Bill C-15 (Historical)
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Christian Paradis Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
November 3rd, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
President and Representative, Laurentides-Lanaudière, Association québécoise des avocats et avocates de la défense
I'll give you an example. I don't have the text of the bill to hand, and I don't know it off by heart, but let's suppose that an 18-year-old youth gives someone an ecstasy pill at a rave one Saturday evening. Here I'm referring to the previous Bill C-15, which I believe has been included in full. You can agree or disagree with that. I'm not talking here about a youth who has previously committed crimes or who belongs to a street gang, but rather an ordinary youth. But giving is trafficking. I believe that, under the bill, ecstasy is now in another schedule. What is the minimum sentence imposed for that act? At the time, I believe it was two years for trafficking in a pill. Does that act deserve that sentence? No.
The point here isn't about being in favour of drug trafficking: I'm talking about the actual situation we're experiencing. Let the courts in which these individuals are prosecuted act; let them do so on a case-by-case basis. They usually impose the appropriate sentence. It also has to be said that there are already prison overpopulation problems and that all this will lead to judicial injustices. That's obvious. There will be no room to manoeuvre. A judge will have to impose the relevant minimum sentences, and that will lead to legal aberrations; that's obvious.
For acts that deserve a heavier sentence, a judge may impose a harsher penalty: his discretionary authority enables him to do so, just as a crown prosecutor may suggest a much stiffer sentence in a robbery case if it involves a multiple reoffender and not an individual who has committed his first offence and did so under influence. The minister of justice of New Brunswick mentioned tools, and I believe we definitely must have the necessary tools. However, Bill C-10 takes them all away from us, and that will result in clear and obvious injustices. If heavier sentences are required, it is a judge's duty to impose them.
November 3rd, 2011 / 9:55 a.m.
Joëlle Roy President and Representative, Laurentides-Lanaudière, Association québécoise des avocats et avocates de la défense
Good morning, everyone. Thank you very much for the invitation.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Joëlle Roy, president of the Association québécoise des avocats et avocates de la défense, which comprises slightly more than 800 members. Our members are criminal defence lawyers. I have been practising criminal defence law for slightly more than 18 years and therefore appear in court every day. I'm on the ground, I plead, I see things, and I hear things as well.
I know that it's not up to me to ask questions here, but I do have one. And I think it's a fundamental one. Bill C-10 constitutes a major turnaround. It is a combination of a number of bills. Some of those bills were not passed, such as the former Bill C-15, which concerned drug trafficking and possession, and which is coming back into fashion.
Why introduce this bill? We have a judicial system that works. I know that. I practise it and I live it. Why are we introducing minimum sentences? Why are we increasing the minimum sentences that have already been introduced? What is motivating the government to introduce such a draconian bill?
The AQAAD is requesting that Bill C-10 be completely withdrawn because it is irrelevant. It is not supported by statistics or figures. It is utterly pointless. It will have devastating effects on the Canadian public. What I'm hearing this morning is a false debate. The bill is said to be about safety. Look, Canada is an absolutely safe country. If people don't feel safe in Canada, they may have a problem. Of course, the security of communities is indeed a concept that sells well. Our country is very safe.
The victim issue is also a somewhat pernicious argument, but it does sell well.
The minister of justice of New Brunswick talked about sex offenders. They're out there, and they always will be. Do we need such a major reform? We'll never eliminate sexual predation. The point is not to be in favour of or opposed to sexual predation. She says we need tools to assist crown prosecutors. I'm a bit surprised and even stunned to hear that because she forgets that the tool is the Canadian judicial system.
We're there every day. Sentences are rendered. Every situation has to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, section 718 of the Criminal Code provides for that. What this bill does—and this is what has been going on for a number of years, since this government has been in power—is impose a kind of gag on the Canadian judicial system, nothing more or less. They're gagging the judges, crown counsel and defence attorneys, social workers and probation officers. That's what we're seeing. If someone needs a heavier sentence, if we're dealing with a multiple reoffender, it's the judge's duty to impose that sentence.
In the AQAAD's view, repression pure and simple does not work. Rehabilitation works. Quebec is a province that has always relied on rehabilitation, and it works. Rehabilitation aims for the long term. What kind of society do we want in the long term? We want a just society where we feel safe, but we won't get there through repression. Enacting large numbers of minimum sentences is tantamount to totalitarianism. The case-by-case approach, the offender, is being forgotten. The offender has indeed committed an offence, but will receive a sentence as a result. That's something.
Bringing victims into this debate distorts the debate, even though the intention is good. Taking care of victims is one thing, but that's not the role of the judicial system. The purpose of the judicial system is to impose a sentence on an individual who must face the law and the principles of law. That individual will receive a sentence for the crime he has committed. Victims, of course, may be heard and the impact on the victim will be taken into account, and so on. We can't do more than that. The point is to punish an individual under the law and the rules of law. We must not falsify the debate or lead it into inappropriate areas.
Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11
Business of Supply
May 31st, 2010 / 9:45 p.m.
Christian Paradis Mégantic—L'Érable, QC
Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for asking such an important question.
The Government of Canada recognizes that a strong nuclear industry brings great economic and environmental benefits to Canadians. However, it also has a responsibility to ensure that the public interest, including health, safety, and the environment, is protected through strong legislation and regulations and that the legal framework is in place to allow nuclear development to proceed efficiently.
Canada's nuclear safety record is second to none in the world. We have a robust technology, a well-trained workforce, and stringent regulatory requirements. The three main pieces of legislation that govern Canada's nuclear industry are the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, and the Nuclear Liability Act. Both the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act are modern pieces of legislation that put Canada at the forefront of nuclear regulation.
Backing up our legislative efforts is a strong nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The commission operates at arm's length from the government, and its independence is paramount.
With Bill C-15, Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act, we are taking a measured step forward in the comprehensive modernization of Canada's nuclear liability legislation. This legislation will put Canada in line with internationally accepted compensation levels. It clarifies the definition of compensation and the process for claiming it.
The bill is the culmination of years of consultation involving extensive discussions with major stakeholders, including nuclear facilities, the governments of nuclear power generating provinces, and the Nuclear Insurance Association of Canada. It has received broad support.
We look forward to the speedy passage of this legislation through this House.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 14th, 2010 / 1 p.m.
Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona on his speech. He is quite involved in a number of different bills. However, I missed part of his presentation.
Since we are talking about Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, I would like to ask him whether he touched on Bill C-9, on budget implementation. If not, I would like him to say a few words about it.
Since that is an omnibus bill, the sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited assets also just happens to be included in it. Tendering has begun on the sale of AECL's reactor business. I wonder whether the hon. member has studied this issue within the bill we are currently studying, in terms of liability. Are we sure that liability for the reactors will be transferred to the potential buyer? What are his thoughts on this?
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 14th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-15. As I indicated before, this bill has been reintroduced after the Prime Minister prorogued the House. We dealt with the bill last year and it has been in the pipeline now for something like five years. Hopefully we will get something done with this bill and many other bills if the government quits proroguing the House whenever it feels threatened. It is an enormous cost to legislative time and effort to reintroduce and begin the process all over again on these bills.
I want to follow up on what the previous speaker dealt with in questions and answers. I think it is very fair to say at the outset that Canada is strewn with missed opportunities. For example, in the wind power environment, as early as 1991, wind power was being developed in Pincher Creek, Alberta. In those days, there were small wind turbines and it was the beginning of wind power development in Canada.
The Conservative government in Manitoba could have moved at that time and developed wind power but it did not. It sat and watched the world go by for another 10 years. It finally got into the wind power business only five or six years ago under an NDP government. The first wind farm in Manitoba was set up and it had 99 megawatts of power.
Saskatchewan has a wind farm set up in Gull Lake that is an operating farm in the intervening period. The reality is that we have developed wind power in a very sporadic way in this country, unlike Europe which has a much more comprehensive approach to the whole area of wind power development and, I might add, solar power development.
I did mention a politician in Germany, known as Mr. Scheer, who is recognized as a leader in alternative energy and as being an advocate and a champion for the alternative energy sector. I believe he had something to do with a case where a man named Mr. MacLellan tried to build a solar panel plant in southern Ontario. He approached the Ontario government and the federal government and he did not get any type of agreement or any enthusiasm from them. I believe he was actually approached by the German government, which offered to help subsidize his plant. I think the German government paid for most of his plant and built it in East Germany. The reason this was done is that the Germans recognized that this Canadian had developed one of the best solar panels in the world and they wanted to capture this technology and develop it in Germany.
This man now has a huge plant in East Germany that is running at full capacity. I believe there are plans for him to either expand the existing plant or build another plant in East Germany just to keep up with the demand for solar panels.
When we were looking at the wind farm business in Canada, and particularly in Manitoba, we were thinking about how we could develop some secondary industry here. The turbines are being bought from Vestus and General Electric. They are being manufactured offshore and are being brought to Canada. We thought that we could somehow get in on the ground floor and start manufacturing these wind turbines.
The fact is that there are all sorts of missed opportunities here. In the area of wind turbines and solar panels, it took the aggressive nature of the German government to see the opportunity, seize the opportunity and get the Canadian entrepreneur onside and over to East Germany producing these solar panels.
What does Germany have out of this? It has a great lead in developing solar panels and wind technologies. Those little wind turbines in Pincher Creek in 1991 were just tiny machines and they are still there. One can go out and see some of them still operating. They are very tiny compared to the new one megawatt and two megawatt wind turbines. Why did that happen? It happened because Vestus and established companies like it have now used their technology to build bigger products.
How does a jurisdiction like Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta for that matter, even get on the ground floor now? The train has already left the station and it is in Germany. As a matter of fact, there are examples of German farms. A television program outlined this whole situation recently. It interviewed people in Germany who have solar panels on their own barns. They are not only producing enough energy to power their entire farm operations, but they are selling the surplus on the grid.
Let us juxtapose that with what is happening in Canada. They interviewed a Canadian farmer. This poor Canadian farmer came here from Holland a number of years ago and he wants to develop wind capabilities on his farm. He was given the runaround by the Ontario Hydro facilities. Not only did he have to pay for the hookup to the power line himself, but he is still having problems hooking up, and this is to sell his excess power to the grid.
It really is comical, when one looks at it, to see how many missed opportunities this country has had. It is very sad. We see that Mr. Scheer in Europe and his Canadian partner in Arise Technologies, Mr. MacLellan, are now transforming the German economy. They are getting the German economy off non-renewables and getting the German economy on renewable fuels. We should be doing more that actually works. We can look at examples of best practices and we should be following Germany.
I want to deal once again with another issue. I know my colleague, the member for Ottawa Centre, is very keen on this issue as well. Even though he is not from my province, he knows a lot about my province. He accepts and understands that Winnipeg does have and has had the longest skating rink in the country for several years now. In any event, he is very understanding, as is the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, and I give him full credit.
I do not know what the Conservative MPs from Manitoba and Saskatchewan are doing over there, but if I were part of that group, I would be joining the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and banging on the door of the government ministers, demanding that we develop an east-west power grid, in the tradition of John A. Macdonald who had the vision to tie this country together 100 years ago and build a railway across this country, which was absolutely astounding and visionary in his day. We could do the same thing with an east-west power grid.
When we look at a map of the country, what do we see with power lines, with oil pipelines and with gas pipelines? The member for Ottawa Centre said, “Going south”. That is exactly right. Every single one of the pipelines heads to the United States, heads south, when in fact we should be looking at trying to keep this country together and have the lines running east-west, particularly with regard to electricity.
We in Manitoba are selling our power into the United States, and we are happy to do it. We are developing more hydro plants currently and we will be selling more power into the United States, but it seems to me fairly obvious that what we should be doing is selling this power east-west.
Ontario has a long-identified problem. As a matter of fact, the Gary Filmon government and the Bob Rae government way back in 1991 were on the verge of signing an agreement to build an east-west power grid to bring Manitoba power to Ontario, to get rid of the coal-fired power plants in Ontario.
Now the option is nuclear. That is some option. I can certainly agree with leaving coal-fired plants, but to think that somehow nuclear is the new development, the new frontier, is basically through the past darkly. We are going into the past. We are going with something we know does not work.
As I have indicated, in my lifetime there have been 81 nuclear accidents causing all kinds of damage, whereas we know of no hydroelectric damage that has ever caused loss of life and loss of property.
Our orientation in this country is all wrong when it comes to energy. It is not as if we are trying to reinvent the wheel here. We had the leader in solar panel development right in our backyard, a Canadian living here in Canada, who had to pull up stakes and move to Germany because we did not have the common sense, nor the good sense, to take him up on his offer and help him build a plant. Now of course we will be buying our solar panels from Germany and we will have to get in line, because there is a long waiting list for those panels.
This bill probably would have been good if it had been brought in 10 years ago. The limit of liability is currently $75 million. We are looking at going up to $600 million, but we are now moving into an environment where there is a group of countries with unlimited liability. That is what we should be looking at doing. We should be joining the likes of Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway and the United Kingdom. These countries have signed onto agreements which are going to increase their nuclear liability into the unlimited category.
As a matter of fact, all of the group A countries are signatories to the 2004 amending protocol to the Paris convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy which sets a minimum liability for nuclear power operators at about $1 billion Canadian. There is compensation from state funds as well.
I want to also point out that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an issue that is driving the agenda at the moment. I listened to committee hearings yesterday where the president of BP Canada was not really even familiar with the rules and the penalties. When representatives were asked by our critic, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, whether the chair of the natural resources committee would endeavour to get in touch with the Americans to find out what the rules are because they did not know what the rules are, he said he thinks the Americans are pretty busy right now with the oil spill.
Fortunately, there are members of the House whom I was lucky enough to be with last weekend for the Canada-U.S. meetings in New Orleans. On Sunday morning we were given a briefing on the oil spill. Without getting into a lot of specifics, the congressman who is well known to many people in this House and has been around for over 30 years was very pessimistic in his report to our group after the authorities gave their presentation.
We are seriously looking at very difficult circumstances where this drilling rig is operating.
I asked a question about the total liability of the spill and what the penalties would be. I believe we were told that there is a fund to which companies contribute, but the limit of liability is in the $100 million range. If British Petroleum is judged to be negligent, it becomes an unlimited liability. Just a few weeks ago BP had very happy shareholders because one of the oil companies made about $15 billion in profit in the last couple of years, so it has a rosy future because government is reducing the corporate taxes. Even so, BP shareholders who just a few weeks ago were having a very happy existence may find their shares being worth very little if the company ends up going out of business as a result of what potentially could be an almost unlimited liability in the case of this oil spill.
Fundamentally we have to hold these companies accountable. If that is what happens to BP, then that is what should happen because the public should not be shoring up private industry. If private industry wants to insist upon drilling at ridiculously deep levels without having proper relief wells in place and without having all the backups, then they have to assume full liability.
Our approach here is that we have to nurture the industry, give them all kinds of incentives and limit their liability. If we do that, the taxpayers are the ones who will end up with all the residual costs at the end of the process when there is an accident and meanwhile, the shareholders will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 14th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech. I know he is very knowledgeable about Bill C-15. The bill has come before us now probably five years. Many of us spoke to this bill last year.
Fundamentally, the NDP disagree with any limitation of liability for the nuclear industry. We would prefer to follow the A tier of companies, the European countries, Belgium, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Norway and the United Kingdom, which have unlimited liability, rather than the second tier of countries, Chile, Romania, Uruguay, Mexico and Poland, which have far less liability. Because the OECD countries have picked a much higher limit for countries such as England and France and since we are in that league, we should follow the unlimited liability provisions.
Does the member agree with that assessment? If that is the case, then we have to do some work on the bill in committee.
The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 14th, 2010 / 10:40 a.m.
Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC
Mr. Speaker, we note that the Conservative Party is applauding for us. The Bloc Québécois, a party that represents the interests of Quebec, has been applauded.
I have the pleasure of debating Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, which aims to establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident.
Since I represent a region located near a nuclear plant, I am very familiar with the issues related to nuclear energy, and I am aware of the questions that have been raised in my region after Hydro-Québec decided to refurbish the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant.
The Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant, which has been in use since 1983, is part of the regional landscape in Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec. It is located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, in the Gentilly sector of the city of Bécancour. A number of citizens have shared their concerns about Hydro-Québec's decision. They are wondering how this will affect the health of the people who live in the surrounding area and the health of the environment. A number of people have raised questions about the permanent management of high-level radioactive waste.
Therefore, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding this subject, and I understand the importance of reviewing the current legislation, because it simply does not meet the international requirements for liability in the event of a nuclear incident.
Given that the government has taken a keen interest in nuclear power, and that Ontario and Alberta are about to embark on this new and difficult venture with the help of the federal government, updating the current legislation, which is over 30 years old, is crucial.
The current act is out of touch with new developments in the nuclear power sector in Quebec and across Canada. Contrary to what the Conservative government says, nuclear energy is not clean energy.
Both the Conservative government and the Liberals express unflagging optimism about nuclear energy, especially in connection with Alberta oil sands exploitation. We believe that the government should exercise extreme caution with respect to this source of energy, which is very controversial and comes with serious risks.
Let us not forget that radioactive waste is still a major problem and very expensive to manage. Let us not forget that the experts have yet to find a miracle solution for dealing with highly radioactive waste accumulated over years. That waste is so toxic that it has to be stored in sealed reservoirs for thousands of years so as not to compromise the health of future generations. That is a major problem that remains to be solved.
That is why, when it comes to nuclear power, the Bloc Québécois believes that strict and effective oversight at all stages—extraction, transportation, heat and electricity production—is critical. Who could forget the disasters that happened in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Three Mile Island in the United States? We must not compromise on nuclear safety. These tragedies should forever stand as reminders of the serious consequences of nuclear incidents and the importance of doing everything in our power to prevent them. Public health should be our top priority.
That is why the Bloc Québécois supports the principle underlying this bill to hold operators responsible for nuclear incidents. We have to do as much as we can to prevent such incidents, but when they do happen, we have to compensate everyone who is affected, bearing in mind that no sum of money can replace a human life.
Although Bill C-15 is far-reaching and complex, its main purpose, which is to set up a liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident, relies on three basic principles. First, it defines the liability of facility operators. Second, it defines the financial terms and limits of that liability. Third, it creates a process or administrative tribunal to hear claims in case of a major incident, which no one wants to have happen.
This bill is flawed, but it does improve the existing act, which, as I said, is more than 30 years old and is not suited to the new reality. It improves the existing act by updating the financial responsibilities of nuclear plant operators. The operators have financial and social responsibilities pertaining to public health.
The bill that has been introduced redefines nuclear damage. The new definition is clearer and more complete, and it is closer to the international standard, but still does not quite reach it. The international standard is $1.4 billion. This bill would increase compensation from $75 million to $650 million in the event of a nuclear incident, so it is an improvement. The amount of $75 million is obsolete; it put very little responsibility on the companies.
Bill C-15 clarifies the liability of nuclear facility operators. It clearly defines what kind of damage is compensable and what kind is not; it lists all of the compensable damages, such as bodily injury or damage to property. A nuclear accident can have catastrophic consequences. The companies that run these nuclear businesses must accept significant responsibilities towards the economy and community.
In short, this means that if there is a nuclear incident, regardless of the cause, with the exception of an act of war, civil war or insurrection, the facility operator is responsible and must compensate those affected.
In addition to updating the responsibilities of nuclear plant operators, the bill also significantly increases the financial limit on this responsibility, from $75 million to $650 million. I would remind the House that the federal government has not reviewed that limit since 1976. That is unbelievable. We know that this Parliament can be very slow to react to new situations that come up in Quebec and the rest of Canada and this is a perfect example.
It was definitely time to increase the liability of these companies. This is a significant jump, which is an excellent reminder that it is precisely because of the federal government's mismanagement and failure to periodically adjust the amount that such a drastic adjustment is needed at this time. The amount should be adjusted regularly—more often than every 30 years.
If the federal government had fulfilled its responsibilities in this matter since the bill was first enacted, the amount of insurance would have been raised gradually to allow for suitable compensation, instead of increasing it so drastically because it has become apparent that the amount is ridiculously low.
Lastly, Bill C-15 also establishes a special tribunal to hear claims when the Governor in Council believes that it is in the best interest of the public.
The debate we are having on this bill today serves as a powerful reminder that the government has very little credibility when it comes to nuclear energy. I know that my colleague across the floor will not appreciate that statement, but it is an important and fundamental observation. I must also warn the government on this.
We wonder why the government is so enthusiastic about this energy source. It is always saying that nuclear energy is clean, yet it has not solved the problem of how to manage the nuclear waste that has accumulated over many years. It has not yet found a good way to manage this waste. If it had, it would not have to go to such lengths to regulate and define nuclear plant operators' legal and financial liability. We believe that nuclear energy is dirty energy, which is why this bill provides for a very elaborate liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident.
As I said in my speech, nuclear incidents have catastrophic economic, social and human costs. The people of Mauricie are concerned about the development and management of the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant, and they need information. They have been living with this plant for a number of years now, but naturally they have concerns. The people need reassurance, and they need more information about nuclear plant management, nuclear safety and the health impact of nuclear power.
The Conservative government, which continues to be optimistic about nuclear energy and especially its potential use in extracting oil from the oil sands, should exercise caution, because this energy source is far from universally accepted and carries risks that are far from benign. Without being alarmist, we have to realize that nuclear energy should not be this government's first choice.
At a time of climate change and sustainable development, going the nuclear route is not a sustainable solution, particularly because there is a lack of expertise in managing nuclear waste. By making bad choices, the government will end up shifting the environmental burden the nuclear industry leaves behind onto the shoulders of the next generation.
Although nuclear energy produces only a small amount of greenhouse gas, it does produce radioactive waste that is difficult and expensive to manage.
We often hear it said that nuclear energy is not expensive. However, the investment required to build a plant and the cost of managing nuclear waste are astronomical. We should spend more on green energy such as wind, geothermal or other forms of energy that are much cleaner.
In our opinion, the government should concentrate on these new emerging and alternative forms of energy instead of putting all its eggs in the nuclear basket.
Unlike nuclear energy, really clean energy such as solar energy and hydroelectricity are not a threat to people's health and safety. The government should adopt a long-term energy policy based on the implementation of an energy conservation program and significant bolstering of funding to develop renewable sources of energy.
The Bloc Québécois will carefully examine Bill C-15 in committee to ensure that it has no loopholes enabling operators to shirk their responsibilities under the bill.
The bill increases the liability of businesses from $75 million to $650 million, which is a significant improvement. However, we know that the international average is $1.4 billion. American and European governments require even higher amounts from nuclear operators. Therefore, we still have work to do. However, this bill is a step forward and for that reason we are supporting it.
Taxpayers should not share the risk and the cost of compensation. In recent years, the trend has been to give the profits to the private sector and to give the losses to the public sector. This must not happen with the management of nuclear energy.
Finally, the amount of insurance coverage should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is in compliance with international standards and that it represents the real cost of the damage that may result from a nuclear accident.
I will close by stating that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill because it increases the liability of operators substantially, from $75 million to $650 million. Nuclear safety should always be questioned because people often worry about nuclear malfunctions or accidents that could happen and seriously affect their lives, as we have seen with nuclear accidents in recent years.
The House resumed from May 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
May 13th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS
My hon. friend is making some comment, but I cannot quite understand it. I guess it was humorous because his colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac enjoyed it. I am glad to see they are enjoying themselves.
We heard how important it was at that time when they brought this bill in as Bill C-5. Those comments were repeated last year with Bill C-20. Now we are dealing with Bill C-15, the latest incarnation of the government's nuclear liability legislation, and the same arguments are being echoed. It is almost as if there are ghosts in here, there are so many echoes. We will see how far it makes it this time.
Canadians will recall that two years ago it was politically convenient to jettison this legislation so Conservatives could break their own fixed date election law and force a vote before they had to admit how badly they had mismanaged the country's finances. As we learned, they had put the country into deficit before the recession even began by their decisions in terms of spending and tax cuts that they could not afford. We had a deficit last year of $54 billion and who knows how much in the current year.
Last December the nuclear industry was quite excited when the bill was introduced, when it passed second reading, when it went to committee where it was approved and then reported back to the House. Industry stakeholders thought that after many years the bill would become law. Of course the Prime Minister panicked over the prospect of having to tell Canadians the truth about Afghan detainees and promptly prorogued Parliament to protect his political assets. Nuclear liability legislation became collateral damage to that decision in the government's ongoing battle to suppress the truth. It is really part of the government's ever-expanding Conservative culture of deceit.
However, now we start again from square one. We heard the parliamentary secretary tell the House how important the legislation was to the government and how significant it was to Canada's nuclear industry. That was quite a performance, deserving of some sort of Prairie Oyster award or something like that.
The bill would provide much needed update to industry standards to ensure stability and protection for Canadians. Hopefully this time the Conservatives can put the needs of the nation ahead of their party interests and actually enact the legislation, not prorogue the House, not break a fixed date election law, or whatever.
Bill C-15 would replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act and establish a clear regime in the event of a nuclear accident. While we pray that never happens, the recent events in the Gulf of Mexico remind us we need to always be prepared, as my son the Boy Scout would say.
One of the key changes in Bill C-15 would be to increase operator liability from $75 million to $650 million. That is a significant increase but some ask if it is enough. The last time the legislation was before us the government claimed that $650 million was all the Canadian insurance industry could bear. That is why it would not entertain going higher to $1 billion, for example.
However, during a comprehensive study, which we heard about at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, we learned that this was not quite the case. Hopefully, during this debate, we will hear some more about why the government feels that $650 million is adequate. Hopefully this time we will get a clearer and stronger answer. We have had a bit of an answer today. We need to hear more about that.
When the former bill went to committee, before it was killed along with the government's talk tough on crime agenda and other bills that the government claimed were so important before it prorogued and killed them all, all parties at that time did agree on a number of amendments that strengthened the legislation. I look forward to the committee's further study in the weeks ahead. My party and I will be supporting sending Bill C-15 to committee.
While the bill would provide much needed changes, the basic principles of the nuclear liability and compensation act will remain the same. Operators are absolutely and exclusively liable for damage. That is one principle. Operators must carry insurance. An operator's liability is limited in time and amount. Suppliers and contractors are effectively indemnified. All those are important basic principles.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, the new liability limit reflects a balance of considerations. It is looking at the question of risk and if it address foreseeable rather than catastrophic accidents and if the insurance reflects insurance capacity that can be available at a reasonable cost. It puts Canada on par with the liability limits in many other countries. It responds to recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.
Since this is the third time the House has seen this legislation, there is little need to address all of its details. Instead, I would like to note that despite the fact that the Conservatives consistently lack the legislative fortitude to actually see nuclear legislation completely through this process, at least they have not been too afraid to bring it to the House for debate. They brought it back after they prorogued for other reasons.
That is not the case for another key aspect of the nuclear industry, the sale of AECL assets. The government continues to hide its highly suspect plans for the outright sale of our world-class CANDU technology. I find that very disconcerting. Like Bill C-15, this is critical for the industry, but the Conservatives believe they can move without consulting the people most impacted, people directly involved in the industry, the employees of AECL and the industry itself.
The Conservatives believe it is okay to hide what they are doing from the same Canadian taxpayers who have invested hundreds of millions in this industry in recent years. In fact, they put the terms of this in the budget bill. Why would the decision of whether one sells a Crown corporation be in the budget bill? What place could it possibly have there? It does not make much sense.
It is not like this is the sale of a surplus filing cabinet or a used prime ministerial limo. We are talking about an industry that supports about 70,000 jobs, after all. In fact, a lot of those jobs are in the ridings of Conservative MPs. Like Bill C-15, the sale of AECL will impact a lot of jobs in a lot of Conservative ridings.
In order to encourage investment in our nuclear industry and to protect this sector and the jobs it generates, we are debating Bill C-15 as a way to provide legal and insurance certainty for suppliers and operators. However, while it is good to debate Bill C-15, the government has dropped a cone of silence over its privatization plans for AECL. Conservative MPs have been muzzled once again by the Prime Minister's Office.
Maybe we should not blame them, though. When people are so immersed in the Conservative culture of deceit, they may not recognize what is actually happening. Maybe they feel it is safer to bow to the wishes of the Conservative upper echelons who consider this industry an embarrassment and just want to get rid of it. They want to unload the CANDU technology. They want to unload AECL after many years of Canada being a world leader in the development of nuclear technologies. Things like medical isotopes were developed right in Canada. Canadians can be very proud of that. It is a shame.
There is even a story going around that we are about to sell off AECL to foreign interests because of a tantrum the Prime Minister threw when his ministers repeatedly bungled the medical isotope crisis. It is a scary thought that this is his reasoning behind this decision.
If the government really believes in strengthening the industry with legislation like Bill C-15, why is it not prepared to openly debate the outright sale of AECL's commercial assets? I do not know what Conservative MPs are telling those families in their ridings who rely on jobs in this sector, but I hope they will come to their senses on this one and insist that the government open up debate on this question.