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.