House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was application.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is hard to comment on such projections. The debate is not over. We know that the government is currently conducting a study on Atomic Energy of Canada.

This morning the Minister of Natural Resources appeared before our committee. He told us that the study was not finished and that privatizing Atomic Energy of Canada is still a possibility.

This is certainly worrisome since there could be consequences to privatizing that agency. Nonetheless, I do not believe that privatizing Atomic Energy of Canada is problematic in the context of this bill.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support Bill C-5 in its unamended form, particularly in light of the discussion which I have been privileged to hear today in the House.

I want to pick up on the points that were raised by my colleague from Mississauga—Erindale, which had to do with a number of fundamental questions about the future of nuclear energy in this country which underlie this bill. I also want to echo what my colleague from Western Arctic said, that as we think about that future, we have to think about not only the interests of the nuclear industry, but also the interests of the whole population of Canada.

First, at the deepest level, this bill raises a number of very profound questions about the future of nuclear power in Canada, about the future of AECL itself, about the future of the nuclear regulator, about the future of Canada's own Candu reactor, the future of evolving nuclear technologies around the world, competitive technologies to the Candu reactor and, indeed, the future of nuclear power around the world.

It is evident that the great change which has occurred in the debate about nuclear power has been driven by climate change. This has radically altered the terms of debate. It has radically altered the way in which we think about these issues.

I can say that as a long-time environmentalist, I have been one of those who, over the years, has had reservations about the nuclear industry. I have moved from that position to one of being agnostic, but today, as I weigh the odds, the chances and the dangers, I now find myself on the side of a nuclear future for Canada. I believe that inevitably, nuclear power will be an increasingly important component of our national energy portfolio in the years to come.

Even if we funded and built no new nuclear plants in this country, Canada would have been having a nuclear future for a long time anyway. If we consider the very lights in this chamber, two out of every five lights in this chamber and in Ontario are powered by nuclear power. Forty per cent of all the power currently generated comes from nuclear generators.

Their importance becomes all the more compelling, because we know what the future of coal fired energy plants is in this province. That is to say they will be eliminated, which puts an even greater burden on nuclear power certainly in this part of the world for the future. There is no existing alternative source of energy on the scope and scale of nuclear power which can replace coal fired generating plants.

Second, the climate change argument puts us in a world in which we have to balance off risks. That is what we are here for. We are here to make choices. To govern is to choose.

On the one hand, a world in which carbon dioxide continues to increase exponentially along with other greenhouse gases puts us into a perilous future when we would reach an increase in world temperature of plus 2°C. This would take us to a place we have not been in many generations and millions of years, versus the well-known risks of nuclear power, which have been nuclear accidents, terrorist threats or how we dispose of nuclear waste. These are not trivial matters, but we have to choose. We have to decide what is the greatest peril and can we manage the risks on the other side.

Bill C-5 itself and the debate about its amendments is about risk management, about somewhere between zero liability and limitless liability. The committee came down and decided on $650 million, increasing it from $75 million. That is about risk management.

The problem with climate change is that this is not a manageable risk if we continue not to do anything about it. That is the challenge, that we are in a potentially runaway situation. Nuclear power must be part of the answer to that.

The third point I would like to make is that around the world we do see a renaissance of nuclear power. There are currently operating in the world 439 nuclear power reactors. They have been operating for a collective number of 10,000 reactor years of experience. There are now 200 new nuclear power plants being planned around the world. During the entire nuclear power period there have been only two accidents: Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Only one of those, Chernobyl, had fatalities associated with it, and there is no denying that was a major, major accident.

However, what we do forget as we think about risk is what happens as a result of the emissions from coal and power plants every year from mining. The number of deaths every year associated with coal mining so that we can actually power coal fired generating plants far exceeds the number of deaths associated with the Chernobyl disaster, and yet we never balance out those risks. That is what our job is as legislators, to balance choices, to balance risks and try and do the best we can for the future.

The fourth point I want to make is about nuclear waste itself. It is a problem which ultimately is technologically controllable. The exciting part, if I may say so, about nuclear waste is that it represents a potential future source of energy which we have not found a way of exploiting yet. There will be a new generation of reactors which will be able to extract from our existing nuclear waste energy almost on an indefinite, time unlimited basis. It is true we do not know exactly what that road ahead looks like of using nuclear waste for new power, but we also know that if we do not get on with change what our future looks like in a world of plus 2°C climate change. That we have a much stronger sense of. Again we have to choose; we have to balance.

My fifth point is that we have in AECL, a world leader, a company which has led the nuclear revolution not only in power but in medical isotopes and other areas. It deals with an evolving technology which has a tremendous future. Someone somewhere in the world, some industrial group is going to be developing the next generation of nuclear plants and the question is why should Canada, pioneers in this area, leaders for half a century, not be that somebody? Why should we leave it to France or to General Electric if we are going to be having a nuclear future in any event?

This brings me to the sixth point which is national interest. We have had interesting debate recently on a Canadian owned company, MDA, which developed RADARSAT and the Canadarm, as to what our national interest is in high tech companies. The government has said, and I credit it with this, that for things like space technology, this is in the national interest. I would argue that AECL is in the same vein. It is in our national interest to give this technology the resources and the support to take us to the next level and to take that technology to the world to see it not only in terms of contributing to the climate change debate but to wealth creation.

Finally, by passing Bill C-5, clearly we are anticipating a long life ahead for nuclear power in Canada, otherwise we would not have this bill. This might as well be a future where Canada is a leader. As the member for York Centre used to put it in his former life as a hockey player with the Montreal Canadiens as they got ready to play a game but they were feeling a little discouraged, “Well, since we have to play the game anyway, we might as well win it”. I think the same is true of nuclear power.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, my colleague really touched on some very important points in his speech, one of them being that we simply cannot deal with the nuclear industry in this piecemeal fashion, and that is correct.

We have many problems with the liability limits in the bill. We did not have a context in which to put that. We did not have a sense of providing leadership in terms of identifying the true cost of the industry to the consumer. This is one point for someone who is interested in the comparison of directions in which we have to go.

If we continue to hold the liability for nuclear accidents above $650 million with the Government of Canada, we are instituting a long term subsidy of the industry. We are not expressing the true costs of the industry in relationship to other potential new energy sources at which we may be looking.

Our amendment would simply create an unlimited liability for the nuclear industry, much as there is in many other countries. This would ensure that the cost to deal with it would be left with the industry. It would be reflected in the prices that the industry would charge for its product.

Is that not a better situation than continuing the liability of the government in subsidizing the industry?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, three points were raised, and very valid ones, by my colleague.

First, he raises the question of establishing true costs. However, in any discussion of true costs, we have to compare, for example, what the true costs are of coal-fired electrical generating plants. Do we take into account the true cost to health when the particulate goes up? Do we take into account the true long term cost of global warming? Therefore, I am in favour of true costs, but they have to be compared on a wide basis.

Second, on the issue of subsidy, I think that is right. This is an industry, certainly through AECL and its research side, that needs to be subsidized. It needs to be controlled by the Government of Canada because it is such a crucial technology and it is also one which, if mishandled, has very dangerous and negative consequences. Therefore, I do not shy away from the notion of subsidizing a technology which takes us to a new place and will enhance our export capacity.

Finally, on the subject of unlimited liability, I guess the issue is if we were to change it from $650 million to unlimited liability, would we in fact destroy the possibility of there being a nuclear power future for Canada and the world?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member almost was my university professor in Halifax. I do not know if that is his loss or mine. However, I was very enraptured by his comments, especially as I come from New Brunswick, which has put a lot of its power generating eggs in the basket of the nuclear power future.

Is the government and its climate change policy in step with the policy for nuclear power in the future and this bill in particular? What is it about this climate change policy of the government that in any way meshes with the nuclear aspects of his comments?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, to the extent that there is a climate change policy of the government, I would be very hard pressed, generous as I am and creative as I am, to find a connection between a nuclear strategy and a climate change plan and also one in which we saw the wealth creating component of our future climate change plans as being part of the mix, that when we think of climate change and the future we have to think of technologies and how we can actually make money by being green and by doing the right think.

I would locate this larger debate about nuclear power in that context about innovation and wealth creation.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.

These amendments are being passed off by the government and many in the Liberal Party as simply administrative changes to modernize an obsolete law. However, all Canadians should be very attentive to this legislation. It raises many questions as to who the government is really protecting through it and as to the future of nuclear energy in Canada.

Comments have been made by the government about fearmongering. I was one of those people who many years ago lived in Europe and experienced Chernobyl. I happened to be living in an area of France that received some of the fallout from that meltdown. I was one of those people who was very opposed to the nuclear industry.

Over the years and with climate change, at this point I am open to the idea, but it has to be done following very stringent regulations. This industry cannot be privatized. It cannot follow a financial bottom line. It is out of the concern to protect all Canadians that the NDP has proposed a number of amendments.

The bill, as was suggested, proposes a new compensation limit. The cap has been raised from $75 million to $650 million. It would be reasonable to assume that this limit is based on the risk and the implications to Canadians, but this is not so. The NDP brought forward an amendment to clause 22, which would establish a risk based on the consumer price index for Canada, as published by Statistics Canada, financial security requirements under international agreements and other considerations. The limit to the compensation is clearly insufficient and will be even worse in coming years.

Canada has not signed any international agreements on nuclear liability and has consistently resisted taking part in these agreements. The minister needs to take into consideration more issues than the CPI, such as the risk of an accident.

Risk has been defined in the following way, as being equal to the probability of something happening times the consequences. Using this actuarial definition, the probability of a nuclear incident in Canada is, as has been said, very low. However, when one factors in the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear incident, we see that then the risk is very high. It has been estimated that a nuclear accident would cause billions of dollars in damage in personal injuries, death, contamination of the surroundings and so on. The cap is clearly insufficient.

The U.S.A., for example, has a cap of $10 billion. Germany, which has experienced the fallout of the Chernobyl meltdown, has an unlimited amount. Many countries are also moving toward an unlimited amount.

Bill C-5 brings compensation levels up to an absolute international minimum. In the case of a nuclear accident, as remote as that might be, the damage would be catastrophic. That means with the level of compensation proposed in the bill, only a handful of dollars would be offered to Canadians impacted for loss of life, loss of limb, for contaminated property and so on.

In our opinion the legislation represents an almost cavalier attitude toward an energy source with the potential for catastrophic levels of damage and with no consideration of the risk levels as established by actuarial norms. We have proposed amendments to the bill to protect the interests of Canadians.

Earlier the parliamentary secretary said that the NDP wanted to have the compensation limit remain at the very low level in the earlier legislation. I must clarify that misleading statement because it could not be further from the truth. We feel that the cap proposed by the government should be unlimited. If one considers the NDP amendments together, they would have that effect. Following the principle of the polluter pays, nuclear operators should be prepared to cover a larger portion of the liability for their actions.

Canadians need to ask, why such a low limit? I will start by setting the legislation in the context of the recent events at Chalk River.

As with the legislation, it is important to ask whose interests the government was protecting when it fired the nuclear safety inspector for doing her job, or when the natural resources minister mused about having the private sector build a nuclear reactor to power the tar sands.

Last December's crisis at the nuclear plant in Chalk River gave Canadians cause for concern. It certainly has not inspired our confidence that the Conservatives will put safety ahead of profits.

First, for a decade both Liberal and Conservative governments ignored deficiencies in the operations of Atomic Energy of Canada, and that has been well documented by the Auditor General.

Second, Conservatives ran emergency legislation through the House supposedly to settle medical emergencies due to a long-time dispute between AECL and Canada's Nuclear Safety Commission, and that is now questionable.

Finally, the Conservatives continued with their trademark bullying tactics of silencing those who disagreed with them and fired the head of CNSC for stubbornly standing up for the safety of Canadians.

The way in which the Conservatives handled the Chalk River crisis raises concerns about whether safety is paramount to them.

Other worrisome questions have emerged about the Conservative privatization agenda.

The minister commented publicly on this. In the Globe and Mail, of November 2007, the Minister of Natural Resources said:

It is time to consider whether the existing structure of AECL is appropriate in a changing marketplace.

In an interview with Sun Media, the minister said:

It's not a question of if, it's a question of when, in my mind. I think nuclear can play a very significant role in the oil sands.

He admitted that he had been involved in discussions about a two year exclusive deal with Calgary based Energy Alberta Corporation to establish the Candu reactor technology in the oil sands.

The legislation facilitates the government's intention to privatize the nuclear industry. First it fired the safety inspector. Now it wants to set up an insurance plan that would take liability away from the operators, placing it on the backs of Canadians.

The government's drive to privatize all that is government, including the nuclear industry, should be a red flag to those who think money should not be the main driver in nuclear energy. It is too risky to leave it to the whim of the market. We know the Conservatives hands-off approach to government. They look the other way at efforts to privatize our health care system. If there is one other industry where money should not be the main driver, it is the nuclear industry. It cannot be left to the whim of the market nor to its cost cutting patterns for increased efficiency. Government should be subsidizing this industry.

I see my time has run out, but I assume I will be able to continue after question period.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member's time has expired, but there will be five minutes for questions and comments consequent on her speech after question period.

Auditor General's Report
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Auditor General of Canada dated May 2008, with an addendum on environmental petitions from July 1, 2007 to January 4, 2008.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(g), this document is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Charles Caccia
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the Hon. Charles Caccia, who passed away this weekend.

In 1993, as a veteran parliamentarian, Charles must have been bemused when 201 rookies, myself included, came to this place. I clearly recall turning up at Charles' environment committee without a starting point of a clue what committee was about.

Charles took me through the steps, always exhibiting the highest sense of respect and patience. He encouraged my participation in parliamentary associations. He emphasized the importance and the significance of members of Parliament attending on the world stage.

Charles Caccia was a man who proudly marched to his own drummer frequently leading the way where others had not gone. Although he and I had little in common politically or philosophically, it is an honour for me to have this opportunity to pay him tribute.

Charles Caccia was a man who made this Chamber a better place in his 36 years and into the future through those of us who remain. In that respect, Charles Caccia lives on in our Parliament today.

Charles Caccia
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to honour Charles Caccia.

[Member spoke in Italian and provided the following translation:]

He was an accomplished Parliamentarian and former Minister of Labour and the Environment. My heartfelt condolences are extended to his family, his friends, but above all to the community.

As a student, I involved myself in his first federal campaigns. At the time, he, like no other, succeeded in personally expressing the collective character and personality of the people he represented, people from other countries, with abundant energy and resources adaptable to the creation of a new and “just society”; as it was defined by the new Prime Minister of the period.

We, Italian Canadians, saw him as a vehicle for change, and integration into a society that emphasized civic responsibility and concerns for one’s neighbours.

In Davenport, his dedication became iconic and for new arrivals, a role model. Thanks Charles.

South Shore Volunteer Centre
Statements by Members

May 6th, 2008 / 2 p.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in this House today to mark the 30th anniversary of the Centre de bénévolat de la Rive-Sud. This organization has been promoting volunteerism in various spheres of activity since 1978.

Thirty years of experience, 30 years of providing support, 30 years of helping others—that is worth celebrating.

With a dedicated professional staff, quality services, exceptional guidance and the contribution of over 900 volunteers at the ready, the Centre de bénévolat de la Rive-Sud helps meet the needs of families, children, seniors, the disabled and the most disadvantaged.

It is no secret: volunteerism represents the cornerstone of community action. In addition, this real economic engine contributed $70 billion to Quebec and Canada and more than 500,000 full-time positions in 2000.

A big thank you to all the volunteers, stakeholders and administrators of the Centre de bénévolat de la Rive-Sud for their commitment, which is a true sign of the region's vitality.

Immigration
Statements by Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I represent the area of Burnaby—New Westminster which is the centre of the Canadian mosaic and the most diverse community on earth. Over 100 languages are spoken in our small area and all faiths are represented here. The population is made up of substantially new Canadians, people who have come to make a difference and help build this great country of Canada.

The changes to immigration proposed by the Conservative government will negatively impact new Canadians. Brought in with the tacit support of the Liberal leader and his caucus, these changes are designed to bring in cheap labour and temporary workers rather than put the focus of immigration on community building.

The NDP will continue our push for the recognition of credentials, so that doctors, nurses and engineers who come to Canada can practice their professions rather than do low-skill work. We will continue to push for adequate immigration funding so that new Canadians can be reunited with their families.

The NDP will fight the unfair changes. We will fight this discrimination and we will firmly stand up as the only voice for new Canadians in the House of Commons.

Gordon Bell
Statements by Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, driving west through beautiful British Columbia, along the Trans-Canada Highway, beyond the majestic Canadian Rockies, are the Three Valley Lake Chateau and Three Valley Gap Heritage Ghost Town.

As breathtaking as these facilities and site are, what is more amazing is that they were all built by one man and his family. That man was Gordon Bell. He was a visionary, craftsman and entrepreneur.

Fifty years ago, Gordon came across this site. Others would have observed it as 27 acres of mud and marsh, but Gordon envisioned a place where he could build a dream. He began with a little coffee shop, then developed a motel, restaurant, hotel, and frontier theme park.

Gordon and his family, over the past 50 years, have been building this dream. When Gordon was asked how one man could undertake such a project, he would always say, as he put his arm around his bride of 50 years, “First you have to start with a good woman”.

Gordon Bell died earlier this year. He left an impressive tourist attraction, but more than that he left a close-knit family that is carrying on his legacy and dream.

CBC Radio Orchestra
Statements by Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Don Bell North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, Thursday, March 27, was a dark day for the Vancouver-based CBC Radio Orchestra, when it was announced that its funding would be cancelled. Over one-third of the musicians in the orchestra are residents of my riding of North Vancouver. On April 20, I attended what may unfortunately have been one of orchestra's final scheduled concerts.

I urge the government to ensure that adequate funding is available to allow CBC Radio to continue its mandate to play an important role in showcasing Canadian talent and enriching our cultural heritage.

I also join with Canadians across the country to ask the government and CBC Radio management to confirm the heritage value and status of our 70-year-old CBC Radio Orchestra, and to ensure that it is able to continue to contribute to the cultural enrichment of Canadians.