Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NDP supports offshore safety regime; still no movement on independent safety regulator

I gave the following speech Monday (Nov. 26th) in the House of Commons on Bill C-5, an act to amend the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act.

Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time I have stood in the House to speak
about the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

Since being elected in May 2011, I have spoken about the C-NLOPB too many times to

I have spoken about the problems and shortcomings of the
Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board many times,
including patronage appointments.

The highest-profile appointment that comes to mind was the one-time campaign
manager of Peter Penashue, the former Conservative MP for Labrador who
served as minister of Intergovernmental Affairs in his short stint in
federal politics.

That campaign manager was no more qualified to serve on
the board of the C-NLOPB than he was to run Penashue's fraudulent election
campaign, which is why he is no longer on the board of the C-NLOPB.

For another thing, I cannot say how many times I have made reference to the
2009 crash of Cougar flight 491 that killed 17 offshore workers.

The public's confidence in the C-NLOPB has been shaken.

There is no doubt about that.

Therefore, it is a welcome change to stand in the House today to
support a bill that is actually focused on the health and safety of offshore

It is about time.

It is well past due.

It is an important victory for the labour movement in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia, as well as  for provincial New Democrats in both provinces, who have been fighting for
this for a dog's age.

They have been advocating for a legislated offshore safety regime for about a dozen years.

I stand in support of Bill C-5, an act to amend the Canada-Newfoundland
Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore
Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act.

The bill itself amends the Atlantic accord to place health and occupational safety regimes into

The bill clarifies the individual and shared roles and
responsibilities of the federal government, the provincial governments,
regulators, operators, employers, suppliers, and employees.

Bill C-5 is based on three basic principles.

The first is that offshore occupational health and safety laws must provide offshore workers with the
same protection as onshore workers.

The second principle is that the legislation protects and enshrines the rights of offshore workers.

The third principle supports an occupational health and safety culture that recognizes
the shared responsibilities in the workplace.

The bill authorizes both levels of government, federal and provincial, to
work together to develop regulations for offshore health and safety.

The bill also requires Transport Canada to develop occupational health and
safety regulations for offshore workers in transit, such as when they are
travelling to and from marine installations, rigs, and gravity-based
structures, for example.

There are only two ways to get offshore, in case it
is not obvious.

One is by air, meaning by Cougar helicopter or rescue
helicopter, and the other is by offshore supply boat.

Let me be clear: Bill C-5 is positive news.

It is good news.

It is welcome.

However, the bill does not go far enough.

I have to stand again today to talk about the federal Conservatives and their failure to put the health and safety of offshore workers front and centre.

Before all else, the health and safety of our people must be paramount, but that is not the case.

I referred earlier to the 2009 crash of Cougar flight 491 about 30 nautical miles from St. John's.

Seventeen people died.

There was one survivor.

It was an incredible tragedy, yet another in a string of tragedies for maritime
people such as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

It was felt in every nook and cranny of Newfoundland and Labrador and around the country.

Justice Robert Wells conducted an inquiry into the Cougar crash.

In his words, the most important recommendation of the entire report is
recommendation number 29.

That recommendation called for the creation of an independent and
stand-alone regulator to oversee safety in the offshore oil industry.

Where is the independent safety regulator?

It has been three years.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador supports it.

Where does the Conservative government stand?

Why has it failed to act on the most important recommendation of the Wells inquiry report?

Let me quote from that Wells report.

It states: "The Safety Regulator should be separate and independent from all other components of offshore regulation and should stand alone, with safety being its only regulatory task ... Independent and stand-alone safety regulators are now in place in Norway, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and the same concept is ... being developed in the United States for the Gulf of Mexico.

We will remember the Gulf of Mexico and the Deepwater Horizon.

The rig caught on fire and almost a dozen workers were killed.

There were billions of dollars in damages and cleanup costs.

Is the health and safety of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Canadians
not as important as the health and safety of Norwegians, Australians,
Americans and the people of the United Kingdom?

Of course, it is.

In his inquiry report, Justice Wells wrote that the oversight rules he was
recommending would not conflict with the roles of other regulators, but
would, when necessary, enhance other regulatory measures.

In the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador offshore, Justice Wells said that “it is
time for a new”, and I underline “new”, “and more comprehensive approach to
offshore safety regulation”.

What Bill C-5 fails to do is to create that independent safety regulator.

Earlier this month, Transport Canada released proposed safety regulations
for offshore helicopter operations.

They were announced about a week and a half ago.

The new regulations would prohibit the operation of offshore
flights when weather or water conditions would make ditching in the water

Under the new rules, crew members would also be required to wear
water immersion survival suits and operators would have to carry an
emergency underwater breathing apparatus for each passenger aboard the

As part of that news, the federal Minister of Transport issued a news
release, in which she stated:

"Our government is committed to strengthening aviation safety for all
Canadians. We have worked closely with the aviation community to develop
these new regulations, which will improve the safety of offshore helicopter
operations for both passengers and crew."

After that news release was issued and the story broke, I had telephone
calls from offshore workers and their families.

They were upset.

Why were they upset?

They were irate because these proposed new regulations are not
new regulations.

Lana Payne, the Atlantic director for Unifor, which
represents workers on the Terra Nova FPSO and the Hibernia oil platform,
pointed out that those recommendations were already implemented in
Newfoundland and Labrador.

The C-NLOPB was responsible for implementing
those measures in the aftermath of the Cougar crash.

Lana Payne stated:

"Nothing in this statement from the minister is going to change one iota in
terms of improving safety in the offshore, because most of it has been

The offshore workers who contacted me were furious.

“Why is this a news story?” they asked.

“What is the news in this story? What makes this news?
There is nothing new here”.

They were absolutely right.

What is also missing from the current regulations, another shortcoming, is
the requirement for helicopters to have a 30-minute run-dry capability.

In other words, helicopters should have the capability to stay in the air for
30 minutes after their gearboxes run dry of oil.

Please God that never happens, but we know it has happened in the past.

That recommendation was made ages ago; it was two or three years ago.

What has become of that recommendation?

Nothing has become of that recommendation.

We support the bill at second reading.

It is a win for offshore workers.

It is a long-fought win for the New Democratic parties in both Newfoundland and
Labrador and Nova Scotia, and the bill looks good on the industry.

However, if the Conservatives think that offshore workers, their unions,
their families, or even the provincial governments are satisfied, they are
horribly mistaken.

This is but one step in the right direction.

Another huge step would take place once there is word that the federal government will
finally act on an independent safety regulator.

What keeps me positive is the fact that our offshore workers, their unions, and their families do not miss a trick with the current Conservative government.

New Democrats will not stop.

We will not relent until the safety of our workers is paramount above all else.

They deserve no less.

November 25th, 1:45 p.m.
Offshore Health and Safety Act

Mr. Speaker, I understand his question in terms of being tongue-in-cheek, if
it were not so serious.

When Peter Penashue was in this House as the Conservative member for
Labrador, one of the first appointments of the government was to appoint his
former campaign manager to the board of the C-NLOPB. That campaign manager
had no idea whatsoever about the offshore oil industry. That appointment did
not stand, in the same way that Mr. Penashue's time in this House of Commons
did not last either. Too often we have had examples where patronage
appointments have been put on regulators like the C-NLOPB, and it does not
do the industry or the people justice.

The bottom line with the C-NLOPB is that we have a regulatory body that
looks after industry regulation, safety, and the environment. That is too
much for one regulatory body to look after.

We have been preaching. We have been pushing Justice Wells' recommendation
for the independent safety regulator, and nothing has happened.

Again, let me put this question to the Conservative government, to all the
Conservatives on the opposite side of this House today. Why do they not
follow through on the Wells inquiry recommendation for an independent safety

November 25th, 1:45 p.m.
Offshore Health and Safety Act

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question, but I do not have an answer.

The provincial Progressive Conservative government led by Kathy Dunderdale
in Newfoundland and Labrador is on side and on record as supporting the
creation of an independent safety regulator. As I said in my speech, it was
the most important recommendation of the Wells inquiry report into the 2009
crash of Cougar flight 491. The provincial government of Newfoundland and
Labrador is behind this, but the federal Conservative government is not.

We do not have an answer. The current government has been asked that
question many times, but we are awaiting an answer. It may be that one of
the many Conservative MPs in the House sitting across from me today will get
up and answer that question.

Why have they failed to act?

November 25th, 1:50 p.m.
Offshore Health and Safety Act

Mr. Speaker, the bottom line is that rescue sub-centres in Quebec and my
riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl have both been closed.

There is an argument to be made for keeping both open. In Quebec, obviously,
there is a unique language, the language of Quebeckers. In Newfoundland and
Labrador, there is the language of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, which
is also our own unique dialect. There is an argument to be made for the fact
that with our unique dialect in Newfoundland and Labrador, if the sub-centre
is moved to Halifax, these mainlanders, even though they are Maritimers, may
not understand the unique language of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

On this side of the House we have fought to keep both rescue sub-centres
open. However, talking to the Conservatives is obviously like speaking to a
wall, especially today with none of the Conservatives getting up to speak
about such an important issue.

Another thing I want to mention is the emergency response times for our
military's Cormorant helicopters. I am not sure if the people watching this
debate today understand, but we have two sets of response times for
emergencies in our offshore. Monday to Friday during working hours, nine to
five, the wheels-up response time for our Cormorant helicopters is 30
minutes. It takes 30 minutes for them to get off the ground, but outside of
nine to five, during evenings, weekends and on holidays, the wheels-up
response time for our search and rescue helicopters is up to two hours.

In every respect, when it comes to the health and safety of our offshore
workers, the Conservative government misses the boat. It does not have a

November 25th, 1:50 p.m.
Offshore Health and Safety Act

Mr. Speaker, I think there is an effort by the current Conservative
government to get out of the business of regulatory regime, period. If it
were up to the government, industry would regulate itself in every way that
could be imagined.

We are here to ensure that does not happen.

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