work together to change the Conservatives' mind on the legislation and put this very important aspect into being.
While I am on my feet talking about the Canada-Newfoundland and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and the accords, I cannot help but go back into a bit of the history of how the hon. member for Central Nova once said in the House of Commons that if somebody in his own party voted against the budget, they would not be kicked out of the caucus.
As members know, there was quite a debate here in the House of Commons over the Atlantic accord in terms of whether there were gaps, whether there were caps to the accord, whether Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia were receiving all the benefits attributed to them from the offshore oil and gas sector. There was quite a heated debate going on in the House of Commons back and forth for quite some time.
Mr. Bill Casey, the then hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, was quite adamant and correct in his opposition to the Conservatives' plan against that accord.
I repeat, the reality is that the member for Central Nova said that they would not kick people out of their caucus who voted against the budget. Very shortly after that, the hon. Mr. Casey stood up in the House and voted against the government's budget when it came to the Atlantic accord. Before he even sat down, his computer was completely emptied and the accounts that he had with the riding association were done. That man was persona non grata before he even sat down in his chair after the vote. I remember the whip of the party at that time doing that.
The fact is that we have to ask ourselves this. When it comes to the accord discussions, did the Conservatives say one thing and do another? It was a cabinet minister who said they would not kick people out of their caucus if they voted against the budget. That is what Mr. Casey did, and before he even sat down, he was toast. Everybody knows that if a politician is on the front page of the fold of any newspaper in the country in a positive light for six days in a row, he or she is cooking with gas. Actually, that is what we want.
The problem with all of that was the discussion of the cap and whether we on the east coast were getting all of the benefits attributed to both provinces from the oil and gas sector that we thought we deserved.
I personally want to thank Mr. Williams, the former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Dr. John Hamm, the former premier of Nova Scotia, for working with the Martin government to secure those additional monies, which I believe was almost $2 billion going to Newfoundland and Labrador and about $800 million going to Nova Scotia, that went toward paying down the respective debts and services within the provinces. That was a good thing. However, they should not have had to go cap in hand in order to do what is considered the right thing.
Getting back to Bill C-5, I want to thank the government for the opportunity to bring this forward and that it at least understands that the good people of the east coast have asked for this for a long time. Unfortunately, as stated by other members in the House, it took a tragedy wherein 17 very good people lost their lives, but fortunately one person did survive. What were the reasons for it? We can argue that it was the helicopter and everything else. However, if this legislation had come before that incident happened, maybe those lives could have been saved, although we do not know for sure. We will never know. That is speculation, and I would not want to impugn the reputation of anyone in that regard. I know that Cougar Helicopters in Newfoundland and Labrador is a very good company. It has wonderful people and great management. It has been a long-time employer in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. This was a most unfortunate incident.
However, I and my party are hoping, and I am sure most parliamentarians on all sides would hope, that the regulatory framework in Bill C-5 will go forward to improve the aspects of health and safety in this regard so that there would be no other incidents in the future.
While I am on my feet, I also want to mention the Ocean Ranger, which went down in 1982, killing an awful lot of guys who were working on the rig. That was a horrible incident at that time. Fortunately, we have never had another incident like that again on the east coast. However, as members know, the governments of the day move fairly quickly to work with industry and the provinces in order to improve and enhance safety features for the men and women who work on the oil rigs. It has now been almost 31 years and we have not had another major incident of that kind. Thank God for that, because when the Ocean Ranger went down, it was unbelievable.
I encourage every single person in the House, and those who are listening, to pick up a copy of Ron Hynes' song Atlantic Blue. He refers to the Ocean Ranger and that incident. It is one of the most haunting and beautiful songs the master of a thousand songs has ever written. It is a beautiful song about those men who served on the Ocean Ranger, which unfortunately went down in that horrific storm in 1982.
We hope that Bill C-5 will do what it is intended to do. We also hope that the government and the committee will be amenable to recommendations, changes, and amendments to ensure that when it leaves the House and goes over to the Senate, they will do a proper and thorough job of so-called sober second thought to ensure that it does exactly what all of us hope it will do. Most important is that we have an independent safety regulator in this regard, because that is the crux of all of this.
Mr. Wells wrote a very well-thought-out and enhanced report and spent a lot of money doing it. He is an esteemed gentleman who knows exactly what he is talking about. The people who were with him listened to the testimony from the witnesses and understood. Then following that, recommendations were made. Just maybe this time we can get it right.
Hopefully, we can enhance other safety regulations in the future across our country so we do not have to wait for an accident before we do the right thing.
Why does the government not want to have an independent safety regulation board in this particular regard? What is it that the government is so opposed to? I am not sure anyone here has ever answered that question. We will keep asking it and keep on going in that regard.
The reality is that this particular legislation would enhance the safety of the men and women working in the offshore, but also those flying the helicopters back and forth. Also, if we have enhanced safety procedures and everything else, it gives people and the industry the confidence that there are proper regulations in place to ensure that all the checks and balances are done. Maybe with this proper enhancement it would improve and enhance the aspects of oil and gas exploration off the east coast. One never knows. The reality is that everyone knows that there are opportunities here to work in the offshore.
I do not know, Mr. Speaker, if you have ever been in the North Atlantic, 200 miles off the coast in November, but I do not think it is the most pleasant place to be on the planet. However, those brave Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and everyone else working there, are some of the hardiest souls ever. They spend an awful lot of time away from their families to work on the rigs for a certain period of time. Then they come off again. They enjoy that work because it pays them very well in health benefits as well as wages. It is an important aspect to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. Thus, it is an important aspect of our economy right across the country.
The minimum that we can do is to ensure that the men and women who literally risk their lives to provide the energy supplies that we use on a daily basis are confident that the provincial and federal governments have their safety in mind, are listening to them and the industry, and are ensuring that when they go to work they do not have to die.
April 28 is our national day of mourning when we recognize all the people who have gone to work in the morning and unfortunately, did not come home at night to their families. In Nova Scotia alone, we have had 28 occupational deaths this year, and the year is not even over yet. That is 28 too many people who have passed away.
I am sure I speak for all parliamentarians when I say this: no one should get up in the morning, go to work, and not come home again. This is not just about Bill C-5 and the safety regulations of the offshore of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, but right across the country. We should be working with all companies. We should be working with the labour movement. We should be working with the provinces and the municipalities, anyone out there who can provide the proper advice to ensure that every single person who goes to work in the morning, or on shift work, knows that they will be able to go home to their families. That is the crucial aspect. It is what I believe is the litmus test for this legislation if we are to indeed improve it.
It was already done after 1982. We have not had another rig incident since then. People are probably very proud of the fact that nothing has happened in 31 years, but unfortunately, it took the 1982 incident for that to come into being. Unfortunately, it took a helicopter coming down, which took the lives of 17 people, to once again get governments, and for that matter all parliamentarians and provincial folks, to react to this particular issue.
It should not happen. We should be sensible enough, proactive enough to ensure that when industries like the oil and gas sector off our coastline are in effect and working well, that before an incident happens we have ensured the highest level of safety protection is there. That is just like how we would push to make sure that the highest environmental standards are there, because if we have proper environmental standards, proper health and safety standards, then the industry, the workers and management, the people who work in those industries will be allowed to flourish.
On behalf of our federal New Democratic Party, I want to personally say that we will be supporting this legislation. I am proud of my colleagues from St. John's East and St. John's South—Mount Pearl who have been big promoters and supporters of this. I am also proud of the provincial NDP government, especially Mr. Frank Corbett, who was very active in promoting this. Unfortunately, we are not the government there anymore, but maybe one day we will be back.
The reality is that this is an important issue that crosses political lines. It crosses bipartisanship in terms of Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats. It crosses provincial concerns as well. I think it is vital that this legislation is passed, with the caveat that the government and everyone involved carefully and seriously look at recommendation 29 to ensure that an independent safety regulator is going to be there.
That sector may grow. It may become enhanced. If more oil and gas is found, and a lot of deposits that may be out there, we are going to see a lot more expansion and a lot more traffic. We needed to have this type of legislation as of yesterday, not necessarily tomorrow.
With that, I will be more than happy to take any questions or comments that the good people of this legislature may have. I understand that my hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst wishes me to say a couple of more words, but I am more or less done. I would be happy to take any questions.