Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-5. This bill addresses long-standing gaps in occupational health and safety standards in Atlantic offshore oil and gas development.
The bill amends the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord in order to enshrine the occupational health and safety regime in law. This is an important measure that the NDP has long been calling for. This is a very important bill for workers who do dangerous work in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore.
Not so long ago, these activities took place in shallow water close to shore. Now, we have oil rigs hundreds of kilometres from shore. It takes two to three hours to get to the rigs and back by helicopter. The work is done in extreme weather. It goes without saying that it is dangerous. These brave workers do this work to support themselves and their families. However, this sector also benefits Atlantic Canada's economy and the federal government.
As usual, bills like this come about after tragedy strikes. In this case, I am referring to the Ocean Ranger drilling platform, which sank off the shore of Newfoundland in 1982, taking 84 workers with it.
The royal commission that followed criticized the industry for problems with safety training and being lax with inspections. People believed that the government had implemented regulations to reduce risk. However, the offshore was never subject to provincial safety regulations.
There is a clear link between this tragedy and the one that occurred recently in Lac-Mégantic.
Prioritizing profit, the government let a company self-regulate. That decision led to tragedy, and the government betrayed the people's trust yet again.
Let us not forget the Deepwater Horizon. In 2010, neglect resulted in the death of 11 workers and the worst offshore oil spill in history. The Gulf of Mexico is still suffering the consequences of that incident.
In other words, we cannot pretend that will never happen again. The government must make laws. The NDP supports the federal-provincial collaboration that resulted in Bill C-5.
Bill C-5 is the outcome of over a decade of negotiation that began in 2001 between the federal government and the governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, I am disappointed that the Conservative government does not work with the provincial and territorial governments on other issues often enough. I am also disappointed that my colleagues opposite still seem to cling to a laissez-faire ideology that benefits corporations but puts our communities and the environment at risk.
Regulation in the offshore oil industry focuses on performance. In other words, the regulatory body drafts a plan and sets safety objectives, and companies decide how to go about achieving those objectives.
In contrast, the regulatory regime set out in Bill C-5 dictates both the standards and the means to achieve them. Compliance is mandatory. That is why I support this bill.
The New Democrats have been calling for this kind of power for years. However, the bill does not act on recommendation 29 of the Honourable Robert Wells' offshore helicopter safety inquiry. That inquiry was held after a helicopter crash that, as we all know, killed 17 workers.
The Wells report contained a number of recommendations, including the creation of an independent safety regulator. Bill C-5 does not provide for the creation of an independent and stand-alone safety regulator, nor does it provide for autonomous safety divisions within the petroleum boards.
It is disappointing that the Government of Canada did not act on this report even though Newfoundland, Justice Wells, the unions concerned, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour and many other stakeholders concerned about the offshore health and safety regime urged it to do so.
Thus, the NDP's efforts to ensure that the bill is reviewed in five years were rejected by the government at committee stage. An NDP federal government would work with the provinces to establish these measures in order to further strengthen the health and safety regime for Atlantic offshore workers.
Nevertheless, we will support Bill C-5 because it should have been passed a long time ago and it is an important victory for the labour movement. The NDP has been calling for a legislated offshore safety regime for years. Bill C-5 protects offshore workers at least as well as onshore workers. It also protects employees' right to refuse to work in dangerous conditions and to be protected from reprisals.
This bill is timely. In fact, Shell and BP are exploring along the Nova Scotia coast for the first time since the Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010. However, it is unfortunate that the federal government prevented the implementation of even better protection for worker safety by not creating a stand-alone safety regulator. The NDP is determined to work with the provinces to that end.