THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY, THE ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Ottawa, Tuesday, February 9, 2021
The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, to which Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act was referred, met by videoconference this day at 9 a.m. (ET) to continue its consideration of the bill.
Senator Paul J. Massicotte (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning.
Honourable senators, my name is Paul Massicotte. I am a senator from Quebec and I chair the committee.
Today, we are conducting a hybrid meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. Thank you in advance, senators, for your patience as we adapt to this new way of holding our meetings.
Before we get started, I would like to remind senators and witnesses to please keep your microphones muted at all times, unless recognized by name by the chair.
For senators participating via Zoom, I will ask you to use the “raise hand” feature in order to be recognized.
I will do my best to get to everyone who wants to ask a question of our witnesses. In order to do so, I ask senators to try to keep their questions and preambles brief.
I would also like to remind you that, when speaking, you should be on the same interpretation channel as the language you are speaking. Should any technical challenges arise, particularly in relation to interpretation, please signal this to the chair or the clerk, and we will work to resolve the issue.
Now I would like to introduce the members of the committee who are participating in this meeting. We have Senators Margaret Dawn Anderson of the Northwest Territories, Doug Black from Alberta, Claude Carignan from Quebec, Jane Cordy from Nova Scotia, Mary Jane McCallum from Manitoba, Julie Miville-Dechêne from Quebec, Dennis Glen Patterson from Nunavut, Paula Simons from Alberta, Josée Verner from Quebec, David Wells from Newfoundland and Labrador, and Rosa Galvez from Quebec. We also have Senator Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia from Newfoundland and Labrador joining us today. He is the sponsor of the bill.
I wish to welcome all of you, as well as the viewers across the country who are watching.
Today, we are beginning our consideration of Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Offshore Health and Safety Act.
This morning, for the first hour or so, we are honoured to welcome the Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources. Welcome to the committee, minister.
The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, P.C., M.P., Minister of Natural Resources: Thank you.
The Chair: You are accompanied by Glenn Hargrove, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Petroleum Policy and Investment Office.
With them as well is Timothy Gardiner, Senior Director, Offshore Petroleum Management, Strategic Petroleum Policy and Investment Office, Natural Resources Canada. Welcome to all, and thank you for being with us. Minister O’Regan, you have the floor.
Hon. Seamus O’Regan, P.C., M.P., Minister of Natural Resources: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable senators. I’m joining you from my home on the island of Newfoundland, the homeland of the Mi’kmaq and the Beothuk and one of Canada’s three oil-producing provinces, so this is an issue that hits home for me; it’s important.
I was a young fellow working for Brian Tobin when he was premier some 20-odd years ago. It was a time when there was only one platform under construction offshore, and that was Hibernia. Our industry was a fledgling one back then. It was the basis of some big but cautious hopes.
Then, as now, we knew that we needed to develop the platforms and get the design and fabrication work completed, as well as ensure we work safely in one of the harshest environments there is, which is the Newfoundland North Atlantic. Ultimately, we achieved first oil. We knew all of that was crucial for the financial future of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Today, we have got a proud and mature industry, one that has accounted for 30% of our province’s GDP, 13% in labour compensation and 10% of our employment over the years.
Nova Scotia’s offshore industry, meanwhile, helped propel that economy for years prior to the decommissioning of its two natural gas fields.
As I mentioned at the outset, the North Atlantic can be merciless. As positive as this story is, two incidents have seared the soul of my province.
Those incidents speak directly to the legislation before us today.
The first was the 1982 Ocean Ranger disaster that left 84 dead, 56 of them Newfoundlanders. The resulting Royal Commission led to many safety improvements. I was a boy at the time, but I remember the emotional impact of that day. It was a day that shook us to the bone. And the pain lingered as the subsequent Royal Commission uncovered lapses in the safety regime. One of those commission hearings took place in a church hall actually just near my backyard.
Despite those changes, tragedy struck again in 2009. Mechanical problems sent a helicopter that was taking 18 workers to an offshore platform plunging into the Atlantic. Only one, somehow and miraculously, survived.
I know honourable senators have discussed the link between Bill S-3 and the 2009 tragedy, specifically the key role played by Senator Wells’ late father, Robert Wells, who headed the subsequent inquiry into what went wrong and whose recommendations were largely incorporated into the Offshore Health and Safety Act passed in 2014. I know Senator Wells has expressed concern over the delays that have brought us here today. I will respectfully deal with that in just a moment. First, I want to focus on Bill S-3’s intent.
We want to give Canada, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador an additional two years, to December 31, 2022, to finalize the numerous health and safety regulations that stem from the 2014 legislation. The Offshore Health and Safety Act clarified the roles of both levels of government as well as regulators in preventing accidents and injury, and it outlined the safety roles played by everyone involved, from owners, operators and employers to supervisors, employees and contractors.
In addition, the act added the following to the safety regime: a new appeal process when someone is accused of violating rules; the establishment or clarification of employee rights, including the right to refuse dangerous work without the risk of facing reprisal; a workplace culture that makes clear that these safety concerns are a shared responsibility of everyone involved; an efficient regulatory regime that contains no jurisdictional inconsistencies; and finally, the inclusion of the transportation of employees to and from these sites.
I want to focus now on a part of the act that is especially relevant to today’s discussion. I am referring to the creation in 2014 of transitional regulations so that the three governments could take the time to finalize permanent regulations. The transitional arrangement was set to expire at the end of 2020. The Government of Canada is asking, through Bill S-3, for an additional two years, to December 31, 2022, to complete this work.
Some are, of course, wondering why it would take up to eight years to finalize this process. As Senator Ravalia explained during debate, this is a highly complex undertaking. These regulations fill nearly 300 pages, and they incorporate by reference more than 100 domestic and international health and safety standards. These regulations also require vetting and approval by three separate governments, multiple ministries and two jointly managed regulatory boards. This is consensus decision-making in Canada. It speaks well of Canadian federalism, but the fact is that this kind of approach is more time-consuming than unilateralism.
My department initiated an extensive consultation process between 2015 and 2018 involving unions, companies and other stakeholders. There were numerous meetings involving hundreds of stakeholders in both St. John’s and Halifax. That was followed by five separate sets of written submissions. Many comments we received were incorporated into the new regime. We also spent time removing some of the administrative burdens cited by stakeholders.
This entire process, like so much else, has faced the additional challenge of a global pandemic. That’s not the reason we didn’t meet our deadline, but it has certainly exacerbated the delays. For example, we were scheduled to start full-day, in-person drafting sessions the week of March 23 last year, and then the pandemic hit us. Suddenly, we were all working from home, with Justice Department drafters trying to figure out how to do this virtually. I should note that all of our technical advisors at both the federal and provincial levels are with their respective occupational health and safety departments. They have been preoccupied on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
Despite these factors, I agree this has taken too long. I assure honourable senators that we will get this done; we will get this done right. My department has a detailed implementation schedule, working in cooperation with the Department of Justice and two provincial governments. Bill S-3 will give us the breathing space to get there because safety is paramount, and any shorter time means shortcuts are taken. When it comes to the health and safety of workers, shortcuts are unacceptable.
Honourable senators, the offshore industry has made life measurably better for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
We must protect those workers. What is the best way to do that? Establish a world-class safety regime. I believe in it and I support it. Bill S-3 will really help us get to the finish line. I urge you to support it. I now welcome your questions. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Thank you, minister.
If I could ask the first question, and maybe it’s a question many of us have. We hear you loud and clear as to the delays. Obviously it’s complicated, as you so well explained. You have to get a lot of people on side. It’s consensus-making. But I must be frank. I have difficulty with the delays. I cannot believe that in today’s world, we could not have done it. I think it maybe represents a different priority that the governments have. I have difficulty buying into it. I want to be frank.
Now you are saying another two years and that we will get there, don’t worry. How do you convince us, when we have missed two deadlines? How do you make sure people get their safety and precautions and whatever measures they need? How do they get comfortable with these delays? How do you explain that?
Mr. O’Regan: Well, the regulations are very complex. As I said, they total nearly 300 pages. When it comes to the lives and safety — and we all agree on this — of the men and women who work in our offshore, you don’t take shortcuts. We owe them that to keep them safe. You have to consider 173 domestic and international standards. That amounts to over 15,000 pages right there. They are developed consistent with the joint management framework that characterizes the Atlantic offshore. Regulations must be vetted and agreed upon by Canada, by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and by the Government of Nova Scotia — three governments. That’s not something that happens with a snap of your fingers. It is incredibly complex. It takes time. But that’s precisely why Senator Wells’ bill in 2014 included a five-year period to get it done.
There has been extensive engagement of stakeholders, particularly through 2016 to 2018. In fact, there was an amendment to the transitional regulations in 2017 to address a number of administrative irritants. That fix set us back some time.
Then there is COVID. No one can ignore the impacts of this global pandemic. It forced us to change the way we do everything, from institutional processes to regulation drafting. Adapting to virtual work was challenging. It took some time.
I am confident that the work that remains can be completed within the time that this bill would provide if passed.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Wells, you had an editorial in a couple of newspapers this weekend. Strictly to the point of delays, what is your question to the minister? How do you get comfortable?
Senator Wells: I have a list of questions for the minister. Again, I reiterate what I said in my editorial. This initial legislation was from 2014. We all know and we have all spoken about the history of tragedy that underpins everything we do in the offshore. What was being done in 2015, 2016 and 2017? Why did it take a meeting that was planned for March 23, 2020 — and maybe I should ask this of your officials. What happened in the first six years?
Mr. O’Regan: Okay, then I’ll ask Mr. Hargrove or Mr. Gardiner, whichever of you is willing to take the question for the senator.
Glenn Hargrove, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Petroleum Policy and Investment Office, Natural Resources Canada: Thank you, senator. As the minister stated, the regulations are very complex. During those initial years, there was, as the minister said, extensive engagement of stakeholders on the detailed policy intent. Working, of course, with the two provinces and with the offshore boards, as the minister mentioned, during that consultation and engagement period, through that process, there were discovered a number of administrative irritants and additional opportunities to bring the regulations in line with the state of the art, which required a little bit of a pivot in 2017. We continue to move through that process.
I know this is something that folks are aware of, but the process of consultation with stakeholders, our provincial partners and the offshore boards, as well as the painstaking work by the lawyers who are doing this drafting, all these things take time. As you know, there was a one-year extension, to the end of 2020. That turned out not to be sufficient, but we are in a position now where, through this engagement work and the painstaking review of some 15,000 pages of domestic and international regulations with these standards that are incorporated by reference, we are very soon ready to share — if I could put it this way — the penultimate draft of the regulations that we can share with the provinces and move forward with the final two years of the process. With that, I’ll pause and see if Mr. Gardiner has more details to add.
Timothy Gardiner, Senior Director, Offshore Petroleum Management, Strategic Petroleum Policy and Investment Office, Natural Resources Canada: I will echo what the minister and Mr. Hargrove have said and add that we have learned from the initial five-year period and the one-year extension. Those lessons will be applied going forward in the two years we’re asking for now. Based on a detailed plan and those lessons learned, we are confident that we have a plan and the full attention of our partners to get this done.
We are at a qualitatively different stage now than we were in the previous periods. We have a full-draft regulation that we’re ready to share with our partners, so we are a little bit more in control of our destiny going forward with that clear plan and a full-draft regulation, which gives us confidence that we will be successful.
Senator Wells: Thank you, Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Hargrove, and minister as well.
I would like to hear some of the questions that my colleagues have, but I just wanted to reconfirm what Mr. Gardiner said, which is that you have a full draft ready to share with your partners. Of course, I’m aware of the extent of the consultations that have happened in the past six years, which frustrates me even more that this is not done. But I just wanted to confirm what you said, which is that you have a full draft ready to share with your partners, that being industry, the boards and the governments that were mentioned.
Mr. Gardiner: Yes, I can confirm we do have a full-draft regulation. This is not the first consultation. As the minister and Glenn have pointed out, there have been extensive consultations on policy intent in five different stages between 2016 and 2018. All of that has served as fodder for working in the drafting room, and the results of that are now ready to share with our partners. When I refer to partners, I mean our provincial co-management partners and the two regulatory boards that we work with.
There are some internal discussions of perhaps sharing the regulation more broadly, but that would be a deviation from normal practice, which involves sharing that draft regulation at the Canada Gazette Part I prepublication stage.
Senator Cordy: As others have said, my biggest frustration in looking at it was that we’ve already had one delay, and now here we are getting the bill in the Senate on December 1. It still has to go to the House of Commons. We are starting here. I don’t know when it will pass.
Being a Nova Scotian, and living on the Atlantic, you certainly have a sense of the importance of these regulations and of updating these regulations. Nobody can truly understand the danger unless you have been on a helicopter or unless you have been on the oil rig, but living on the ocean, you understand the strength of the ocean.
So if this bill passes and the regulations are set out, how can we be assured that it will be ready before two years’ time? Because it takes awhile to go through both houses of Parliament. How can we be reassured that we’re not going to be looking at yet another delay in another year or two years’ time when this expires once again?
Mr. O’Regan: Let me take this, senator, in the beginning, and then I can perhaps ask Glenn to follow up if he has anything to add.
As I said before, this is incredibly complex, and complexity does take time. I’ll let them colour in the details in our implementation plan. We have a number of steps ahead of us. We need to draft the regulation, which, as Tim indicated, we’re on the verge of doing. We need to share with the provinces and the offshore boards for review and get their comments; address their comments and make the changes needed; in internal review, a rules-bound process to ensure consistency with other regulations and consistency in both official languages; prepublishing in the Canada Gazette Part I and launch a public consultation; address, consider and make adjustments based on what the public consultation yields. Then you get to the point where you can make the final decision and final publication in Canada Gazette Part II. It’s a lot of steps; it takes time. Right now you have to do all that in a pandemic. It’s only prudent that enough time is given for everyone to get this right for our workers in the offshore.
Glenn, would you like to add anything to that for the senator?
Mr. Hargrove: That was a great high-level overview of the steps taken. Tim, I wonder if I could turn to you, maybe, to provide a bit more colour and detail to the minister’s outline of the next steps. [Technical difficulties.]
Senator Cordy: I wonder, chair, if I could follow up on that.
I know, minister, that you have certainly articulated that you have done a lot of work but that there is a lot of work to be done. So it sounds to me like we should almost get the new bill within the next 12 months, because it’s got to pass both houses, and, again, we have to look at parliamentary review from both houses. There will be regulations that the department has spent a lot of time looking at, and we would also expect that we would have a significant amount of time to review that. Would you plan on getting it within a year or not much later than that? Because we can’t get it again at the last minute, or we’ll be doing the same kind of legislation that we’re doing now.
Mr. O’Regan: Senator, I agree. I have no intention of throwing this at you at the last minute again. I have been told by my officials that two years is ample time to make sure that, even with the pandemic, we are able to get this and to be able to do it thoroughly and respectfully for both chambers.
Glenn, I don’t know if you want to add anything further to that. Tim will return, I guess, in time, once we’re able to improve urban broadband.
In the meantime, Senator Cordy, I can tell you that we have every intention — I went through this with my officials. Two years gives us ample time to make sure this is done right, properly and respectfully.
Senator Galvez: Thank you, minister, for being with us today.
I think you already feel our frustration with respect to the delays. Health and safety regulations are essential to prevent accidents by reducing risk, and risk is directly related to frequency. So I am confused, because I understand that this is a complex matter, but at the same time, in other issues again with the same industry, things seem to flow very easily.
In summer 2019, you told Noia that we have worked diligently to exclude low-risk projects, including exploratory wells, from full federal assessment where our rigorous original assessment is in place. You know the assessment came out, and the assessment said assisting and evaluating risk was beyond the timing and resources available to the committee but remains a fundamental requirement to guide future decision-making around sustainable use of offshore resources.
Licensing of exploratory wells has rocketed and has achieved record-high cumulative successful amounts of bidding, reaching $1 billion and continuing until 2024. So you got that regulatory cycle in less than one year. Yet, this story doesn’t start in 2014. This story of regulation starts in 1995, and then there is a big lapse of time to 2014. It happened in 2014 because of the accident that has been mentioned, but also because of the Deepwater Horizon. Therefore, you had to review all of that.
My question is, why this political will to speed up and make things that are much more complex? These cumulative effects of these oil rigs are very complex, but then you are able to find fast ways of cutting this issue and have more oil rigs at the same time, when we know that this industry has seven times higher probability of death of workers in oil rigs.
As well, this is a costly activity. I know; I have read the 135 pages of the regulatory intent. It’s going to be very costly. Who’s going to pay for this? Shouldn’t we be pushing industries to contribute more, given their success with the benefits in hurrying up these regulations?
My last point on this subject is that during the transitional provisions, what do we do if an accident were to happen tomorrow with all this mismatched legislation that is there — the provincial, the chip in, the federal and the insurance? How do we go about that? Thank you very much.
Mr. O’Regan: Senator, perhaps I’ll begin on the issue of exploratory wells, which we announced in May of last year. In that work on exploratory wells, we were able to cut the time it takes to make the environmental assessment of an exploratory well. We were able to cut it from 900 days to 90 days. It is what industry and, in fact, unions were asking for. It was the number one priority. Time is money. It simply was an ineffective process that was brought in in 2012, when the government decided to up the number of days from 300 and some days to 900 and some days. They categorized an exploratory well as a full project, as if it was like a Hibernia project, a full platform, which made no sense whatsoever. What the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, or IAA, was able to do for us once Bill-C69 was passed was to give us a complete regional assessment of the basin instead of myopically looking at each exploratory well and doing a full environmental assessment taking up to 900 days, while maybe six kilometres away where there was another exploratory well having to do the same thing, with consultations with the same stakeholders going as far as west as New Brunswick. It was just ridiculous, quite frankly. It was government at its worst.
By doing a full regional assessment of the entire basin, not only were we able to do this once and get it done, but we also had a much clearer view of the ecosystems in the basins and how they intermingle. In fact, our ability to environmentally assess impacts increased by decreasing the wait time. That’s the way this worked.
For the most part, it was within our purview to do that. This is a different situation. It is certainly a lot more complicated, involving not only the C-NLOPB, the CNSOPB and the public health and safety departments of both provinces and the energy departments of both provinces. Altogether, it requires a great deal of consultation. As I said, the regulatory adds up to some 300 plus.
Let me ask Glenn or Tim to fill in more detail. I’ll leave it to you.
Mr. Hargrove: Thank you, minister.
I’ll say a couple of things. As the minister has said, it is highly complex work. The health and safety of workers in the offshore is of the utmost importance, and we need to make sure that we get this right.
The other point I would underline is that there is a legislative framework in place. The legal framework under Part III of the accord act is in place. The provincial transitional regulations in this space are also in place, and the retroactive nature of the proposed extension of the regulatory framework also provides that roadmap for operators in the offshore as to the expectations and the intent of the government. That’s an important point to underline as well.
Senator Galvez: Can you tell me how much it would cost, and who should pay for the implementation of all the new regulations?
Mr. Gardiner: I can weigh in on that. Determining the cost burden that would be imposed on industry is part of the regulatory process, but we’re not quite at that stage yet. When we get into Canada Gazette Part I and Part II publication, we will need to do that work, but we’re not yet there. The burden will be on industry.
Senator McCallum: I wanted to welcome the minister to the meeting and thank him for the work that he has done.
Minister, when you made statements about preventing accidents and injuries, you said part of that would be coming from mental health because mental health contributes to accidents and injuries. You said that you had done a consensus model, that it is more time consuming and that you had gone to many stakeholders. I’m wondering if First Nations were included in this and if they were included when you say there were three separate governments. My question is if a GBA+ analysis was done, what specific consultations have been undertaken in the development of the regulations and if we can receive a copy of the analysis that you’ve done. Thank you.
Mr. O’Regan: Senator, thank you very much for the question. I’ll briefly speak to the point of mental health, and then I’ll ask Tim to give you a more detailed answer on consultations.
Mental health is obviously something that is now more in the spotlight, and we have a deep appreciation for mental health for its own sake but also how mental health can affect physical well-being in what can be a stressful situation working in the offshore.
One of the biggest improvements, I’m told by people who work out there, has been broadband access to the two platforms, Hibernia and Hebron. You’re able to talk to your children and spend time with your family instead of having to line up once every couple days for the pay phone and get a few minutes with your family via sat phone. This has made a huge amount of difference in terms of the efficiency of the rigs now that they can get Wi-Fi in places they couldn’t get it before. Primarily, the biggest benefit of having broadband access to the platforms is that the workers are less isolated from their families.
In terms of the particulars of consultation, I’ll turn now to Tim.
Senator McCallum: I forgot to mention something. The reason I brought up mental health was because of the racism that exists in a lot of the extractive sites, whether it’s oil or hydro. We hear all these examples of racism that exist among workers, and with all the workers you have, I’m wondering how that’s being addressed. That’s where I was coming from with the mental health. Thank you.
Mr. O’Regan: Understood. Thank you.
Before I allow Tim to speak on it, I will just intervene to say, as somebody who grew up in Labrador, I saw, first-hand, the effects on the Inuit of Labrador and the Nunatsiavut of what happens when economic development is imposed on them without their meaningful consultation and participation. As a result of that, my academic work was on that. My master’s dissertation was on meaningful Indigenous participation in natural resource development in Canada, speaking directly to capacity building. I was 20 years old, and I wouldn’t dust it off now because we’ve come a long way since. We still have a long way to go, but certainly I take these matters extremely seriously. This is something that was very much a part of my academic and professional life from early days.
Tim, maybe you can speak to this in more detail.
Mr. Gardiner: Thank you, minister.
I would say the Occupational Health and Safety Act introduced in 2014 was pursuant to a cabinet decision and was part of the decision-making process. Environmental effects and impacts on different groups are taken into account as a rule. I would have to go back and look at the analysis that was done. My presumption is those factors were considered.
Certainly, as we went through the consultation process, invitations were extended to First Nations and Inuit groups, and they were notified of the progress that we were making on this project.
As we go forward into the formal consultation process, Canada Gazette Part I and final publication, that’s a rules-bound process where cabinet committee needs to approve the products that we’re developing and putting out. Again, the requirement for mandatory assessments kicks in with broad consultation with affected parties, including First Nations and Inuit groups.
Senator Patterson: Welcome, to the minister and witnesses.
As I review the litany of delays that have got us to today, I have to question the priority that has been placed on finalizing these regulations in your department, especially in light of the tragedies that you described so graphically as having shaken Newfoundlanders, in particular, to the bone. With respect to that litany of delay, I would like to ask you about the legislation that is before us. The deadline for the expiration date for the transitional regulations has been set out since 2014, and the December 31, 2020, deadline, which was extended in the Budget Implementation Act, was also known for over a year; yet, Bill S-3 was tabled in the Senate of Canada on December 1, 2020. Why wasn’t the bill tabled earlier? Thank you.
Mr. O’Regan: First, I would state the obvious. We want to make sure we’ve gotten this right.
I can’t speak to the delays that took place before my tenure here in this ministry. I can speak to the fact that it was only months after I took the position that the pandemic hit, and suddenly — I think it’s 10 or 11 months ago — this pandemic was hitting and the global price war on oil was hitting this province, and it became almost existential for this province. When you consider the royalties from oil that Newfoundland and Labrador depends on, we depend on it even more than Alberta depends on their oil. When you’re in the financial situation that this province finds itself in, it became a gripping priority for my department, making sure that we got the offshore right and left it in a good place to weather the current storm it is still grappling with.
In the meantime, what we wanted to do was make sure we got these consultations right in dealing with some fairly complex things. The regulations total nearly 300 pages, and there are 173 domestic and international standards. Those alone are 15,000 pages. It was quite a bit to do.
I’ll throw it over to Glenn or Tim if they want to expand on the point.
Mr. Hargrove: Thank you, minister.
I wonder if it might be a good time for Tim to give us more detail on the process going forward. Senator, I appreciate your question about why this particular bill was introduced on December 1. I think that also links to previous questions around how can we be sure that a 24-month extension is sufficient. The minister had answered that at a broad level, but I wonder if we could also use this opportunity for Tim to walk us through the next steps through the regulatory process to perhaps give some comfort that we won’t be in a similar situation in a couple of years’ time. Minister and senator, would that be helpful?
Senator Patterson: With respect, my question was not about going forward. My question was about what I’m calling the litany of delay, and I cited the late tabling of the legislation as just one example.
Let me perhaps ask again: There have been five years to do this work, with another year extension. The minister has described health and safety as a gripping priority and talked about how the accidents that we all know about have seared the soul of his home province. It seems, from the work that was failed to have been completed by well-known deadlines, that I have to question what priority has been put on health and safety by the department. Minister, I appreciate you are the new head of that department, but you are now here before us accounting for the department, including its past actions. Were there other priorities that the department was involved with that were more important than health and safety and that have got us to where we are today? Thank you.
Mr. O’Regan: I’ll speak to it first, senator, and then I’ll have my officials speak to it.
First of all, the notion that expediency is necessarily indicative of priority is not necessarily true. I know, in dealing with my officials now, there was very much a determination that there were no shortcuts here. When it comes to the health and safety of our workers on the offshore, we take no shortcuts when it comes to keeping them safe. Sometimes taking more time means we’re absolutely committed to doing it right.
I’ll pass it over. I think it was Glenn who was speaking.
Mr. Hargrove: Thank you, minister, and thank you, senator. I’ll make a couple of points and then turn to Tim to fill in a few more details.
First, I would say no, there are not higher priorities than health and safety. We have certainly placed a high priority on moving this forward as efficiently as we possibly can, while, as the minister said, making sure we’re getting this right. That is definitely our key priority, getting this right.
I think I would also say, just by way of further explanation, the one-year extension was implemented through the second Budget Implementation Act in 2018. At that time, it was not possible for anyone to foresee the COVID pandemic and the impact that it would have. It really impacted all facets of society, including government work. As I think was mentioned in the minister’s opening remarks, we work with a lot of different partners within the federal family, many of whom, like all of us, were particularly focused on the initial impact of COVID-19 at the time when we were working toward the home stretch on some of this work. So that has certainly impacted things.
The other thing I would underline is that although we’re asking for this extension for the regulations that provide the roadmap for how operators in the offshore would implement these health and safety standards, there is a legislative legal framework in place that continues and provides that framework for health and safety in the offshore.
Senator Miville-Dechêne: I have two short questions.
First, I think part of the reason we are frustrated also has to do with the general explanations we are getting. Telling us that the process is complicated and involves 300 pages of regulations doesn’t give the public following these proceedings any clarity on what exactly the holdup is, in concrete terms. I am looking for some transparency here, so would you be able to give us a simple explanation of one regulation, one problem that has taken an especially long time to address in these five years—a problem that would explain the delay.
Second, piggybacking on Senator Galvez’s comments, I want to point out that the industry has already received $320 million, if I’m not mistaken, to put health and safety measures in place. As far as the upcoming bill goes, will the industry be footing the rest of the bill, or has other funding been allocated?
The Chair: Minister, I would ask you to directly answer the question, if you don’t mind, so we could shorten the time requirement.
Mr. O’Regan: I’ll have Tim speak to an example that can perhaps illustrate for the senator how we have experienced these delays. I would simply add, on the issue of the $320 million plus the $75 million that the federal government has provided the offshore industry during the pandemic, this money is being utilized for emissions reduction and for opportunities for workers to do the remedial work we need to do in order to lower emissions. Those are the guardrails we gave the province in terms of how they are able to spend the money.
Tim, I’ll pass it to you to provide an example for the senator.
Mr. Gardiner: Thank you, minister.
I can cite two examples. One is we amended the transitional regulations in 2017. While we were developing new permanent regulations, we were also fine-tuning the existing transitional regulations that were put in place in 2014. The reason is they were largely imported from oil and gas regulations under the Canada Labour Code. The fit under the accord acts was not perfect. In particular, they made reference to standards and specific requirements that didn’t align with international practice. When we had rigs coming in from other jurisdictions, there was often a need for what’s called a regulatory query, a deviation from the explicitly stated regulatory requirements to allow for that vessel to come in because it conformed with international standards but not exactly with our regulation. That was an administratively burdensome process, so we amended the regulations at the same time that we were trying to develop tailor-made permanent regulations under the accord acts, and that took quite a bit of time.
A second example would be the incorporation by reference of north of 100 standards. There’s a new policy, a sensible policy that the Department of Justice has implemented, that in incorporating by reference a standard, you have to be very explicit about which part of the regulation is applied and whether it is a “shall” follow or a “should.” This required an in-depth review of all of these standards that was not initially foreseen, in English and in French, in the acquisition of those standards. As with everything under our joint management framework, it’s a lot of work on us, but it’s a lot of work that we impose on our partners because they’re with us every step of the way. So those are two examples.
Senator Simons: I wanted to follow up on Senator Miville-Dechêne’s question and Mr. Gardiner’s answer. It seems to me that you will never get to the end because you will constantly be updating as technology and legislation change. I just wonder at what point you are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Does it make more sense to just pass this, knowing it will never be fine-tuned to perfection, and then you can amend it as you go along? Because if you’re constantly waiting until it’s exactly perfect, you will never get there. It will always be Zeno’s Paradoxes.
Mr. O’Regan: The senator raises a very good point. I’m assured by my officials that we are in a position where we will soon be able to codify the regulations that are required and being asked for by workers and stakeholders.
I don’t know if Tim would like to add anything to that.
The Chair: If I can, I’m going to interrupt. We don’t have enough time to get to a detailed answer. I would ask Senator McCallum, Senator Galvez and Senator Wells to quickly give us their questions. Minister, if you don’t mind making a note of the three questions, you can provide one short answer, because we only have three minutes left.
Mr. O’Regan: Will do.
Senator Galvez: Just to say, this is not a new business. After the Deepwater Horizon accident, there were a lot of regulations. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There is some climate risk that is increasing in that territory. I hope that will be addressed in the new regulations.
Senator Wells: I’ll be very fast on this. In the Atlantic Accord, minister, you’ll know that the offshore petroleum boards are responsible for resource management, the environment, industrial benefits and safety. There’s no priority given within the legislation, but at the board, and when I was deputy CEO of the board up to 2013, we always prioritized safety. So if industry is prioritizing safety, if the boards are prioritizing safety and all the workers are prioritizing safety, why isn’t the department prioritizing safety?
Senator McCallum: I wanted to look at the climate impacts to offshore oil infrastructure. When we look at the climate impacts of temperature, weather, sea level rise, ocean acidification, storm surges and waves, will the forthcoming regulations account for risks associated with climate change?
Mr. O’Regan: First, just to speak to Senator Wells’ point, I hear him loud and clear on the C-NLOPB’s priority and the CNSOPB’s priority. Certainly with workers, we share the same priority. That is why we want to take the time to get it right. Those are exactly the bodies that we will be working with, and we share that priority. I agree with you. I’m frustrated that it has taken this long, but I’m assured that this is it. We will get it done and get it done properly.
To Senator Galvez, I would just say that in my time of writing speeches back when Hibernia was first launched, I was working for Premier Brian Tobin, and we started referring to Hibernia’s oil as a “sweet light crude.” We realize now that those are more than just words. Newfoundland’s offshore oil is some of the lowest emitting per barrel in the world. It will become and it is a very, very competitive product. Oil will be with us for some time. Markets will be looking for low-emitting barrels of oil. This is a significant competitive advantage that Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore brings to bear to the market.
And on the third, on climate impacts, that is affecting absolutely everything that we do as a government. Determining what those impacts will be, as you mentioned, with rising oceans and the complexities that come with that, will be something that will absolutely be taken into account.
The Chair: Thank you, Minister O’Regan. Thank you also to Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Hargrove for your participation this morning. I think you have helped understand how complicated it is. Until next time, thank you very much.
We welcome now, from Unifor, Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to the National President; and Dave Mercer, president of Unifor Local 2121; and from Cougar Helicopters, Willis Jacobs, Safety and Quality Manager. Welcome. Thank you for accepting our invitations. You have five minutes each for your remarks, and we will have questions for you afterward. You have the floor.
Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to the National President, Unifor: Thank you. My name is Scott Doherty, and I’m the Executive Assistant to the National President of Unifor. I am joined by Dave Mercer, President of Unifor Local 2121. On behalf of Unifor’s 22,000 members in the energy sector, I thank the committee for the opportunity to provide testimony today.
Our members in the offshore industry know first-hand the importance of this sector to the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador. They also know the importance of regulations to keep them safe and allow them to get home to their families every day. We have witnessed for years what happens when employers are not forced by regulations to ensure workers’ health and safety be more important than profits. Our members work in a unique environment with significant safety challenges. Many workers had to lose their lives for the health and safety regulations to get to where they are today. Dave is an offshore worker who can provide many examples of the safety concerns that our members continue to deal with every day.
Unifor welcomed the introduction of the Offshore Health and Safety Act in 2014. It was a much-needed step to clarify a maze of regulations, to fill gaps between federal and provincial jurisdictions and to provide offshore workers with protections that are just as strong as they are for onshore workers. The fact that this process is still up in the air after six years and you are proposing an additional two years to get this done is an epic failure by all levels of government. For the federal government to allow the transitional regulations to lapse is, as Senator Wells says, a dereliction of duty. It is completely unacceptable for our offshore workers.
To highlight how ridiculous this failure is, six years after these temporary measures were implemented, we still do not even have an established offshore safety council for stakeholders — a basic health and safety principle that stakeholders all agree on. And now, this is delayed for another two years. Unbelievable.
We all know the tragedies this industry has suffered that led to the temporary measures in the first place. Given the worsening economic conditions the industry faces from falling oil prices and COVID, now more than ever, we find our members having to push back on employers and the industry as they continue to cut costs and corners in an attempt to remain profitable and operating. The fact that anyone could make workers face these uncertain times without regulations and protections is beyond me and borders on criminal. It’s shameful.
That’s why we’re here today to urge the government to pass Bill S-3 as soon as possible. You need to ensure that workers are once again protected by the temporary provisions of the Offshore Health and Safety Act.
We also urge you not to wait two years to finally implement permanent regulations and protection for workers. Workers are tired of excuses and political bickering. Our members’ safety and their lives are at stake, and you know it.
Thank you. I will now give my time over to Dave Mercer.
Dave Mercer, President of Unifor Local 2121, Unifor: Thank you, Scott.
I have no big speeches or a lot of technical or complicated things to tell you. All I can tell you is that the occupational health and safety committees have an important role in the offshore. We live and work in one of the harshest environments in the world. We travel to work in a helicopter, sometimes taking two hours to get there. If we cannot land because of fog, we have to return and travel back to the heliport again, two hours. Then we take a supply ship to the facility, and that could take 16 to 24 hours to get to work. When we get there, we get picked up by a supply ship, which is on a crane. The crane takes you up from the boat, and then we get placed on the vessel to start our work for 21 days and possibly more, depending on whether we can get home or not.
Occupational health and safety committees play a vital role in the offshore, not only for the drilling and production vessels but the helicopters and supply ships and everybody who travels offshore to go to work. We have worked many years as committee members to make our lives as safe as can be. We need Ottawa to do the same. Help make this happen for us.
We have fought for the proper mental health protection for the workers in the offshore for many years. It still needs lots of improvements. When living away from home and family and friends, missing weddings, birthdays, funerals, graduations, many have trouble dealing with some issues. It’s only one reason it’s so important for many working offshore. We are in an environment where, when you talk about communications, the best way to communicate is from Hibernia and Hebron, but the other rigs, themselves, they don’t have communications. They don’t have the availability of quick and fast internet services. If there is an issue at home, you can’t connect to your family. You can’t get ahold of them on the phone, whether somebody is in hospital or somebody is dying at home or they are gathered at a funeral home. There are lots of issues with communications. That is a problem with offshore work, and that leads to mental health issues. Mental health is a very important issue for our workers offshore.
I wish I could take you all and put you in survival suits and bring you to the Cougar Helicopters facility and let you watch the video on how to survive a ditching or what happens if you don’t survive a ditching. Then if we end up landing on the Hibernia, Terra Nova, SeaRose or Hebron or any of the other facilities that are out there, then you can take off your suit. If not, then you go back, you get on a supply ship, you sail out and you navigate around icebergs.
It’s a failure to have to tell you this today and sit here and listen to how complicated it is to try to do this occupational health and safety and make this a reality for the workers that are in the offshore oil industry. I have heard once already that time is money, but lives are worth that time. We need to do something. We need to do it fast. We can’t wait any longer. Extending this any more than it is right now is a failure. We owe it to the workers in the offshore oil industry, as well as everybody else, to do the best we can and do it now.
Willis Jacobs, Safety and Quality Manager, Cougar Helicopters Inc.: Good morning. As mentioned earlier, my name is Willis Jacobs, and I am the safety and quality manager at Cougar Helicopters in St. John’s. I’ve been with Cougar for about six years and, before that, a short time in industry following a career with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Although currently positioned as the safety and quality manager, my background is not regulatory safety or occupational health and safety, but rather aerospace engineering.
When you consider where we work and the harsh environment that we regularly operate in, safety and offshore helicopter passenger transportation and search and rescue starts with sound engineering, along with well-executed, proven procedures that are backstopped by up-to-date regulatory policies and guidelines. In our case, that means the intersection of areas between Transport Canada and Natural Resources.
As you know, and it has been mentioned, our work environment is very unforgiving, with minimal margin for error and little tolerance for relaxed standards. I don’t have to look further back than last night when we were getting forecasts for waves in the Hebron area ranging from 12.5 to 24 metres.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this session. We believe that putting a spotlight on safety is the best way to continuously improve our safety standards. To do that, you have to engage in conversation, and sometimes you have to be critical. I can attest that we have had regular and constructive engagement with Transport Canada and Natural Resources over the past few years to ensure that we are entirely aligned to have fully coordinated regulations in place.
Regulations are by no means the sexy part of our business, but they are vitally important as the foundation from which we build everything else — our process, our procedures and the standards that we put out there so that our travelling passengers have a high level of confidence in their helicopter commute to and from the offshore.
Now, no doubt the past year has been a tough one down here for us in the oil and gas business. For Cougar, as an example, 2020 was forecasted to be our best year ever until we were hit hard through the combination of COVID-19 and restrictions related to an unstable worldwide oil and gas market. At Cougar today, our workforce is 40% smaller than just 10 months ago, and we have 50% fewer helicopters operating.
Having said that, when really difficult discussions were required with our customer group about how we would manage this downturn, there was 100% agreement that, while downsizing and cutbacks were inevitable, there was no interest in reducing or compromising the high safety standards we have built.
It might be surprising to hear that last year, in 2020, even during COVID-imposed restrictions, Cougar Helicopters here in St. John’s completed 31,000 passenger movements in support of the offshore in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, with about 85% of those from our St. John’s base. Now, that number was down 30% from 2019 when we had about 45,000 passenger movements. Our passenger movement numbers in support of the offshore in 2020 probably rivalled the throughput of the St. John’s International Airport.
To ensure continued and sharp awareness of the importance of safety in our business, we start each year at Cougar with the rollout of our annual safety plan, which provides a retrospective analysis of what we did and how we did last year, and it charts a detailed plan for the new year. COVID-19 protocols are important, and they are integrated, but they are not the primary focus of our safety plan.
Now, each year we select a safety plan theme to help motivate our in-year priorities. For Cougar’s Safety Plan 2021, and in memory of Commissioner Wells, who has been mentioned and who passed away in October 2020 and his many and significant contributions to offshore helicopter safety, we selected the theme: Are We Looking in the Right Direction? The theme is intended to be reflective of the gravity of change in our business over the past 12 months and in our industry in general. It includes aviation safety, personnel safety, occupational health and safety, and it is inclusive of mental health, which is something we have to pay close attention to. As COVID-19 persists, there are certainly a lot of things pulling at and competing for our attention. We have to stay on point, we have to stay focused and we have to make sure that we are all looking in the right direction.
In closing, I do not speak for the oil companies or the many other service providers in our area, and I certainly do not speak for the various regulators, both federal and provincial, but I do see a strong and healthy community approach to offshore safety. As practitioners, it’s engrained in our behaviour and attitudes and is representative of our respect for this very unforgiving North Atlantic. Down here, we are very much the unwilling students and perhaps even beneficiaries of lessons delivered by our maritime history and offshore oil and gas tragedies both in our region and other parts of the world.
The Offshore Health and Safety Act is an important foundational component in how we conduct our business. Although Commissioner Wells is no longer with us, his fingerprints, and, I dare to say, his DNA, are all over this act, and our industry is better for it. In fact, many of the elevated standards that are implemented on the East Coast of Canada resulting from his offshore helicopter safety inquiry are shared as best practices in other jurisdictions around the world. The Offshore Health and Safety Act is essential in helping us define and implement our safety standards and, more importantly, our safety culture. It must be relevant, it must be current and it must be published.
We sincerely appreciate all the efforts to date and ask that you not take your foot off the accelerator until this important piece of work is completed. Thank you.
Senator D. Black: Thank you very much, panel. Thank you for being with us today and for the contributions that you are making.
Having had the privilege of living in Newfoundland for 17 years and doing a lot of work for the energy industry, I have experienced, unfortunately, on too many occasions, when travelling between the mainland and the rigs, the fear and the concern that you have shared today. I just want to signal to you that I heard this morning from government absolutely no sense of urgency on this matter, and I feel you have been let down. I just want to assure you that insofar as I can — I’m only one voice — I will be working with my colleagues to ensure that government understands that you have been let down. This is not walking across the street to work at Walmart. This is highly dangerous work, as we all know.
I just want to thank you for what you’re doing and to express my solidarity with your efforts. I’m sure the committee, judging from the questions I heard intermittently on the earlier panel, likely agrees, and we will endeavour to push this point. It’s not a question of putting the foot on the accelerator; it’s getting the car out of reverse, it seems to me. I am certainly with you. Thank you for what you’re doing, and this is a shameful circumstance that we’re confronting today.
It was an observation, and if anyone wants to react, you can, of course, but I just wanted to, frankly, get that off my chest.
Senator Galvez: Thank you very much for being with us this morning. As you are aware, we are after the real reasons for the dreadful slow pace at which the government is walking. Thank you for mentioning that companies want to cut the corners, increase profits, and health and safety and security are very expensive. For my first question, I want to have a sense of how behind we are, because if we are very much behind, that means there is a need for a big investment by the corporations.
As you might have heard, I asked where they were calculating the cost for this, and they said they were not at this step yet. I think that we’re going to pass this, because we don’t have choice, but we can put observations to our vote and in our report. I ask you for inspiration. According to you, what are the steps that need to be done in the next month? As Senator Cordy said, the cycle is very short. What are the next steps that we should be putting in writing and saying, “You should do this, this and this,” and pass the whole legislation because this is too important to let it just continue like this at this pace? Thank you.
The Chair: To whom are you addressing your question?
Senator Galvez: The first two witnesses, Mr. Scott and Mr. Doherty.
Mr. Doherty: Thank you.
I’ll start by thanking Senator Black for his comments. I appreciate them greatly.
Dave will know more details around what it is that needs to be done, but there are a number of safety-sensitive maintenance needs on all of the vessels that need to be addressed quickly. I think most people would know that the Terra Nova is in dock right now and was scheduled to go to Spain but has been postponed, obviously.
The industry as a whole has done a fairly good job when it comes to health and safety and spending the money that is needed on safety-sensitive issues and with the regulations that were in place under the act, but there are a number of safety-sensitive maintenance needs on all of the vessels. I would say that there needs to be a mechanism to ensure that the regulators are making sure that the companies are doing that work. As was mentioned in the earlier panel, there are a number of financial burdens that the industry has faced, not just because of COVID but also because of where oil prices are in the world right now.
I don’t know if Dave has specifics he wants to mention or not.
Mr. Mercer: I can certainly touch on some of them.
Part of the occupational health and safety issue is the appeal process, the right to refuse, the efficiency and transportation rules, all of which are very important and certainly need to have a light shined on them and move them forward.
One of the particular things that we try to impress on the workers in the offshore — not just only on Hibernia and Terra Nova — is their right to refuse any unsafe work that they see. We have so many issues that have happened over the years, and before educating our workers that they do have a right to refuse, there could have possibly been more accidents while working on the drill rigs and the production rigs and the offshore of Newfoundland. Even at Cougar Helicopters, there has been the right to refuse. I will say to Mr. Jacobs, well said on what you said. We know that Cougar Helicopters is doing all the things that they can possibly do, so I’m not trying to point my finger at Cougar. They are doing a good job in upholding the safety standards of people working. What I am saying is that there are times that the right to refuse is very important. We have had people who didn’t use their right to refuse because they didn’t understand it or weren’t educated on it, and they did get injured. So then there is an appeal process that happens, and people can follow the appeal process. It’s very important.
Terra Nova right now have gone through a shutdown. Their production licence has been taken away on occasion because of work that hasn’t been committed and done, and hours of work, lots of hours of work. The regulator went in and had a look, and went through the insurance company as well, and said, “You have to stop. There are too many safety-critical items that are not being looked at, and they need to be done.” So they pulled their production licence, and they should have. What we have here is a facility now that is in our Bull Arm site here in Newfoundland that has been shut down. Hundreds of people are out of work, not only on the Terra Nova itself but on shore, because of the regulations and the safety maintenance program that was put in place that wasn’t followed by Suncor. The C-NLOPB had done a good job in ensuring that they followed up and said, “These are not the things that you should have been doing, so we will take your licence.”
Unfortunately, before they did that, there was an accident. Some guy fell down through a confined-space entry area and was really hurt. At the time, he didn’t use his right to refuse because he thought he was safe. But do you know what? You can never be too safe in the offshore oil industry. One mistake could lead to not only your injury but to a lot of lives as well.
This bill that we’re trying to pass here now, which should be passed, should definitely be done and not have to look back anymore. As the senator said earlier, we can add to this bill, but we need to pass it now. We need to ensure that we don’t spend more time on figuring out if safety is of the utmost importance because it is. We need to put this bill forward. We can amend it and put stuff to it as we go along. If there is a task force that we can assemble, let’s put a task force in place. We have task forces on many things, but we haven’t done it on this, and it should be done.
I’ll let somebody else have a word, and I’ll pass.
Senator Wells: I want to thank you, Mr. Doherty, Mr. Mercer and Mr. Jacobs, for not just your presentations today but the work that you have done, with safety at top of mind, in your careers in the offshore.
I have two questions. One is to Mr. Mercer. Could you expound a little bit on the mental health aspect that you mentioned? You may know that I have done the basic survival training, which in any flights offshore requires the tipping upside down, strapped into a helicopter and having to extricate, going out in the Atlantic, jumping off the side of a ship into the icy water. I have seen people paralyzed with fear during that training. Can you talk about the additional stresses that being offshore in those conditions would have? Then I have a question for Mr. Doherty.
Mr. Mercer: I certainly can. In the BST program — I’ve been in the oil industry now, in the offshore, for 25 years — I have seen the fear on people’s faces. I have helped people get through the BST program, watching them shake, being strapped into a helicopter, being turned upside down in the water and trying to escape from that without injury or swallowing a lot of water, which is a big issue.
If you get through that program and you’re good to go and you go offshore, you have the daily regime of trying to balance work scope and balance home issues, with not very good connections. Mental health is very important to the offshore workers. Moving forward, we need to ensure that it’s one of the biggest aspects we can deal with.
Senator Wells: Thank you for that, Mr. Mercer.
Mr. Doherty, I believe you were on the call when the minister and his senior officials were here. I think Mr. Gardiner said they have a full draft ready to go and that they were going to meet on March 23, 2020, which would have given them a full nine months, to December 31, 2020, to get these regulations done and to move off the transitional regs. Knowing that the gazetting process is 30 days — that was in the legislation that I introduced in the Senate in 2014 — when you hear that those things are ready to go and that one of the bureaucrats said sharing more broadly is outside the normal process, how frustrated are you that now they are proposing that the initial five years is proposed to be eight years?
Mr. Doherty: Obviously, I’m very frustrated. I appreciate the fact that there are a lot of regulations, there is a lot of paperwork and it’s a complex issue, but health and safety regulations have been in place in various industries for years. For this to take eight years is absolutely ridiculous and shameful, as I said earlier. It’s very frustrating to me. That’s why we believe there is no reason not to move forward more quickly than the end of 2022, to be completely honest. There is absolutely no reason. All the stakeholders know that.
We don’t even have a safety council for stakeholders to meet and discuss the issues. They all agree that they need to do that. It will take eight years for us to get together and have a safety council in this industry to be able to bring all the stakeholders together. That, to me, is just ridiculous. It shows there’s not importance placed on safety that there needs to be.
Frankly, there needs to be more effort made to move it along as quickly as possible. Obviously, we want to get it right; however, as others have said, we can get it in place and amend as needed. The framework has been in place for many years. Good work has been done during that period of time by all the stakeholders, unions, employers and the government to make offshore safer than it was in 2014. It’s not that the work hasn’t been done. There’s no reason not to put the legislation in place and start moving forward.
Senator McCallum: When I look at the gaps that would be created by intersections between Transport Canada, Natural Resources Canada and industry, when Bill S-3 is passed, how will it ensure that your concerns will be addressed? Does working under these temporary measures increase the danger for the workers? Are there areas of regulations that haven’t been addressed for your group?This is for any of the witnesses who want to answer.
Mr. Doherty: I don’t think there’s anything under the temporary orders that hasn’t been addressed. Obviously, as I’ve indicated, there are things that need to be put in place that are permanent and that we know exactly what the regulations are. I didn’t fully understand the question around Transport Canada and the bill.
Mr. Jacobs: I can probably answer that. Yes, I did bring that up in my comments. Typically, for the helicopter industry, for the aviation industry, in the past, we have looked very much towards Transport Canada to be our regulator. Even as we go forward — and Natural Resources Canada has taken on more and more responsibility for offshore health and safety — we find ourselves still having to work in both camps.
As was eloquently stated by Senator Galvez, risk in our business is related to probability. When we’re dealing with offshore helicopter transportation and SAR, we can’t sit back and wait for the bureaucratic process to unfold.
When it’s all said and done, not a lot will change for Cougar Helicopters. However, we will now have a tombstone or main stone document that we can refer to for all our legislation that allows us now to cascade down to various internal policies and procedures that we would want to use for our business.
We’re in a unique position in that Cougar Helicopters, as a company, has responsibility for our own employees, but we also have responsibility for those tens of thousands of people that we take to and from work every year. That’s something that forces us to look at all sides of occupational health and safety.
Senator Cordy: Thanks very much for being here. It’s really important that we hear from industry officials and from labour.
I’m wondering how involved Unifor and Cougar Helicopters have been in reviewing regulations that are currently in place and in developing a replacement for Bill S-3. Are both groups part of the advisory council?
Mr. Jacobs: Cougar has been involved. They recognize us as the subject matter experts for aviation on the East Coast. I do have to say that when we weren’t getting the attention that we thought we needed to make sure everything in our area was being dealt with, we formed our own committee, where we meet twice a year. Instead of waiting for Transport Canada and Natural Resources, we started a committee and named it Compliance for All. Our own initiative brought together Transport and Natural Resources representatives. During those sessions, twice a year, we were able to get so much completed. Kim Phillips, with Natural Resources Canada, would take all of that back to the working committee that was working on the act.
Senator Cordy: Thank you. Before I go on to Unifor, Mr. Jacobs, I did see on your website that you work with others promoting aviation safety worldwide. Do you have international connections? I wonder if you can talk about that.
Mr. Jacobs: We do. We are a founding member and a huge participant in a group called HeliOffshore. It’s a not-for-profit organization. We get together and look at safety in the offshore business. I’m part of the safety steering committee. Our COO is a member of the board of directors. We have representatives on every technical committee that they will allow us to participate in.
As I said in my opening comments, we believe the best way to incrementally improve the program that we have here is to go out and find out what else is going on in the world and bring it back to Newfoundland and Labrador. We’ve also found that a lot of folks around the world are interested in what we do right here in our sector.
Senator Cordy: Mr. Doherty or Mr. Mercer?
Mr. Doherty: We were involved in the regulations. We have obviously been active at the various locations: Terra Nova, Suncor and others. We are not on the advisory committee, but we were involved.
Senator Cordy: I wanted to let you know that if you had been listening to our earlier panel, you would have seen the frustration that each of us declared to the minister. Your comment that it’s a dereliction of duty not to have a new bill certainly rings true, at least to me. Thank you very much.
Senator Simons: I have two questions that are more specific to the safety concerns of the moment.
The first is to Mr. Doherty and Mr. Mercer. Thankfully, Newfoundland has not been hard hit by COVID-19, but if there were to be a COVID outbreak on an offshore rig, I imagine that could be a dire thing. I wanted to ask the two of you what precautions are in place to protect the health and safety of workers from COVID-19 and the pandemic.
To Mr. Jacobs: I know that COVID has meant that NAV CANADA has laid off significant numbers of staff at air traffic control towers in places like Halifax and Gander. I didn’t know to what extent Cougar Helicopters were under the ambit of NAV CANADA air traffic control, but I wanted to know if there were safety concerns related to NAV CANADA staffing cuts that affect the safety of helicopter flights in the offshore.
Mr. Jacobs: I’ll start with the first one. Well in advance of COVID-19 becoming a recognized pandemic — I think it was January 28 of last year — we put out our first advisory about this virus we were hearing about somewhere, just to alert our people and get our customers on board that we may have to move into action. We started screening our passengers on March 6 last year, well in advance of what the commercial airlines were doing.
If you’re going offshore with Cougar — and Dave will be familiar with this — you don’t go offshore unless you go through a COVID-19 screening station. That’s followed by a series of procedures as you go through security and into the lounge while waiting for your flight. A mask is required on board the flight. We’ve reduced the number of passengers per flight. We also have our own procedures that we wrote early in the game, whereby if there are any cases of COVID offshore, we would be prepared to transport those folks back.
We haven’t had any confirmed cases, but just Sunday past, we brought in two folks who needed to come back for testing. We have a protective barrier we put between the cabin and the cockpit. We have protocols and checklists that allow a couple of passengers to fly at the same time. When we get back, the aircraft goes through a decontamination and cleaning procedure. So we’ve been well prepared, and there has been full cooperation with all of our customers about how we would handle this.
The second question was related to flying itself. There have been significant cutbacks at NAV CANADA, including right here in St. John’s. However, we’re the only helicopter company where we run our own dispatch. We have a Type B dispatch with co-authority between our folks and our pilots. Really we only need NAV CANADA and any of the ATC services that can be in St. John’s or Gander to get us on our way. We have had no safety implications related to their cutbacks.
Senator Simons: I wonder if Mr. Doherty or Mr. Mercer might want to answer the question about COVID on platforms.
Mr. Doherty: I’ll let Dave answer.
Mr. Mercer: I can help you out with that.
Each individual platform, whether it’s a floating production platform or a gravity-based structure, has its COVID-19 protocols in place. They’re pretty much the same, and they also follow provincial guidelines as well.
For example, if somebody got through Cougar — how they would, I wouldn’t know because they have stringent measures at Cougar to ensure COVID doesn’t get offshore, but if they were to — they have protocols in place at the offshore facilities. If it’s identified that a person has or persons have COVID, they will be directed to self-isolate in their room. There are particular measures that the medic on board each facility would have to follow up and take, and that includes meals, monitoring and updating the province and the oil company themselves on the status of the individual. Then they would go through Cougar and do the protocols about removing that individual.
Once that individual is removed, everybody on that facility obviously will be worried if they have COVID. That brings us back to the mental health part and the stress on the lives of people offshore. There would definitely be quarantines. I don’t know if they would have to take some individuals who show signs into town and put them in a hotel room. It’s a complicated situation. It’s something they worked on and have in place, but there are things to do.
When we’re in the offshore industry, it gives you another example of how important occupational health and safety measures are in the offshore industry. They’re not that easy, either.
The Chair: Quite interesting. Thank you.
Senator Patterson: This question is directed to Mr. Doherty and perhaps Mr. Jacobs, if he wishes to answer as well.
The 2014 amendments in the Offshore Health and Safety Act created an advisory council in each of the Atlantic offshore jurisdictions to advise federal and provincial ministers and the offshore regulatory bodies on workplace health and safety. Now, I am sure that this advisory council would have had representatives from labour and industry, but I understand you to have said that there is still no offshore safety council seven years after the passage of the bill. Have you advocated for the establishment of the advisory council, and if so, what was the response? Why has this not happened?
Mr. Doherty: We have advocated for the safety council. There’s a recommendation that there be a safety council. That does not exist today, and we have asked for it. The answer we got was that it needs to be formally put in place when the regulations are adapted as permanent. So at this point, there is no formal safety council that we meet with on a regular basis.
I would say there’s an ad hoc responsibility. We have relationships with all of the stakeholders, including the employers, so there are some meetings that take place, but there is no safety council for us to meet with, which many other industries have. Obviously, this industry should have one.
Mr. Jacobs: Just to add to that, there does exist a helicopter offshore safety committee. This came out of the offshore helicopter safety inquiry and one of Commissioner Wells’ recommendations. That goes on today, but it is helicopter-specific. I participate, along with one of our pilots. We have worker representation from the occupational health and safety committees from each of the installations. It’s only a committee. We meet every six weeks, and it continues, but it is not a council that would give it the teeth or the level of representation that we speak of.
The Chair: Thank you. That brings us to the end. Before I close, I will remind Senators Carignan, Black and Cordy to stick around for two or three minutes. If they can, I’d appreciate it.
Let me formally thank Mr. Doherty, Mr. Mercer and Mr. Jacobs. The sharing of your experiences and knowledge, I’m convinced, has helped us quite a bit to understand what the issues are and how important the issues are. Thank you very much to all three of you. It’s much appreciated.
Thank you, again, to my colleagues for participating. This is an important bill. It’s important we do it right and motivate people to get it done. We did good work this morning. We’re not finished yet, but thank you very much to all of you for being here and doing our part to get this done.