House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Canadian Environmental Assessment Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Minister of Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

moved that Bill C-27, an act respecting the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to present Bill C-27 for second reading. This is an act respecting the long term management of nuclear fuel waste.

The nuclear energy option has been part of Canada's energy supply mix for over a quarter of a century. Canada and, in particular, Ontario have benefited from this production. With these benefits, however, comes the responsibility of properly managing the resulting waste.

The waste in question is solid fuel bundles discharged from reactors built with our own Canadian Candu technology. Existing waste is currently stored safely at the reactor sites and await a long term management strategy. The development and control of the nuclear energy option falls under federal jurisdiction and the Government of Canada has a duty to assume its responsibilities in this area, which includes the very critical matter of oversight functions.

The proposed legislation in Bill C-27 is a major step forward in dealing with the management of nuclear fuel waste in Canada over the long term. The bill is the culmination of many years of research, environmental assessment and extensive consultations with stakeholders, including waste owners, the provinces, the public and aboriginal organizations.

Canadians want a solution to this issue and are looking to the Government of Canada to establish a clear, fair and comprehensive strategy to make effective progress. Bill C-27 provides a legal framework for such a strategy and sets the course for years to come.

This federal initiative builds on the government response to the nuclear fuel waste and disposal environmental assessment panel. The panel, also known, for short, as the Seaborn panel, carried out a comprehensive, decade long review while consulting with Canadians from Saskatchewan to New Brunswick. I commend the panel on its efforts to come to grips with this very important issue.

In March 1998, the panel submitted its recommendations to the Government of Canada. In December 1998, the Government of Canada provided its response. In the response, the government agreed with the large majority of the panel's recommendations. In particular, the government agreed that federal oversight was needed to proceed with the long term management of nuclear fuel waste, and we stated three policy objectives for that oversight: first, that it must ensure that a segregated fund be established by waste owners; second, that it must ensure a reporting relationship between the Government of Canada and a waste management organization to be set up by the waste owners themselves; and third, that it must ensure a federal review and approval mechanism, including the issue of access to the fund.

In 1996 the Government of Canada announced a policy framework for radioactive waste which highlighted that:

The federal government will ensure that radioactive waste disposal is carried out in a safe, environmentally sound, comprehensive, cost-effective and integrated manner.

The Government of Canada has already provided oversight to ensure that the safety and environment of Canadians are not unduly affected by the nuclear energy option. This has mainly been carried out pursuant to the 1945 Atomic Energy Control Act which was replaced in 2000 by the new Nuclear Safety and Control Act. The proposed nuclear fuel waste act is now needed to complete the fulfilment of government responsibilities by ensuring that long term waste management activities are carried out in a comprehensive, cost effective and integrated manner.

Bill C-27 ensures: that all nuclear fuel waste to be managed in Canada is addressed under a consistent and unified approach; that all nuclear fuel waste owners fall within the same legal framework; that waste owners will start setting aside funds to fulfill all their financial responsibilities over the long term; and that waste owners will work together in complying with all relevant Government of Canada policies considering technical, socioeconomic and ethical aspects.

The proposed nuclear fuel waste act and the existing Nuclear Safety and Control Act would be complementary. Together they set the foundation for fulfilling federal jurisdictional oversight responsibilities for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste.

What are the main requirements of Bill C-27? First, the bill requires the establishment of a waste management organization by the main waste owners in Canada, which includes primarily the operating nuclear utilities. The organization would be responsible for carrying out government approved waste management operations. This is consistent with the regulatory philosophy adopted in Canada which places the primary responsibility for safety within the nuclear industry.

The safety record of our Canadian nuclear utilities is unparalleled. It is recognized internationally. These utilities understand the need for excellent performance and they understand the need and desirability of public participation in the decision making process. They must, in short, earn the public's trust. The proposed legislation would ensure activities of the waste owners and of the waste management organization are subject to public scrutiny and reviewed annually by the government.

Second, the bill requires the waste management organization to submit to the federal government options for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste. It is important to understand, and I underline this point very clearly, that no decision has yet been made on which management method will ultimately be adopted. The Government of Canada agreed with the Seaborn panel that more work needed to be done in this area before any decisions could be made. Bill C-27 provides a legal framework to carry out that work. The bill requires that the waste management organization examine three options: deep geological disposal, onsite storage or central long term storage. In addition, the waste management organization can propose any other option as well. The bill makes clear that the government will make the final decision on an approach to be adopted for Canada.

Third, the bill requires the main waste owners to put aside real money in a segregated trust fund managed by a third party. Canadians want to be assured that when the time comes, money will be available to fund all long term waste management activities and the Canadian taxpayers will not be called upon to shoulder that financial burden. This is entirely consistent with the polluter pay principle. Therefore, upon entry into force of this legislation, it is expected that deposits as prescribed in the proposed nuclear fuel waste act would start the accumulation of the money that is needed in the trust fund.

The challenge for the government in developing this legislation was to be fair to all of the stakeholders and to strike an effective balance in the public interest. I firmly believe that the proposed legislation fully meets that challenge and it is supported by initial reactions that have been received on Bill C-27.

The main owners of nuclear fuel waste have conveyed to me that they welcome the increased regulatory certainty provided by the legislation, that it provides them with a clear framework to fulfil their public responsibilities and that it does not create an unmanageable financial burden. Small waste owners will note that the new waste management organization would be required to provide them, that is, the small owners, with long term management services at reasonable cost.

In developing this legislation the Government of Canada of course consulted with the affected provinces, that is, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. We addressed many of their concerns and showed as much flexibility as possible without compromising that fundamental point about federal oversight. The provinces recognize that the development and control of nuclear energy is indeed within federal jurisdiction and they are supportive of the direction that we are taking in this legislation.

Government oversight in the legislative scheme provides for mandatory transparency. This was recommended by the Seaborn panel and agreed to by the Government of Canada for increasing public confidence. For example, all waste management organization reports submitted to the Minister of Natural Resources are to be made public. The waste management organization must carry out public consultations at every stage of its process. An advisory council must be established by the waste management organization, whose comments on the organization's activities would also be made public. In addition, over the life of the project the government would exercise additional oversight as required through the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Care was taken in putting all of this together to avoid overlap and duplication while ensuring that all requirements are fully met. Therefore, as recommended by the Seaborn panel, there are multiple government oversight mechanisms at play here which would ensure that the process proceeds effectively and democratically.

Aboriginal people have shown considerable interest in this important initiative. I have sought their active participation in decision making on the long term management of nuclear fuel waste. They participated extensively in the Seaborn hearings. I have met with a number of aboriginal leaders to discuss how they wish to be further consulted on next steps. This active involvement of aboriginal people has been recognized and ensured in Bill C-27.

In addition the government will continue to carry out related activities pursuant to its fiduciary responsibility toward aboriginal people and recognizes the valuable perspectives and insights of aboriginal peoples which can usefully inform and influence all future steps.

I would make the point that in any of the dialogue that I have had with aboriginal leaders, whether verbally or in writing, whenever we have discussed this matter we have not discussed the issue of where any particular future disposal sight might hypothetically be located. That has not been the topic on the agenda. What we have talked about is how they wish to be consulted in the process, how they wish to have influence on and input into the process. It has not been any form of negotiation. It has been a respectful solicitation of their advice and their insights, because they do have a great deal to offer in this decision making process.

What of the administration of the nuclear fuel waste act? Under the proposed legislation the main decisions would be made by the governor in council. The designated minister for the administration of the legislation would be the Minister of Natural Resources. As such, the Department of Natural Resources would be charged with carrying out ministerial responsibilities under the act.

The department would provide the focal point for interdepartmental, technical, financial, social and ethical reviews and for any independent reviews that might be necessary. The department would provide the government's direct and regular liaison with the waste management organization, the public, the provinces, aboriginal peoples and other interested parties. The department would ensure that the nuclear fuel waste act is complied with and thus would manage all auditing, verification, inspection and enforcement measures.

Bill C-27 was not established in a contextual vacuum. The evolution of policy was guided by consultations with stakeholders and by experienced gained in other countries, together with the invaluable work that was done by the Seaborn panel. The bill adopts a phased, step-wise approach allowing for all planned and executed waste management activities to be reviewed and for the public to participate effectively at every step along the way.

The process would take many years to complete and would possibly affect future generations. The legislation focuses on this generation's responsibilities but is flexible in allowing decision making by future generations if that turns out to be the case.

Canada can now move ahead effectively toward an appropriate solution for the long term management of nuclear fuel waste which takes into consideration not only technical safety matters but incorporates, in a very integral way, the social and ethical values of Canadians. I commend the legislation to the House.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, following consultations among all parties, I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Business Of The House
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-27, an act respecting the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Following consultations among all parties, I believe you will find unanimous consent to adjourn the debate on Bill C-27 now.

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it the consent of the House?

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, again, following consultations among all parties, I believe you will find unanimous consent to proceed to the consideration of private members' business now.

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent of the House to call it 5.30 p.m.?

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Nuclear Fuel Waste Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m. according to the fiction we have adopted, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Private Disability Insurers
Private Members' Business

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

moved:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 68(4)( b ), a legislative committee be appointed to prepare and bring in a bill that would create the position of ombudsman to oversee private disability insurers in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, this is a very interesting topic because of the amount of time that it ends up taking up not only in my office but, I am sure, in your office and the offices of all of the other members of parliament.

Most MPs who come to Ottawa try to raise issues of importance to their constituents, which is what I am doing. However, as I say, the beauty of this one is that I think it is an issue of importance to all Canadians and all members of parliament trying to represent them at the national level. Today I want to raise the issue in the House with this motion:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 68(4)(b), a legislative committee be appointed to prepare and bring in a bill that would create the position of ombudsman to oversee private disability insurers in Canada.

There is a terrible injustice being inflicted upon some Canadian citizens by private insurance companies that are refusing to honour their policies and pay benefits to people who suffer with long term disabilities.

Some of these cases involve Canadians who have put their own lives at risk in careers with the armed forces, the RCMP and the peacekeepers. Others are what we would call ordinary Canadians who have worked hard at their jobs as nurses, teachers and loggers to provide for themselves and their families.

In a nutshell, the problem is that Canadians in the workplace who find themselves with severe illnesses or disabilities which prevent them from performing their duties of employment and who then turn to their insurance companies, under which they believe they have insurance to assist them in such unfortunate circumstances, suddenly find the support is not there. Thus, the stress and anxiety they are under from their illnesses or accidents, along with the reality that they can no longer work to provide for themselves and their families, is multiplied by the process of and treatment by their insurance company.

Of course one must preface this by saying that it is not true of all claimants and not true of all insurance companies, but surely all members who are listening would agree with me that two, three and four times a week in every one of our constituency offices it happens that people are having difficulty with their disability insurance.

This is what my constituents have told me about processing their claims. First they are informed that their only option is to go on short term disability, from 26 to 52 weeks, only after they can prove with medical evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that they are severely disabled and unable to perform their duties at their present employment. At the end of the short term disability period, their insurance benefits are cut off and they are again required to go through the process to prove that they are still disabled. At that point they may be allowed to go on long term disability or be granted another short term period, but even if they are granted long term disability they will be subject to a review, usually every year. That means their benefits will again be cut off and they are required to go through the whole process over and over again with the same insurance company.

Within the past month I was made aware of two cases of constituents of mine who have received foreclosure notices on their homes from their banks due to cancellation of disability insurance benefits. These were on applications that had been completed at the bank, the lending institution, on behalf of the insurance company. They have led to disqualification of benefits, resulting in the foreclosure action by the bank.

Neither the insurance company nor the bank in these cases would take responsibility for the intent of the insurance. In other words, in these cases the bank had the customer sign documents insuring the mortgage but later the insurance company claimed it was the wrong document or application and refused to accept it and process the benefit.

The bank's response in these cases has been to discipline the employees to satisfy the insurance company. However, the banks have failed their customers, who in these cases have paid the premiums attached to the mortgage for years and believed the coverage was in place should they require it.

The intent of the insurance company and the bank to provide this coverage needs to be addressed. Do they intentionally provide wrong applications to their customers? I think not, but do the insurance companies not provide proper training to the bank employees? Perhaps. Do the insurance companies not review these applications and advise the banks that they have not processed the correct application and that their clients may not be entitled to benefits as a result? With the banks and insurance companies happily accepting their clients' insurance premiums each month, does it not obligate them to pay out benefits?

Surely if the funds are flowing through to the insurance company there is an expectation, an intent. If the paperwork is incorrect that is where an ombudsman would come in, because the banks and insurance companies end up working on and detailing only the words that are on a piece of paper.

Apparently the fact that people are paying their premiums does not really make that much difference. The question is: What can we do about it? What recourse do average Canadians have against banks and insurance companies when they find themselves faced with the circumstances that I have just described? Their insurance benefits denied, their only option is to accept it or hire a lawyer and fight for their rights. Talk about David and Goliath.

Of interest to all Canadians at this point is, if the claim is approved at this point, the insurance companies require the employee or victim to apply for early Canada pension benefits thus reducing the insurance companies benefit payable. In other words, the insurance company is downloading onto the reserves Canadians have paid into for their retirement pensions. Also of interest is that at one time all pension benefits received from an insurance company were in addition to any other pensions received such as the CPP and WCB.

The insurance companies will review each stage and suggest other employment opportunities that can be pursued so they can lower their benefit. Quoting from an insurance group's policy, it states:

“Totally disabled” shall mean, for the first 30 months of a total disability, an employee is wholly and continuously disabled by illness or accidental bodily injury which prevents him from performing the essential duties of his normal occupation. After the first 30 months of total disability, “totally disabled” shall mean he is unable to perform the essential duties of any occupation for which he is reasonably fitted by education, training or experience.”

Note that when the insured obtained the insurance it was insured at his present job.

The tactics of periodically discontinuing benefits or taking away our financial support mechanism and requiring one to continually prove he or she is incapable of working is in itself questionable. We are aware of cases where the insurance company has hired private investigators or sent their investigators out to spy on and record all activities of their clients for extended periods.

I would like to quote from letters from my constituents who, according to their doctors and medical specialists, were disabled but were unable to convince the bureaucrats working for the Canada Pension Act. The insurance providers look for any unfavourable decision from CPP so they can suspend or deny benefits. The letter states:

I had been on Long Term Disability—for over two years, at which point (the company) informed me that I had to apply for Canada Disability. This upset me at the time as I didn't consider my disability to be permanent. I am doing everything in my power to get better. It was explained to me that this is a necessary step in my health care management, and that I would qualify for benefits until such time as I was well. I was told (the company) would “top up” the benefits from CPP to my present level, if in effect, I qualified for disability pensions.

The next letter said:

Both companies denied my benefits, and I had to go through the appeal process. CPP has since denied my appeal, and I am awaiting (the company's) decision. I highly suspect (the company) is waiting to hear CPP's decision so that it can be used against me.

What we are looking at here is the fact that there is a patchwork quilt with which our constituents are faced. Much of the law that covers this particular activity in our society is federal law yet its administration is at the provincial level. Yet when we go to the provincial level, there is no ombudsman function on the part of any of the provincial governments. This unfortunately ends up falling between the cracks of federal and provincial jurisdiction. We recognize that getting an ombudsman is not the full answer because in effect we can still end up with fighting and delays and things getting in the way of the ombudsman to go ahead and work on behalf of the people.

The bottom line to the exercise is this, if people find themselves disabled and at that particular point no longer able to be gainfully employed, they now has a number of concerns.

The first concern is obviously their physical or mental incapacity to be able to perform at an ordinary level. That is a concern that would relate to everyone around them, particularly within their family unit.

Second, they will not have any income. Therefore, all their assets will be threatened and their ability to provide for themselves and their families will be threatened. It is a highly stressful situation because the two things work together in a symbiotic relationship to make both of those issues work. Then, if they are denied the benefits that they were fully anticipating by paying into a benefits program, there is a third compounding effect to their very difficult situation.

I am sure, Madam Speaker, as I said to the previous gentleman in that chair, that even in your office and in all our offices we deal with these things on a weekly basis.

The point of my motion is to tell the federal government that we have a problem and that there is no solution to the problem. The people who no longer have a job or the resources, and in many cases do not have the emotions to be able to handle the situation, require some help. To ask them to put down a $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 retainer for a lawyer to represent them is absolutely facetious. It simply cannot happen.

Therefore, with the motion I am simply asking the government take a look at this gaping hole between the federal jurisdiction of legislation, the provincial enactment that relates to the legislation and find some way to help our constituents.

This is an opportunity for all of us in the House, on a totally non-partisan basis, to bring a balance to the people of Canada which balance the rights of the individual against the rights of these very large corporations that are all, I am sure, obeying the law but nonetheless represent a very formidable force in the face of ordinary citizens. I say that collectively, on a non-partisan basis, we should be working together to represent individual Canadians.

Private Disability Insurers
Private Members' Business

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia, Transportation; the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester, Lumber Industry.