House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was board.

Topics

Indian Act Optional Modification Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

At the request of the chief opposition whip, the recorded division is deferred until tomorrow at the end of Government Orders.

The House resumed from February 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, an act to establish the Canadian nuclear safety commission and to make consequential amendments, be read the third time and passed.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Reform

Dave Chatters Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join this debate at the third reading stage of Bill C-23, an act to establish the Canadian nuclear safety commission.

It is worth noting this bill constitutes the first effort in 50 years to redefine the relationship between the Canadian public and the Canadian government in the nuclear industry. The fact that this is the first effort in 50 years is enough reason for Reformers to at least give qualified support to the legislation. We are at least applauding the effort that has been put forward. However, I insist on using the term qualified because the bill has a lot of shortcomings.

The bill's shortcomings were identified both at committee and at report stage. Those shortcomings remain in the bill because as usual the Liberal government did not give serious consideration to the proposals put forward by Bloc and Reform members in opposition. The suggestions put forward by my colleague from the Bloc were well reasoned and well intended proposals and were very similar to those advanced by my colleague, the member for Nanaimo-Cowichan. Both groups of amendments would have enhanced the transparency of the activities within the Canadian nuclear industry.

I will briefly discuss the proposals and why they were found to be unacceptable. The proposals were intended to enhance the accountability of the nuclear industry to the Canadian people and to make those issues understandable by people across the country and members across the way. I do not understand why the Liberals have such a problem with the concept of accountability, but it is certainly understandable when we look at the other issues that have been before the House, for example the GST, Airbus and the Krever inquiry. But that does not make it any better than in this instance.

The issues of transparency and accountability are very central to this bill and to the desires of Canadians, at least from what we heard from the witnesses in committee. For years the nuclear industry in Canada has functioned with little public scrutiny, little transparency and virtual immunity or impunity, depending on your point of view. In in either characterization there is a sense among the population of Canada that nuclear safety has not rated as a priority for this and previous Liberal and Tory governments. The situation has not been addressed by Bill C-23, which is regrettable because the government had the opportunity to do so in this bill.

To illustrate the bill's shortcomings let us look at the present issue of nuclear safety through the lens of nuclear waste disposal. This is a matter I will continually refer to. In May 1995 and November 1996 the auditor general's report touched on the fact that the clean-up of low and high level radioactive waste would cost billions. Yet the auditor general noted that the federal government's share of the clean-up did not constitute parts of its budget forecast and expenditures. The auditor general indicated that this lack of financial acknowledgement by the federal government constitutes a serious unfunded liability which changes the accuracy of the government's reported financial position.

My friends across the way will argue, as the natural resources minister did on November 26, 1996, that the government takes the health related concerns of nuclear waste disposal very seriously. But the reality and the lack of a co-ordinated action by this government speak volumes about the neglect and the problems associated with nuclear waste. In any event, the auditor general reported that the costs associated with cleaning up contaminated federal sites was being ignored by the federal government. This should highlight for Canadians the inadequate accounting procedure by the federal government and represents a lack of responsibility by the Liberals to the taxpaying public.

When we put that alongside recent efforts by the Liberal government to delay and possibly scrap their promise to dispose of low level radioactive waste near the town of Deep River, Canadians can appreciate that this government is not serious about addressing

the problems and research solutions needed in the area of nuclear waste disposal.

In short, the government will not recognize the environmental disaster in its own backyard or the potential costs associated with its clean-up. It is reneging on its promise to the people of Deep River and closing R and D facilities all because it says it does not have enough money to pay for services in these areas. However, I want to remind the Canadian public and the Liberals that they have no problem coughing up $1.5 billion of Canadian taxpayer money to lend to the Chinese government. The Liberals can do this so the current government of China could build CANDU reactors.

Bill C-23 does increase the regulatory burden already present within the nuclear industry. The nuclear safety and control act replaces the Atomic Energy Control Act with a new regulatory framework for the nuclear energy industry.

The natural resources ministers has stated that the bill is intended to modernize nuclear regulations and eliminate overlap with provincial regulatory agencies. This is something that has not been done in 50 years.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Order. The hon. Minister of National Defence on a point of order.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

February 18th, 1997 / 4:05 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst
New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, as the Chair will know, there is a major presentation to be made to the House this afternoon.

In question period this afternoon the hon. member for Beaver River referred to parliamentarians as parliamentary porkers and I want to apologize because in response to that I said something relating to pork. I think the words were totally inappropriate and I want to withdraw those words.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

I thank the hon. minister.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, an act to establish the Canadian nuclear safety commission and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the third time and passed.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Reform

Dave Chatters Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think I would like to go back by way of background some 50 years ago. When the atomic age started in Canada we were in the throes of the second world war. Scientists who discovered nuclear fission realized its tremendous potential as a weapon if controlled and its potential to destroy the world if uncontrolled.

Since then nuclear experiments and facilities were given the highest possible security classification. The absolute necessity for secrecy has haunted and been part of the atomic and nuclear energy field ever since. Certainly that same situation does not exist today in Canada. Canada has long since rejected the participation in the production of nuclear war machinery or issues of war production and therefore should have also rejected the veil of secrecy that surrounds the production of nuclear energy in Canada.

Canada's nuclear role begins with the building of the research facility at Chalk River, Ontario and, oddly enough, the recent closing of a research facility in Chalk River might also herald the end of Canada's nuclear age.

All too often the activities at facilities under the administration of AECL are shrouded in secrecy. I agree that the public's right to know must be tempered with considerations of national security, but the concerns of national security certainly are not as paramount as they were some 50 years ago.

Yet this has meant that government is given a ready made excuse which it can use to limit Canadians' access to information where matters of atomic energy are concerned. Bill C-23 could have begun to diffuse some of the public apprehension and misunderstanding which has plagued activity within the Canadian nuclear industry for the past 50 years.

Again, I suggest to all members that there is a need to keep the public informed on issues where nuclear safety and energy are concerned.

Given what has been going on at AECL facilities across Canada in recent months, public openness by the government is sorely needed.

For example, Canadians should be told about the closure of the Chalk River superconducting cyclotron facility. Canadians should know that this research facility was closed down by the Liberal government's Minister of Natural Resources on January 31, 1997 at 11 a.m.

The Liberals would not even wait for this House to resume sitting so that the closure could be brought forward for discussion. I am sickened that even with the member for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke sitting in the Liberal caucus could not stop the closure.

Then again, perhaps the closure of TASCC was his reward for voting against the government's gun control bill, Bill C-68. It did not matter that hundreds of scientists from around the world, including three Nobel laureates, pleaded with the natural resources minister back in October to keep this research facility open.

I point out for the benefit of those listening that Canadian taxpayers spent $70 million on building this facility and now it has been turned off. Now that it has been closed it is worth absolutely nothing. In addition, the research scientists who worked at the facility are preparing to move to the United States where evidently research and development is taken more seriously.

The former employees of TASCC have indicated that equipment from Chalk River may find its way into the Brookhaven Institute in the United States.

Reformers and Canadians can speculate on the myopic vision of the government's commitment to research and development initiatives in Canada. However, the question still remains why the Liberals closed this facility.

They will argue that it was a question of priorities and that the government could not find the money. Yet because the federal government could not come up with $3 million in operating costs, it effectively threw away $70 million. This was done even though companies such as Spar Aerospace of Canada had been funding increasing amounts of research efforts at TASCC with private funds. Eventually this would have seen the facility function without any tax dollars.

However, let us look at the government's priority and commitment in spending in general. The TASCC facility needed $3 million in operating grants which would have allowed it to remain open. The government claims it did not have the money. Yet this is the same government that spent an estimated $20 million on Canadian flag giveaways, $100 million toward the propaganda office in Montreal, $87 million in a loan to the financially sound and profitable Bombardier of Montreal. Sadly, the Liberals also had $3 million and climbing of taxpayer money to apologize to former Prime Minister Mulroney and pay his lawyers. The Liberals will probably need to waste another billion dollars because of their incompetence and bungling on the Pearson airport deal.

Perhaps it is not fair to my colleagues across the way to highlight wasted tax dollars on those projects. No doubt Liberal members will want to point out that those expenses are unrelated to the workings of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited or, for that matter, the nuclear safety commission which is what Bill C-23 seeks to establish.

The members across the way want Canadians to believe that the Liberal commitment to R and D is well in line with red book promises.

In any event, the real blow to the Canadian taxpayer is in the area of prioritised research and development spending at AECL.

Just before Christmas the government announced the sale of CANDU technology to the Chinese government. In order to get the deal signed, the Government of Canada committed to lend the Chinese government $1.5 billion financed on the backs of Canadian taxpayers.

The government was willing to gamble over $1.5 billion but could not come up with a minuscule fraction of that, $3 million, in order to keep the TASCC project at Chalk River going.

Again, the perception of secrecy surrounds these and other projects and continues to remain part of the nuclear energy scene. This perception, perhaps more than any other, has been responsible for the public's lack of knowledge and apprehension about nuclear matters. However, the byproduct of any nuclear endeavour is the radioactive waste that results.

Radioactive contamination is the other big consideration affecting the nuclear industry today and tomorrow. This poses a problem of considerable magnitude for this government because not only do we mine and export uranium, we burn it in our reactors as well.

Canada is one of the world's leading producers of uranium and therefore one of the leading producers of uranium tailings. This is the residue associated with uranium mining. The government has recognized this and decided that any legislative response must ensure that uranium mining and refinement industries are subject to government controls and laws such as those in Bill C-23.

Clearly Canada has great technological expertise in the nuclear industry generally and specifically in the construction of nuclear reactors. This should be exploited but not at the expense of other problem areas which must be addressed and controlled.

Again I want to stress to the Liberal members across the way that Bill C-23 falls short in its response to the issue of radioactive waste, particularly high level waste.

The high level waste disposal problem is exacerbated by the rumoured disposal of plutonium from Russia and American nuclear weapons which are to be destroyed. Here again Canada has expertise and can help the world situation. Yet it can only do so if the Canadian public knows what is going on and understands the risks and agrees with the plan of action.

This bill does nothing which would permit an agency to educate or inform the Canadian public on the consequences or risks associated with burning plutonium in a Canadian reactor.

No doubt something like Bill C-23 is needed. Reformers feel this bill does not adequately address two key areas. The first is the question of public education. The Canadian public has a right to know what is going on and to help decide what Canada should or should not be doing in the nuclear field.

Canadians need access to more facts than they have had in the past. Regrettably, the amendments put forward by my colleague from Nanaimo-Cowichan were not accepted. They would have addressed the issue of public awareness by assigning some respon-

sibility for public education information to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

The second area of concern inadequately addressed by Bill C-23 is the removal of ministerial responsibility for promoting nuclear safety. If the Minister of Natural Resources is responsible for the promotion of the nuclear industry, and that in itself is a question, she must also be responsible for all aspects of nuclear safety.

Members of the opposition put forward motions that would have addressed the short circuiting of ministerial responsibility, but the government has chosen to ignore them.

As I stated earlier, my Reform colleagues and I will be supporting the bill at third reading. In doing so, we point out for members on both sides of the House that Bill C-23 is the first effort in 50 years at redefining the relationship between public and the nuclear industry within Canada.

Therefore Bill C-23 constitutes only the first tentative steps in the right direction. However, there is still an unfulfilled expectation that the government would put measures in place that would open up the nuclear industry to greater public scrutiny.

It was also hoped that the Nuclear Safety Commission, tasked with providing information to the public, would also be transparent in its future dealings. Sadly, this will not be a benefit resulting from Bill C-23.

In closing, I stress to the Canadian public that Reform MPs would correct many of the deficiencies of Bill C-23 if allowed to do so. Indeed, we may very well be given that opportunity after the next election.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is the House ready for the question?

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Question.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed.

Nuclear Safety And Control Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

In light of the time, is there agreement on the part of the House that we suspend the sitting until the call of the Chair at 4.30 p.m.?