House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from May 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the third time and passed.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill once more.

I had the opportunity to speak to many amendments that my colleague, the member for Western Arctic, made at the natural resources committee on Bill C-5. I think about 35 amendments were moved, which, unfortunately, were not passed, that would have improved the bill and made it a bill we could support. Sadly, the NDP cannot support the bill in its present form.

The bill was introduced last year, sent to committee, where it was quickly shuffled through with no amendments, and now we have it before the House today.

The bill, in our estimation, was introduced to facilitate the development of the nuclear industry in Canada. The federal government developed the legislation to limit the amount of damages a nuclear power plant operator would have to pay out should there be an accident causing radiological contamination to property outside the plant area itself. Such legislation is deemed necessary, as private insurers refuse to compensate for damage due to a nuclear accident or incident.

As I said, we had many problems with the bill but the biggest one for us was the limit on the liability. The current legislation, as we know, dates from the 1970s. It is woefully inadequate, and we agree with that, with a liability limit of only $75 million. By comparison, a new mine usually has to post an environmental bond of approximately $50 million, and it does not have radiological contamination to worry about.

This low level of liability is creating an impediment for foreign private industry purchasing Canadian nuclear industries. Under U.S. law, a foreign victim of an accident caused by an American headquartered company can sue for damages under American law if the foreign law is insufficient by international standards. These changes bring the legislation in line with minimum international standards, which is $650 million. We know the government brought this to the minimum international standards, the bottom of the international average.

For amounts above the $650 million, a special tribunal would be set up by the Minister of Natural Resources and further funds would come out of the public purse, which is the taxpayers' pockets. What that means is that a nuclear operator would only need to pay out the maximum of $650 million, while the public would be on the hook for the rest, possibly millions or even billions of dollars in the case of a nuclear incident or accident.

My colleague and I presented amendments to the bill because we felt strongly that it was our duty as members of Parliament to look after the public good and the public interest. We do not believe taxpayers should be on the hook for billions of dollars in case of a nuclear accident.

I talked about the liability framework in the United States. Canada is moving from $75 million, a woefully inadequate liability, up to $650 million. However, in the U.S. the liability can be as high as $9 billion. In other countries, such as Germany, Japan and Switzerland, they have unlimited liability. They understand that the costs of a nuclear accident outside of a nuclear facility could be devastatingly high. We know this because many of our reactors are in populated areas.

The Pickering reactors are located in a very densely populated area. Many of the businesses, homes and schools in the area are close enough that if there were a significant accident or incident, they could be negatively impacted to the tune of more than $650 million. The price of homes in that area are quite high. The future incomes of businesses in the area could be at risk if the area were to become contaiminated because people would not go into the area for years to come. All kinds of future costs could be implicated as well.

Those are the reasons we wanted to have unlimited liability, such as those in other European countries, or to at least have a $9 billion liability, which is what it is in the U.S.

When the bill came to committee we heard from several witnesses. I would like to read what some of the witnesses had to say just to give members a sense of what we heard at the committee and why it is so difficult to support this bill in its present form.

The first witness, Professor Michel Duguay, from the electrical and computer engineering department at Laval University in Quebec City, said:

The new bill will send a signal to all stake holders and the public that nuclear power is expensive and dangerous. The U.S. commission that had investigated the nuclear accident at Three-Mile Island had found that the principal cause of the accident was the attitude held by the plant operators that the nuclear reactor was safe. In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission...has done a great deal to convince nuclear power plant operators at all levels that nuclear power must be approached with utmost precaution. In its Annual Report for 2002, page 6, Atomic Energy Canada Limited..has acknowledged that the old CANDUs’ positive coolant void reactivity coefficient...poses a grave danger that must be avoided in the new reactor designs.

Those words strike fear in the hearts of many people when we hear them because we know what grave danger means in the case of a nuclear accident.

He goes on to say:

In view of the danger posed by the old CANDU reactors, and in view of the much larger damages anticipated in the case of core-meltdown accidents, anywhere from the 10 billion-dollar US liability limit to the one trillion-dollar estimate of the Pembina Institute in Canada....

What he was saying was that $650 million was a drop in the bucket compared to the amounts of money that could be needed in the case of a major accident.

Professor Duguay continues to state:

I find that in formulating this new Bill C-5, there are two important aspects. One of them is compensation for damages suffered, and the other is the expansion of nuclear power.

What he was referencing was that the money was not enough, obviously, and that the expansion of nuclear power was an issue. We know the Minister of Natural Resources has told the committee that the government was looking at nuclear power as a clean energy source.

I find that quite interesting because that was raised during the committee's study of the tar sands. It was one of our first studies that I was on as a member of that committee.

That made me wonder whether the government was thinking of using nuclear in the oil sands to melt the tar to produce the bitumen that we are shipping daily to the U.S., using a form of energy that has its own particular problems, such as the disposal of the waste. The issue of nuclear waste has never been resolved in this country. Therefore, to call that a green, clean source of energy is a misnomer, and yet the government likes to look at nuclear as a way out of our greenhouse gas emissions.

That is something that needs to be highlighted here because we are investing, as saw in the last budget, in nuclear. The budget had quite a lot of money for nuclear but very little for real green alternatives, such as solar power, wind power, wave generation, geothermal and all kinds of things that truly are green, clean sources of energy that have very little impact and leave a much smaller footprint on our planet. The government should be supporting more of thoses sources of energy in this country.

If the passage of the bill allows the expansion of nuclear power in this country it will be a big step backward for us in our quest to have a greener and cleaner energy source in many ways. We need to ensure that it not only does not create greenhouse gases, which it does not in that respect, but we need to look at it for all other things, such as the waste, the mining that takes place and the tragedy, human and otherwise, that it could inflict if there were to be an accident. If it is not a green source of energy we should not invest in it so heavily. We should be thinking of much cleaner, greener ways to go.

Another witness who came before our committee was Gordon Edwards, the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. He spoke to the committee and we met with him on a few occasions. In his submission to the committee, he said:

As a participant in the deliberations of both the Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning and the Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, I can assure the committee members that the rationale for this bill, C-5, is based on the potential damages of fuel melting accidents. Without fuel melting, it is not possible for a nuclear accident to have off-site property damage exceeding $10 million.

However, the consequences of core melting accidents can typically run into the tens of billions of dollars or even hundreds of billions of dollars and can make large regions of land uninhabitable for a considerable period of time.

In the case of such a catastrophe, Bill C-5 limits the liability of nuclear operators to a very modest amount. It eliminates all liability for nuclear equipment suppliers, even if they supplied defective equipment that caused the accident, yet it does not address any important measures that would limit the overall financial liability to the Canadian taxpayer or the social liability of any affected population.

To me, that paragraph outlines many things: the insufficient liability amount and the long term effect on the human population, on businesses and on the taxpayer should there be a need to pay more than $650 million in the case of an accident.

He mentioned that hundreds of billions of dollars in compensation could be required. Therefore, $650 million is woefully inadequate. We have an opportunity now, when the bill is before us, to increase that limit from $650 million, which is the base international standard, to a much higher amount so that Canadian taxpayers would not be on the hook.

Mr. Edwards further commented that:

The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility feels that it is important for the elected representatives of the people to ensure that the nuclear industry is held publicly accountable, and to ensure that the best interests of Canadians are not compromised in order to serve the interests of the nuclear industry. We believe that the figure of $650 million has no sound scientific or financial basis, and that this arbitrary amount serves to distract the Committee from a much more important question:--

I will stop there with that paragraph. Again, I have to say that it is the members of this House who are responsible for ensuring public security and safety, and also accountability with the public's money. If we were to agree to the bill and it were to pass, and there was a nuclear accident and taxpayers were on the hook for any moneys over the $650 million, it would be on our heads. It would be because we allowed that to happen. We would be not just financially but morally responsible for making that decision. That would be a travesty. It is something that we ought not inflict on the Canadian public.

That is why for the most part we cannot support the bill. As I said earlier, the act needed to be updated. Currently, it is woefully inadequate with the amount at $75 million. We have an opportunity now to increase the liability or not to have a cap of $650 million so that the Canadian taxpayer will not be left on the hook.

The amendments we proposed at committee would have brought our country in line with countries, like Germany, where there is unlimited liability on their nuclear industries. Those amendments were important because they would encourage safety in the nuclear industry. They would make the nuclear industry more accountable. The industry would then be on the hook, not the taxpayer. Why are we putting the government's finances in jeopardy?

It is important to note that all Canadians want this Parliament to move toward cleaner, greener solutions for our energy needs. Unfortunately, this bill is going to pass, because it has Liberal and Conservative support, and it will increase nuclear power production around the country.

Instead, we could be investing much more in alternatives for our energy needs, things that would not have such an impact on the planet, things like solar power. We could help people invest in their homes to reduce their energy consumption. We do not seem to be doing much of that. There is no real program that I know of in this country that would help people invest in their own homes to reduce their energy consumption. We really need that type of program. Canadians need help with getting into things such as solar power. People need some help to make these changes to their homes, perhaps new windows and better insulation. People need help in getting rid of their old oil furnaces and converting to a greener source of energy. Ordinary families need some help with those kinds of things.

Unfortunately, the eco-energy program does not quite cut it. I have had many calls from people who have tried to get an assessment. They have found that not much of what they are trying to invest in is covered. Heat pumps and other green sources of energy are very expensive, around $18,000. When people are only getting up to $1,300 back, it is not much of an incentive to make the change.

Canada could be doing much more and investing in cleaner energy rather than going down the nuclear route.

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1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member and yet again I am trying to be, shall I say, civil because one assumes that a member of Parliament does his or her research and actually has a sincere effort to tell the truth to the Canadian public. Here is the truth.

I personally have applied to some of the government programs for funding to upgrade furnaces and make my own home greener. Contrary to what the member is telling Canadians, there are in fact a lot of programs that are available to make homes greener and more efficient.

Perhaps the member could do some homework and provide really good answers to her constituents. That might get her constituents onboard with helping the country go green. The fact is if a member is not going to do his or her job, then naturally the member's constituents will not know what to do.

I might also offer the member an idea. She has said there are absolutely no programs in the country; I believe that is exactly what she said, no programs to help the country go green. Let me brag about Tree Canada. I would be happy to table this document. If the member would do her research and do her job for which she is receiving a reasonable salary, she would know that a person can actually calculate his or her carbon footprint and offset the footprint by planting some trees.

If the motives are simply to spread misinformation and scare tactics and all the stuff the NDP members always do, then the member is doing her job correctly.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member, and I am sorry I do not know the name of his riding. I am sorry if it seems as though I am chuckling at his intervention.

It is Canadians, my constituents, who are telling me that these programs do not work. I keep bringing the subject up.

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1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

They work for me.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am so happy for the member that they work for him. Perhaps one has to be a member of the Conservative Party for these programs to work, I do not know.

I receive mail from my constituents telling me that they have applied for these programs.

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1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Table it.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will table that correspondence at my earliest opportunity.

The member talked about a tree program and that is great, but where I come from, all the trees are being cut down. We keep trying to plant trees and let them grow. There is such a contradiction in what the member says.

I have to say that I have many examples of how these programs are not working for ordinary Canadians. The amounts of money are not significant enough to allow them to invest. They have to make ends meet on their ordinary family salaries. They cannot afford to make the changes necessary to green up their own homes and our communities.

I have asked the minister to increase the amounts. Unfortunately, that has not happened.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has talked a fair bit about the propriety of the $650 million limit. If I heard her correctly, I believe she suggested that there was some evidence that liability could be in the billions of dollars. I think she also mentioned Paris and Brussels.

I took the opportunity to read the speech by the Minister of Natural Resources and I would like to quote from it:

In the case of the Paris-Brussels regime, the maximum compensation is approximately $500 million Canadian..... The Vienna Convention sets the minimum liability limit at approximately $500 million Canadian.

In the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, he provided information with regard to studies that were done on Quebec's Gentilly-2 reactor and Ontario's Darlington plant. The study said that in the worst case scenario, the cost of an accident could range from $1 million to $100 million.

What is the basis for her estimates that the liability limit could be inadequate and that the liability could be some billion dollars?

With respect to these other jurisdictions, which the minister indicated had limits to $500 million, she represented them as having unlimited liability. It would appear to me that either the member has given incorrect information to the House, or the minister or the parliamentary secretary has given incorrect information to the House. I would like to know who is giving the correct information.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member actually identified different countries than I identified and that the minister identified. I identified Germany, Japan, Austria and Switzerland as countries that have unlimited liability. It is the U.S. that has liability that could be as high as $9 billion.

Let us consider the areas where some of our nuclear facilities are located. Some experts have said that nuclear facilities should not be in populated areas where there are families, homes, businesses and schools and that they should be further away from populations to limit the impact. They have also suggested that if we are going to be building new ones, they should be built underground. If there were to be an incident nearby, the human cost, the cost of people's homes, the cost to businesses and future loss of revenue could be quite high. For a business that generates a couple of million dollars a year or even more, the costs could add up very quickly. If an area were contaminated for a number of years or even forever, then the future costs to those businesses could be quite high.

That is what I am basing my statistics on. That is also what the people whom I quoted are basing their representations on.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government's handling of the Chalk River incident shook the confidence of many Canadians with respect to our nuclear industry. Many of my constituents expressed their concerns to me. I think we would all feel more confident if we were to leave it to nuclear scientists and engineers to decide where nuclear safety resides rather than leaving it up to politicians.

Given the firing of the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission by the Conservative government, I am wondering, as are my constituents, does Canada still have an independent nuclear safety regulator? How accountable is it now? How transparent are the mechanisms to ensure the safety of the operations of the nuclear industry in Canada?

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Victoria for that question as I did not get a chance to speak about this in my intervention on Bill C-5.

She is absolutely right when she says that Canadians need to have confidence that the Nuclear Safety Commission can work at arm's length. However, I do not think we have that confidence. We lost that confidence back in January with the Conservative government's firing of Linda Keen, the nuclear safety commissioner at the time, in the dead of night.

Unfortunately, that left Canadians wondering what was going on. How can we have confidence in this industry when things like this happen? That was a very sad day. We know that the commissioner was trying to look after public safety and security and unfortunately she was let go from her job for doing just that.

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1:45 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all members for such a spirited and fulsome debate on this issue, but because of the debate the issue has been almost exhaustively discussed, I believe. Therefore, I move:

That this question be now put.

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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed that the motion has been made to put this question, because we have just started to debate this today after a bit of a lapse. We had a couple of speeches, one from the minister and one from the member leading off the debate, but this is an important bill.

It is an important bill from the standpoint that it is another example of where legislation in Canada has gone without an update for an extended period of time. We have to understand why this happens and whether or not we have left ourselves exposed. In this bill, we go from a civil liability limit of $75 million up to proposing $650 million.

We have the same problem in other legislation with which I am involved. Neither the Access to Information Act nor the Privacy Act have been updated in 25 years, yet those pieces of legislation deal with significant matters related to Canadians. They are important to Canadians. Those matters have not been kept up to date with the changes in our world, both the 9/11 mentality and the technological changes.

I suggest to the member that it is important to hear not only from the principal members dealing in natural resources but from parliamentarians with regard to some of the other important issues related to legislation that has not been kept up to date. We need to hold the government accountable.