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

(Return tabled)

Question No. 246
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra St. Catharines, ON

With regard to the tax reductions and child care support introduced by the government since the beginning of 2006, how much would a two income employed couple earning $35,000 and $52,000 (for a combined total of $87,000) living in Ontario, with two children under 18, including one under 6: (a) save in taxes as the result of (i) the reduction of the goods and services tax, (ii) the reduction of personal income tax rates, (iii) the increase of the basic personal amount, (iv) the introduction of the child tax credit, (v) the introduction of the employment tax credit, (vi) the introduction of the children's fitness tax credit, (vii) the introduction of the transit tax credit, assuming the cost of the monthly pass is $566 a year; and (b) receive from the Universal Child Care Benefit?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

The House resumed from May 5 consideration of Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
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1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Mississauga—Erindale has just under two minutes left to conclude his remarks.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have had to make a speech over a period of two days. I have about two minutes left so I just want to summarize what I said previously in my speech, which is that the Liberal Party does not support the amendments presented by the NDP. We think that the bill as it stands, after a comprehensive study, is needed for the industry, and we urge the government to bring it back for third reading as quickly as possible.

However, I also want to summarize by reminding the Conservative government of some unanswered questions that remain in the minds of Canadians. When it comes to the future of nuclear energy in our country, there are a lot of unanswered questions, questions that the Conservative government has failed to answer.

First, we still need to know what the government has learned from the recent fiasco at Chalk River.

Second, we know that AECL is in need of clarification of its mandate and its future. We know that the Ontario government is waiting to hear from the Conservative government about that future in determining its bid process for the future of power plants in Ontario.

We also know that the Minister of Natural Resources intervened with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. We want to know what is the future of that commission. We want to know if the minister intends to strengthen the independence of that agency.

There are a lot of unanswered questions. Canadians have a lot of hesitancy about the competence of this government.

I notice that the Conservative government has not yet put up anybody to speak on the amendments to this bill, so I hope the Conservatives can answer these questions in their remarks. Until then, we look forward to them bringing that bill back for third reading so that we can vote on it as quickly as possible.

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Government Orders

1:15 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, I listened to the member's speech with interest yesterday and today. I want to thank him for his support of the bill and for the work we were able to do with him in committee. I think we have a pretty good bill here.

Yesterday he mentioned that the bill does raise the liability limit from $75 million to $650 million. I am going to ask him a couple of questions. Could he reflect on why the NDP has made a decision to oppose some of these things? I would like to ask him if he has any idea of why the NDP would want to leave the liability limit at $75 million.

The bill also tightens the definition of liability, establishes clear criteria for financial instruments for operators and gives alternatives to them to use different financial instruments in ensuring their operations. Again I would like him to answer and tell us why he thinks the NDP would oppose allowing operators to seek alternatives or options when it comes to their financial instruments.

Third, a number of the amendments deal with the nuclear claims tribunal that is going to be set up in the event of a nuclear incident. I wonder if he could also reflect on why the NDP would be willing to interfere with the operation of the tribunal to the extent that it is. It does not even seem to be willing to let the tribunal function properly.

It seems to us that perhaps the NDP is just putting these amendments forward in order to try to delay the bill. Does he have any reflections on that?

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I first want to echo my colleague's comments about the fact that our committee has been doing a pretty good job of working together and advancing good, strong, sound policies. Fortunately our committee has escaped some of the Conservative tactics. I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for working cooperatively with the committee.

He really does ask good questions. I am very interested in hearing the answers from the NDP. I cannot speak on their behalf. I can speculate that the NDP members sometimes play on the emotions and the fears of some Canadians. Their intent to pander and to be alarmist causes them to inflame some of those emotions, fears and concerns.

Let me be clear. I do not want to undermine the debate about what the amount should be. The question of the $650 million liability limit is a good and legitimate question. We have debated it extensively in committee. Yes, there are some good questions about what the right amount is, but given the experts and the witnesses we heard from and given the comparison to other international standards, we feel that it is a good leap from $75 million to $650 million. Also, the minister now has the authority to review it every five years to make sure it is adequate and comparable to international standards.

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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague on an issue to which he referred. He said that the bill appeared to be what the industry needs.

The concern we have in the New Democratic Party is not only what the industry needs, but what the citizens of Canada need. What do they need from a nuclear liability act? What do they need to protect them and ensure that when there is such a calamity in our country, that the compensation is done in a fair, open and prompt fashion and that the amounts geared to be put forward are adequate? How does the bill guarantee the rights of Canadians in receiving the kind of compensation that could be applicable in the event of a nuclear catastrophe?

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Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am really surprised because my colleague is not known for hyperbole and being selective in his remarks.

When I spoke to the bill, I said that not only the industry asked for it, but the host communities did as well. I do not know if he was there when the mayors testified before committee. They supported the bill. In fact they said that they wanted it now.

The member can claim that he is speaking on behalf of Canadians, but the record is clear. Mayors, host communities, the industry, the insurance industry, all stakeholders and experts support the bill.

Yes, there are some outstanding questions, and I do not diminish them, but the member cannot tell me that I only said the industry supported the bill. Host communities and mayors agree with it. The member should really read the transcript or speak to the mayors who host these power plants and get their opinion if he has any doubts.

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Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak about Bill C-5 and debate the amendments proposed.

Perhaps we should remind the people who are watching why we are debating this bill today. As it happens, this bill was introduced by the government in October 2007. It is now May 2008. Many months passed before this bill was put back on the agenda. Later, perhaps we can try to understand why this government took so long to bring this bill back to the House.

Bill C-5 aims to establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident that makes operators of nuclear installations absolutely and exclusively liable for damages up to a maximum of $650 million. The bill also replaces the power to create a nuclear damage claims commission with the power to create a nuclear claims tribunal.

As the member who spoke before me said, the members of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources have worked diligently and professionally and heard a great number of witnesses. We must remember that the bill is quite technical, and that it includes insurance, reinsurance and compensation terms. This bill is also very complex. The witnesses and experts who came to meet with us and give us their opinions were unanimous in their belief that this bill needs to be put into place, especially since it updates a law that was neglected by various governments—Conservatives and Liberals. The latter forgot to update this law.

It has to be said that, in recent years, nuclear energy has not been very “in”. Today, we hear a lot about it, because the energy crisis has led people to take another look at nuclear energy. Here in Canada, several provinces have nuclear plants they are having to repair. For example, Ontario has decided to refurbish its nuclear facilities and New Brunswick has decided to build new ones. Even Alberta is considering building a nuclear plant to provide energy for developing the oil sands. Nuclear energy is a topical issue. Some people are in favour of it, while others are not. My opinion on this issue is well known. Unlike the Minister of Natural Resources and the Conservatives, I do not consider nuclear energy to be clean energy. It does not emit any greenhouse gases, but it could hardly be considered clean energy.

A number of amendments were proposed. Some were debated and others were refused by the Speaker. Today, a dozen amendments are before us for debate. I have noticed that many of the proposed amendments pertain to the $650 million liability. The current act—which applies as long as the new act is not in effect—provides for a $75 million liability. If a major nuclear accident were to take place today, the operator's liability would be limited to $75 million. The bill provides for a $650 million liability. This change was long overdue. As I mentioned earlier, the different governments have neglected to update this amount. According to experts, the new amount was based on practices in other countries and the ability to insure such an amount. Like our NDP colleagues, we questioned this amount. Witnesses—especially mayors of communities that have a nuclear facility—said that in the event of a major accident, $650 million would not be enough to cover all the damages.

One mayor in particular told me that in the case of a nuclear accident, we must think about the municipal infrastructure that will have to be rebuilt as well as the credibility and visibility of this municipality, which will lose its citizens and will lose appeal to industries, plants, etc. It would have a huge impact on individuals, but also on the community as a whole.

It is true that, at first glance, the $650 million amount could seem insufficient. We questioned the witnesses at great length about this. They told us that currently, given the popularity and renewal of nuclear energy across Europe and worldwide, it is difficult to find financing for this amount. If the amount had been changed to $1 billion or $1.5 billion, or if there were unlimited compensation, the reinsurance market would have had problems.

We know that there is a process underway to increase the amount. The Bloc supported the amount of $650 million because one clause of the bill states that the minister must review the amount of compensation at least every five years. There is a difference there. It is not every five years, but at least every five years, which means that if the market changes and if he has the means, the minister could propose changes to the amount of compensation.

I understand that people—myself included—were feeling insecure the last time we debated the amount of $650 million. Aside from the creation of the tribunal, this was really the essence of the update of Bill C-5.

We also recognize that the status quo was not working and changes needed to be made. We refused to support the bill after it was democratically debated in committee and after it was amended because the bill was not acceptable as it was. It needed further amendments. To that end, in a responsible fashion, the Bloc Québécois supported the bill, but it will not support all the proposed amendments that we are discussing here today. We do not want to end up with an outdated bill that fails to serve communities or individuals.

I would like to take a closer look at some of the proposed amendments. I do not understand why, for example, one of the amendments proposes deleting clause 22, which gives the minister the authority to regularly review the liability limit at least once every five years. I do not understand why one of the amendments proposed by the NDP seeks to delete this clause, which I think is important to guarantee that citizens and communities have a way of pressuring the minister to review the compensation amount.

As a final point, it is important to keep the tribunal mentioned in the bill and avoid allowing people to select their tribunal, which we think would delay the compensation of individuals or communities that might be affected by a nuclear accident. We believe that an independent tribunal that reviews the applications is the best tool for citizens to be able to obtain justice and redress as fairly and as quickly as possible.

I am now ready for questions from my colleagues.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, whom I worked with on the committee, for her interest in this bill and for her interest in these issues generally. I share some of her concerns.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources suggested that the amendments would mean we would be back at the $70 million limit. No, the sum total of the amendments would mean there would be unlimited liability for nuclear accidents, much as there is in Germany.

We originally had taken a different position in the committee, but this is the position we could bring forward as an amendment, to have it as unlimited liability. If we take into account deletion of clause 21 and the deletion of the amounts referred to in subclause 21(1) in the two amendments, the bill would then refer to unlimited liability on the part of the operators for any damages incurred by their facility.

If there is unlimited liability, then oversight as to the amount of the liability is not required. The liability is set and continues forever as unlimited liability. It is up to the insurance company to understand the nature of unlimited liability. In the case of nuclear plants, there can be very different degrees of liability according to the locations of those plants.

That is the explanation and I hope that helps my colleague.

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1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member opposite for his explanation.

I would like to understand whether the proposed amendment in fact removes the compensation under subsection 30(1). In the current bill, a victim of a nuclear incident who applies for compensation has 30 years to do so. For example, if that person develops cancer 15 years later, he or she can, up to 3 years after he or she is diagnosed with cancer, apply for compensation.

Under the bill, a victim has this recourse for up to 30 years after the incident. Obviously, this is a very complex and technical matter. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would want to delete such an important clause that allows people to get compensation up to 30 years after the incident.

To my knowledge and in light of everything the witnesses have told us, I think that after an incident, repercussions such as illness or a condition can appear more than 30 years later. According to the witnesses, 30 years is enough time to report this.

I am surprised. Since this was not debated in committee and since we are seeing this amendment for the first time today, I would like our NDP colleague to elaborate on this.

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Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. I simply have a question for the hon. member.

According to the hon. member, what would be the potential effects of this bill if the government decides to go ahead and privatize some or all of Atomic Energy of Canada?