Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to follow some of my colleagues in the debate on Bill C-5. Having been a member of the natural resources committee for eight years, and having now left it, this was the last major piece of work I had the opportunity to work on with my colleagues from all parties. Unfortunately, I had moved prior to getting to clause-by-clause review, which would have been interesting. Nonetheless, I got a chance to listen to a lot of the testimony before committee. We had some great witnesses. We had very cordial discussion and a lot of good feedback. It was a good committee experience.
What I am going to talk about today is the importance of the offshore. I will spend a few moments on that. Then what I would like to do is to talk about what led to Bill C-5 and why it is important. Then I would like to talk about some of the major things the bill does and some of the comments made by Justice Wells.
Certainly, as a lot of people have said in testimony earlier today, we know how important natural resources are to our country, and specifically the east coast. As my colleague, the member for Halifax West, just pointed out a minute ago, we have a lot of people working on the offshore and the potential for expansion of that resource opportunity not only helps the folks in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, but also P.E.I. and New Brunswick, whether it be by providing services or by labourers actually going there. In some cases, it is a lot better trip for some of our families to be able to go to an east coast location, as opposed to travelling west.
For that reason, we want to continue to ensure that Canada's natural resource sectors remain open to investment that is market oriented and in the long-term interests of Canadians. We will ensure that the jobs, opportunities, and economic growth created by our natural wealth are available to all Canadians. In the Atlantic offshore, this wealth is chiefly in the energy sector, particularly oil and natural gas. The strength of Canada's energy sector is well established, but as strong as Canada's energy sector is today, it offers even greater potential for the future.
Canadians living in Atlantic Canada already know what a difference a strong energy industry can make to communities' quality of life. Offshore oil and gas has literally transformed the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador. For example, in 2011, the energy sector in Newfoundland and Labrador employed nearly 5,000 people and accounted for roughly one-third of provincial nominal GDP. Between 1997 and 2013, the province collected about $7.8 billion in statutory royalties from offshore oil and gas. Now, as we begin 2014, the future is even brighter. The offshore energy sector in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia is still growing and the industry continues to invest billions of dollars in new energy projects.
Our government supports energy infrastructure projects that will create jobs and generate economic growth for Canadians, but it will do so only if these projects can be proven to be safe for Canadians and only after we have the proper reviews.
Our commitment to responsible resource development is made for environmental reasons as well as economic ones. Our plan will ensure that there is stronger protection by introducing tough new financial penalties for companies that do no comply with environmental regulations, and establishes new measures to strengthen Canada's world class pipeline and marine safety regimes. However, we have to remember that one of the major regulatory items is to protect people through a rigorous offshore safety regime. That is why we introduced Bill C-5, to ensure that offshore industries can carry out their activities safely.
I would like to read into the record some testimony from Mr. Jeff Labonté, the director general of the energy safety and security branch at the Department of Natural Resources. He said:
The work on the legislative package before Parliament got under way almost a dozen years ago. It was following an accident in Nova Scotia in which a worker in a workplace was killed. In that particular accident, the accord acts originally separated operational safety, the operations of the technical units and things that are happening in the offshore, which was imbedded within the accord acts, and occupational health and safety as a separate area which fell under the provincial jurisdiction.
All of a sudden, we had a grey area here where it was hard to determine who was actually responsible, what would happen and who would actually regulate this going forward. That led to a 12-year process and our Bill C-5.
The bill is approximately 260 to 270 pages long. Members who were on the committee and actually went through the review know that roughly 200 of those pages took occupational health and safety regulations out and put them into the accord acts. It was to mirror the legislation between the provinces and the federal government. We want the offshore industries to abide by the most stringent standards. We need to identify and clarify things, and that was the reason we did that.
Interestingly enough, some of the earlier comments were about why this took so long. It started in 2002 and it was a 12-year process. A lot of us in the House, even if we have only been here a short period of time, understand that sometimes it can take a while to get federal-provincial deals negotiated. What ended up happening is that it went through a period until about 2007, when there was a realization that further work was needed on the governance aspect of the bill. It had to go back, and obviously there were a lot of iterations between the provinces and the federal government to make sure that the legislation was mirrored properly.
Those things took some time. We had some governmental issues with respect to the minority governments that happened during those times.
I believe it was under an NDP government in Nova Scotia that the legislation passed, and a PC government in Newfoundland. They are now waiting for us to do our process with Bill C-5.
The accord acts already provide the regulatory cornerstone for all oil and gas activities in the Atlantic offshore. They give the independent regulators, the two offshore boards we have been talking about this morning, the legal authority to regulate oil and gas activities on behalf of the Governments of Canada, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
They clearly establish the health and safety requirements within the accord acts. For the essential matters of occupational health and safety, and operational safety in the offshore, Bill C-5 fully clarifies the roles and responsibilities of all concerned parties, governments, regulators, employers, and workers.
The legislation also has other practical benefits and gives new powers to the offshore inspectors to further enhance safety. For example, inspectors will now be authorized to inspect anything, take samples, and meet privately with individuals. Further, inspectors will now have the power to conduct compliance audits on the vessels used to transport workers, and if the workers themselves have any safety concerns, Bill C-5 allows them to refuse to be transported to the offshore sites.
I just want to speak to the issue of the chief safety officer's power. It has been strengthened. In my experience in construction projects before coming into this area, it was always my understanding, whenever I went to a construction site, that the chief safety officer had full ability to shut a site down. They could do that carte blanche. That is independence. Even if those safety officers actually reported to project managers, they really had a higher calling and a higher power.
This safety officer, referring to some of the testimony from Mr. Jeff Labonté, said:
The final area that I will cover is that of the chief safety officer. First, to ensure that safety considerations are always represented, the legislation proposes that the position of the chief safety officer can never be held by a CEO of the board. In addition, a chief safety officer would have to review and provide written recommendations related to safety on all operational authorizations. This would formalize a process that both boards have already been following and is a practice of ensuring that safety is a priority. Chief safety officers would also be granted the power to allow regulatory substitutions.
As everyone knows, when we start talking about these regulatory substitutions, technology moves very fast in the offshore environment. For example, if a new piece of equipment comes out that is going to make workers safer, a chief safety officer would have the ability to authorize its approval to substitute it for something already out there.
Those are important things to make sure that our workers are safe, which this legislation and the regulations keep up.
During his appearance at the natural resources committee in December, Justice Wells spoke about the legislation. He said:
Somebody has worked hard—more than one person, I suspect—on this bill. I know that it's been under consideration for a number of years. Quite honestly, I think it's a good job and I think it will help to formalize some of the concepts that people knowledgeable about the industry and the regulatory people have thought about for some time. To see it enshrined—I hope to see it enshrined—in legislation is a good thing.
A couple of things impressed me most. One is that the bill talks about and mandates the involvement of workers in the processes of safety. That was something that was important to me during the two years and three or four months that I was the inquiry commissioner.
Justice Wells was very clear in the committee that he was pleased with the offshore health and safety legislation. He was also clear that good has come of the government's adoption of his recommendations.
We also talked at length at committee with two individuals. They were Mr. Scott Tessier, who is the chair and CEO of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, and Mr. Stuart Pinks, who is the CEO of the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. We had a significant opportunity to question those folks. In fact, one of them was actually a former chief safety officer. I asked him about the qualifications of the chief safety officers, the kinds of things they do, and the process. He said that he was the chief safety officer for a number of years and that there is a strict selection process for chief safety officers. They are often long-tenured employees who stay with these boards for very long periods of time and build up institutional knowledge so that they are able to continue doing their jobs effectively.
Some of the other things they talked about were privacy requirements. They are not allowed to publish certain types of things when it comes to safety. With this legislation, when it comes to safety, they would be able to publish this for the public.
A lot of what was said was that it is not just for the actual workers on the site but for their families as well. We always need to be concerned about their families. They should be able to see that everything is safe. What is actually happening is important to the families, as well.
Justice Wells and the two CEOs also talked about safety forums, which have now started. They have just conducted the fifth of these safety forums. They received a tremendous amount of feedback from the workers who now, as part of this important piece of the legislation, have three major rights. They have the right to know, the right to participate in the discussions, and the right to refuse dangerous work. They are all important aspects for these workers. These safety forums allow for these types of discussions to happen and for the appropriate actions to take place. I talked previously about the safety equipment and substitutions.
There was a lot of good feedback. The Unifor representative talked about the safety regulator. I am sure that someone will ask me that question during the questions and comments.
In summary, there is no doubt that Bill C-5 would significantly enhance worker safety in the offshore by creating a much more transparent safety regime, with clear responsibilities for all involved. Our Conservative government worked with our provincial partners on this. I want to emphasize that this was a partnership, because this legislation has to be mirrored at the federal and provincial levels. It would give us a much more modern, efficient, and stringent offshore safety regime, one that is supported by strong laws and standards that are second to none.
The Conservative government is committed to freer trade and to maintaining an open marketplace that welcomes investment. It is committed to providing a regulatory regime for major projects that is fair, transparent, and predictable. It is committed to enhancing Canadian competitiveness in the economic sector.
I am encouraged and really pleased to see that members from the opposite side are going to support this bill. It represents a big and important move of the yardstick forward in terms of offshore health and safety for our workers and in terms of the well-being of their families. I appreciate their support. Hopefully, we will be able to get this passed quickly.