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.