Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter into the debate today at second reading of Bill S-3, an act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act. This act deals with safety regulations in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry in particular. However, I am very concerned about the necessity of this legislation and what it reveals about the Government of Canada's commitment to safety in the Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry.
We support the speedy passage of the bill, because it will restore the offshore health and safety regulations put in place in 2014. They were established as interim regulations, with an expiry date initially of December 31, 2019, allowing five years for the relevant parties to develop permanent regulations. Five years is a long time, and they did have regulations in place.
The deadline was extended for one year, but the government has allowed the regulations to expire, leaving no enforceable regime in the offshore to protect workers who are expected to go to work every day with the expectation that a regime is in place to protect them, but it is not there.
It is very well for the minister's parliamentary secretary to say that the government will make it retroactive, but that is not good enough. The legislation before us today 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.
That is clearly indicative that the government has no ability at this point to enforce these regulations, which supposedly will be revived. It is shameful that the government would allow that to happen, particularly given the history and the importance of marine safety in Canada and, in this case, of our offshore oil and gas industry.
Some who are looking carefully at their screens in this virtual hybrid sitting will notice that I am wearing a necktie that is peppered with images of lighthouses. These are, of course, the most ancient and iconic symbols of the need for safety at sea. Other recognized symbols of the dangers of maritime life and work are the images of the bright yellow Cormorant rescue helicopters of the Canadian Forces, the bright red hulls and the fuselages of the Canadian Coast Guard ships and helicopters with the white stripes.
These are important images for Canada, which is a significant maritime country, with three oceans and the longest coastline of any country in the world. The protection of mariners and all offshore workers, including those in the fishing industry and the offshore oil and gas industries, are of paramount importance to Canada.
We know, from the early history of offshore oil and gas development in Canada, the dangers that this industry exposed workers to from the monumental tragedy of the Ocean Ranger disaster, which has been mentioned by a couple of speakers today.
In 1982, the Ocean Ranger, a semi-submersible offshore oil drill rig, sank with the loss of 84 lives, including many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and other Canadians who died in that great tragedy. The memory of that February 14, 1982, date is carved in the memory of those affected and all those in Newfoundland and Labrador who received this shocking news and had to relive these events over many months of a royal commission of inquiry, seeking answers and detailing important recommendations to ensure the safety of workers in this harsh environment.
Unfortunately, the legal regime that was put in place for the health and safety of offshore workers was inadequate. The labour portfolios of the various jurisdictions had responsibility for occupational health and safety, but as the jurisdictional issues were sorted out, responsibility was taken from these departments of labour in 1992 and given to CNLOPB, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.
CNLOPB comes easily off the tongues of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who have an interest in the offshore and how it is managed. However, giving it the safety responsibility for occupational health and safety was not a wise decision in my view and the handling of that since then has been inadequate.
In its supposed wisdom of the day, the Newfoundland board and the Nova Scotia board, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, had in place draft regulations. They were not enforceable. It was not a situation in which somebody who did something contra to these regulations could actually be charged, treated as an offender, taken to court if necessary, fined or dealt with appropriately and be required to follow the regulations. It was a very different regime. The regime was there as draft regulations or really just a framework or a guideline.
That was entirely unsatisfactory to the workers involved. It was objected to by them and by the unions, by my party and both the Nova Scotia and the Newfoundland and Labrador legislators. There was very strong opposition to this approach.
I have familiarity with these regimes, as a lawyer, having had a client who was on the Ocean Ranger and having represented his family in the aftermath, seeking to get some compensation for those who had lost their lives and looking closely at the regulations that were involved.
In the 1990s and the 2000s, up to 2006, I was in the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature as well. I am very familiar with the arguments as to how these regimes were supposed to work. In fact, they were unsatisfactory as was also agreed to by Mr. Justice Wells in the commission of inquiry that took place after another sad tragedy, the crashing of the Cougar flight 491 in the Newfoundland offshore, with the loss of 17 lives in 2009. This was a serious problem that was caused by a fault in the helicopter involved.
After the sad loss of those 17 individuals, there was an inquiry, which also looked into these questions of how the offshore safety regime was managed. Mr. Justice Wells concurred that the situation and the regime were unsatisfactory, and called for enforceable regulations. He also called for an independent body to enforce those regulations. It was recognized that these regimes had a built-in conflict of interest and that, in accordance with their obligations and mandate to foster the industry, there was an inherent conflict of interest, which was recognized in other jurisdictions.
He did a very comprehensive report and his most important recommendation, as he called it, was recommendation 29, which was that there be an independent regulator for safety in the offshore. That followed the circumstances that existed in Australia, United Kingdom and Norway. Norway may have been the first. These regimes would require that there be an independent regulator so the issues of health and safety of workers be paramount and the only responsibility for those in charges.
This regime that is now in place in Canada failed to undertake that recommendation brought in by the Conservatives in legislation that was before the House in 2013 and passed into law in 2014. All of a sudden, as a result of these recommendations, we did have enforceable regulations. Workers had legislated the right to refuse unsafe work, which they did not have before, except in accordance with collective agreements in some of the rigs. Established by this legislation and by regulations in 2014 was a provision for an offshore safety advisory council where the representatives of both the provincial governments involved, the federal government and the workers would work to provide advice to the safety regulator for offshore safety regulations.
There is another failing of the government since the legislation was put in place. Believe it or not, since 2014, the requirement for the establishment of an offshore safety advisory council has not been put in place in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Nova Scotia board was put in place in 2019, and it has met twice a year since then. No board is in place in Newfoundland and Labrador.
That is a shocking dereliction of following up on the importance of the safety regulations. I am told that the federal part of the board has been appointed, but the provincial board has not. Indeed, one of the requirements of the legislation is that the workers' representatives and unions, if there are unions, should be consulted in the appointment of the persons representing workers.
I am advised that there has been no consultation with either the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour or the relevant union representing two of the rigs offshore. That is another failing of the government in terms of taking its commitments to the health of safety in the offshore seriously.
The fact is that the regulations were allowed to lapse. An extension passed through legislation in 2018 to extend the deadline for putting permanent regulations in place to December 31, 2020. However, the government waited until December of last year to do that. It then brought in legislation in the Senate to get the extension it required to continue on past the expiry that was coming up.
That is a shameful dereliction of duty. How did that happen? We heard the parliamentary secretary attempt to give an explanation today about how many pages were involved and how many regulations there were, etc. However, this has been going on for six years. The government has had six years to do this. It is now asking for another year. It has to be done, obviously, so we will support the legislation.
However, the most serious issue has been the failure of the government to recognize that these regulations were expiring. In fact, they were automatically repealed at the end of that period. As of December 31 of last year, they do not exist. There is no opportunity to enforce these regulations right now. No one can be charged.
The shocking part is the fact that the government showed a lack of foresight, failed to notice that the regulations would expire, or somehow or other did not take it seriously enough to ensure that the legislation was before the House of Commons prior to the end of last year.
These are some of the reasons why we are very unhappy with the level of commitment by the Government of Canada to health and safety in the offshore. Workers in the offshore are rightfully outraged that the government has failed to take this matter seriously.
We do need to have enforceable regulations. We do need to have the right to refuse unsafe work. We do need to ensure that we can ultimately have an independent regulator. Unfortunately, it is not good enough to repeat a mantra about how safety is our most important and first priority, and all those comments which give lip service to the safety, when we have these instances where the regulations are allowed to lapse and there is a failure to take these responsibilities seriously.
We will support the legislation. It needs to be fixed. It needs to be replaced and put back in place as soon as possible. It is not good enough to have the situation where we are faced with this circumstance and a failure by the government to act quickly.