House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Accordingly the division on the motion stands deferred until the end of government orders today.

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 Don Valley East, Federal-provincial Relations; the hon. member for Bramalea—Gore—Malton, Citizenship and Immigration; the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, World Food Crisis.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 28th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, it is good to get up on Bill C-5, because it is such a good bill. I think that all members are going to be interested in it. I would encourage all of them, as I said, to support it.

I want to mention that the Standing Committee on Natural Resources did a great job in dealing with this bill. There was a very positive study of the bill by the committee and the bill was reported back to this House without amendment. We certainly appreciate the work the members of the committee put into their study of Bill C-5.

Canada's nuclear safety record is second to none in the world. We have a robust technology, we have a well-trained workforce, and we have stringent regulatory requirements.

There are two pieces of legislation that provide a solid framework for regulating the industry in Canada. Those are the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act.

Responsibility for providing an insurance framework, that is, a framework to protect Canadians and to provide stability in this important industry, falls under federal jurisdiction. The Government of Canada has the duty to assume its responsibilities in this area, and through this bill it is doing just that.

Canada, like virtually all other nuclear countries, addresses this responsibility with the enactment of special legislation. In Canada, we have put in place the Nuclear Liability Act. That act was passed years ago. Bill C-5 modernizes the Nuclear Liability Act. It does so by doing a number of different things. It brings the compensation levels into line with internationally accepted compensation levels. It expands the categories of compensable damage. It improves the compensation procedures and the way people make claims. It increases the financial liability of nuclear operators.

Up to date rules are needed to provide certainty regarding insurance and legal liability for suppliers, operators and the general public. Without this certainty, Canada would not be able to attract leading international firms and suppliers of technology in the nuclear industry. Of course, it could be argued that Canada's current legislation more or less accomplishes these objectives. Therefore, the question needs to be asked, why do we need new legislation when we already have a serviceable act in place? The simple answer is, as I mentioned, that the current act is outdated.

The Nuclear Liability Act was passed in 1970. In terms of today's nuclear technology, that is the middle ages. Several lifetimes of nuclear and related technologies have come and gone since then. In short, Canada's existing Nuclear Liability Act reflects the technology, the science and the thinking of an earlier period.

In the interim, it is not only the technology of nuclear energy that has advanced considerably, but the evolution of jurisprudence has contributed to substantial increases in potential liability. Therefore, the government has made the decision, and Canadians are supporting it, that our legislation must be upgraded.

There are, of course, certain fundamental principles of the 1970 act that must be retained. These include absolute liability, exclusive liability and mandatory insurance. I would like to take a couple of minutes to explain what those terms mean, because I know everyone in the House is very interested in them and fascinated by them.

Absolute liability means that the operator of a nuclear facility will be held liable for compensating victims in the rare case of a nuclear incident. This means that victims would not have to negotiate with a highly complex industry in order to determine who is at fault. There would be no question of where to take a claim for compensation.

A second and related principle, exclusive liability, means that no other party other than the operator, for example, no supplier or subcontractor, would be held liable. This removes the risk that would deter secondary enterprises from becoming involved in nuclear projects.

To modernize our liability scheme, we must have legislation that goes farther, although retaining certain fundamental principles. That is what Bill C-5 does.

The proposed legislation increases the limit of liability for nuclear operators. The current liability act sets the maximum at $75 million. That amount was substantial when it was set, but now stands as one of the lowest limits among the G-8 group of nations.

The proposed legislation reflects the conditions of today by raising that limit to $650 million. This balances the need for operators to provide adequate compensation without burdening them with huge costs for unrealistic insurance amounts, or impossible insurance amounts, for events that are highly unlikely to occur in this country. Moreover, this increase puts Canada on a par with most western nuclear countries.

Bill C-5 also increases the mandatory insurance that operators must carry by almost ninefold. It permits operators to cover half of their liability with forms of financial security other than insurance. This has been an important provision for the industry. These could, for example, be things like letters of credit, self-insurance, and provincial, or in the case of Atomic Energy of Canada, federal guarantees. All operators would be required to conform to strict guidelines in this area.

Bill C-5 makes Canada's legislation consistent with international conventions. It does so not only with respect to financial matters, but it also does so with clearer definitions of nuclear damage reflecting today's legal and international nuclear civil liability conventions. These definitions include crucial matters as to what constitutes a nuclear accident, what damages do or do not qualify for compensation, and so on.

These enhancements will place Canadian nuclear firms on a level playing field with competitors in other countries.

Bill C-5 also makes changes to the time period for making claims. Under the act that was passed in 1970, claims had to be brought forward within 10 years of the incident. However, the proposed legislation raises the time limit on compensation for claims to 30 years. Both the earlier Nuclear Liability Act and Bill C-5 provide for an administrative process that will operate faster than the courts in the adjudication. However, the proposed legislation clarifies what the arrangements for the quasi-judicial tribunal must be in order to hear those claims. This new process will ensure that claims are handled both equitably and efficiently.

There has been a lot of debate about some of these proposed measures. For example, there has been discussion about how and why the government arrived at the $650 million amount. Questions have been raised as to other international practices and what goes on in other countries. We believe the $650 million liability limit will adequately address any foreseeable incident in a Canadian nuclear power plant.

Although the U.S. operator liability is cited as $10 billion Canadian, in practice, individual U.S. operators effectively carry $300 million Canadian in primary insurance coverage. A few countries, namely Germany, Switzerland and Japan, do incorporate unlimited liability to the operator under the provisions of their nuclear civil liability legislation. However, in practice, that liability is always limited to the amount of coverage provided by existing insurance plus the net worth of the operator that is liable.

Questions have been raised as to how the $650 million liability limit will stay modern. It is important to note that the $650 million limit set out in Bill C-5 can be increased by regulation, and that limit needs to be reviewed at least every five years. This review will examine changes in the consumer price index and international trends, but will have the flexibility to take into consideration any other criteria that is deemed appropriate.

We have made the argument, and Canadians have accepted it, that this is a proper limit in order to ensure that we have the nuclear liability amounts that we need.

The challenge for the government in developing this legislation was how to be fair to all stakeholders and to strike an effective balance in the public interest. In developing Bill C-5, we consulted with nuclear operators, suppliers, insurers, the provinces with nuclear installations, as well as the public. They generally support the changes that I have described.

I know that some nuclear operators may be concerned about cost implications for higher insurance premiums, but they also recognize that the current levels have been outdated. Suppliers welcome the changes as they provide more certainty for the industry. Nuclear insurers appreciate the clarity provided in the new legislation and the resolution of some long-standing issues.

Provinces with nuclear facilities have been supportive of the proposed revisions to the current legislation. Municipalities that host nuclear facilities have been advocating revisions to the Nuclear Liability Act for some time. They are supportive of the increased levels of operator liability and improved approaches to victim compensation.

In short, Bill C-5 was not developed in isolation. The evolution of policy was guided by consultations with key stakeholders and by experiences gained in other countries. The reality is that we have general support of the industry at large for Bill C-5. I would urge the members of the House to join in that consensus.

To conclude, Bill C-5 establishes the compensation and civil liability regime to address damages resulting from radiation in the unlikely event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation. It ensures that a proper compensation program is in place and channels civil liability to operators.

The introduction of Bill C-5 adds to this government's track record of making responsible decisions on the safe, long term future of nuclear power in Canada. It adds to the government's record of promoting a safer, more secure and cleaner world through the responsible development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, based on the debacle of what occurred last year with respect to the current Minister of Natural Resources and what took place at Atomic Energy, I want to ask a simple question. What assurances can the member give Canadians that there is an open and transparent process by which Canadians can be confident that the oversight mechanism at Atomic Energy is actually competent and transparent, and that Canadians will be aware of the process and the findings of what occurs when we are examining our atomic energy facilities?

While the chances of something happening are small, if something did happen, it would be catastrophic. Canadians have a right to know what safeguards the government is putting into place to make sure those catastrophes will not happen.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I need to point out that the Canadian technology being used is extremely safe and the likelihood of any sort of a nuclear incident is very, very small. I think we will hear that from other members who will speak to this bill, who were at committee and understand that issue.

I should explain the oversight mechanism as it is at present. Clearly, AECL has been the provider of the nuclear technology in this country for a number of years. We have initiated a review of AECL to determine what its role should be in the future. Apart from that, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission provides the oversight of the safety of nuclear installations in this country. We have confidence that the commission can do that and it has been tasked with that job.

Overall, the Canadian nuclear industry is healthy. It is a safe industry and we look forward to the future.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question about the liability the Government of Canada may have with respect to its involvement in the nuclear industry. I am not sure if the member can answer the question, but I will ask it anyway. There are two incidents that I will point out on which I think we have had liabilities or currently have liabilities.

I wonder to what extent this piece of legislation restricts the federal government's liability with respect to the nuclear industry. In the summer of 2005, the government of the day transferred $2.3 billion from the Government of Canada to its crown corporation, AECL, in order to recapitalize the corporation with respect to its liabilities for waste management.

Another liability that comes to mind is the liability associated with the medical isotope reactors that were to be built at Chalk River. That project was recently cancelled. My understanding is that the Government of Canada is partly responsible for the cost overruns and liabilities associated with that.

Could the member indicate whether or not this piece of legislation in front of us limits the Government of Canada's liabilities, either with respect to these sorts of incidents or in any other way?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of areas there which I could talk about for some time. I will try to make it short so other people have an opportunity to ask questions.

Clearly, in the development of the bill and the changes to the Nuclear Liability Act, there was an examination of what would happen in the unlikely event there was any sort of an incident in this country. There was a study of what level of compensation needed to be put in place in order to deal with whatever situation might arise. The former amount was $75 million. It was felt that $650 million was a good requirement in order to cover any incident that may occur in this country. That is why that number was picked. It is a practical number which, after studies, debate and discussion about what liability would exist, it was felt would cover more than adequately any event that would take place in this country.