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 nuclear.

Topics

Bill C-5--Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board regarding the report stage motions standing on the notice paper for Bill C-5.

Bill C-5 would establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident that makes operators of nuclear installations entirely liable for damages up to a maximum of $650 million. Operators are required to maintain financial security equal to the financial liability of $650 million. The security is in the form of insurance from an approved insurer but may also, by agreement with the minister, be in alternative form. The risk insured by an approved insurer can be reinsured by the federal government through a special account called the nuclear liability reinsurance account.

The hon. parliamentary secretary argued that Motions Nos. 1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 could have been moved in committee and therefore should not be selected by the Speaker. I am in agreement that Motion No. 10 could have been moved in committee and accordingly, as indicated in the ruling delivered yesterday, I have not selected it for debate.

However, the hon. parliamentary secretary went on to argue that these same motions, all of them deletions, infringe upon the royal recommendation that accompanies the bill. It should be noted that this is a highly unusual argument. It is a long-standing practice that motions to delete clauses are normally admissible and selected at report stage.

In this case, however, as the usual report stage was about to be delivered regarding the selection from the 21 motions in amendment, 19 of them deletions, concerns were raised that some deletions provoked concerns relative to the royal recommendation. Such requirements are rarely associated with motions to delete clauses so I ask for the House's indulgence as I explain the conclusions I have reached in this matter.

Motion No. 1 is a motion to delete clause 21. Motions of this type cannot be proposed in committee but are normally selected at the report stage.

Motions Nos. 2, 3, 4, 8, 11, 12 and 16 are consequential to Motion No. 1. House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 666 states:

—a motion in amendment to delete a clause from a bill has always been considered by the Chair to be in order, even if such a motion would alter or go against the principle of the bill as approved at second reading.

However, motions submitted at report stage still need to meet the requirements of Standing Order 79(1) with respect to the need for a royal recommendation.

Motion No. 1 proposes to delete clause 21, which sets the liability limit of $650 million. The hon. parliamentary secretary has argued that deleting this clause would cause the potential liability on agents of the Crown, such as Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, to be increased. He goes on to argue that the deletion of clause 21 without the deletion of clause 26 would increase the liability on the government and would infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown.

The Chair is not persuaded by the arguments presented that there is an infringement on the conditions and qualifications set out in the royal recommendation attached to the bill. That said, however, I take the point that the deletion of clause 21 and of clause 26 are inextricably linked.

The Chair cannot agree that Motion No. 1, which would delete clause 21, is not admissible. Accordingly, I have maintained the original decision to select it to go forward for debate and decision. However, in recognition of the link between Motion No. 1 and Motion No. 5 which would delete clause 26, I have amended the voting pattern so that a vote on Motion No. 1 will be applied to Motion No. 5 which would delete clause 26, as well as the several consequential motions enumerated in the original decision delivered yesterday by the Deputy Speaker.

The hon. parliamentary secretary has also argued that Motions Nos. 6, 7 and 9, if adopted, would have the effect of increasing the tribunal's operating costs. The Chair believes that, with regard to Motions Nos. 7 and 9, such increases, if any, would be provided for through the usual appropriations secured through the main or supplementary estimates. These two motions shall therefore remain before the House.

Motion No. 6 proposes to delete clause 30 which would establish time limits on bringing claims for compensation. Motion No. 21 is consequential to Motion No. 6. The Chair is not of the view that doing away with these time limits infringes on the royal recommendation attached to the bill.

The revised voting pattern is available at the table. I thank hon. members for their patience in allowing me to consider the important matters raised by the hon. parliamentary secretary.

The House resumed 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.

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3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Victoria had concluded her remarks and there are five minutes remaining for questions and comments consequent upon those remarks. I therefore call for questions and comments.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Ottawa South.

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3:10 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the ongoing debate on Bill C-5. It speaks to civil liability and compensation for damage in case we ever had a nuclear incident in our country.

The difficulty with addressing the bill in isolation is that I think for most Canadians, it has to be seen in the context of what has happed with the government with respect to the nuclear industry at large over the past roughly two and half years since it assumed power.

It is true that the bill is supported by the official opposition. I congratulate my colleague, the member for Mississauga—Erindale, the official opposition critic for natural resources, who has helped to stickhandle some of the more delicate questions around levels of compensation and standards for insurance, for example, that find themselves in the bill, and for that I thank him. We will support the bill as it is presently constituted.

However, it is fair to point out for Canadians just what has transpired around the nuclear issue in Canada over the last two and a half years. Let us review what has been happening around the government's performance recently.

The first ground breaking development was when the Prime Minister of Canada stood up in the House of Commons and labelled Linda Keen, who was then the chair of the quasi-judicial Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, a Liberal appointee who he implied was simply doing the bidding of the Liberal Party of Canada by not folding to the pressure being brought to bear on her by the government.

It was quite an astonishing thing, given the fact that the Prime Minister several years ago had promised the Canadian people, in another election campaign, that they should not worry about him assuming power because the senior ranks of the bureaucracy and those who headed up our boards, agencies, commissions and our Supreme Court would “keep him in check”. Obviously he was pandering for votes, knowing that his polling was telling him clearly that the Canadian people did not trust his ideological bent and his deepest motives. Now we know on the nuclear front that they have reason and cause to be concerned, despite what is in the bill. C-5.

We can recall that Linda Keen, the former chair of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, appeared before the House in a committee of the whole, with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. They had been called to the floor of the House for an emergency debate. It surrounded the question of medical isotopes.

We have since discovered that the night before the Minister of Natural Resources's appearance before committee, after Linda Keen denounced the government's condemnation of her rocking the stability of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission as a whole, he fired her in the dark of night, just hours before she was to testify. His parliamentary secretary had pleaded with the committee to allow her to come and to allow for rebuttal, which we approved and agreed upon. However, at 11 o'clock at night, the chief nuclear safety regulator was informed at her home that she was fired.

I am a former governor in council appointee. I was involved in a whole series of appointments of members on my board and I have never ever, in my 25 years as a lawyer, heard anything of this kind. For that matter, nor has the minister. When he came to committee, he was asked to give us one shred of evidence, one ounce of questioning of this officer's performing her duties, doing exactly what her statutory responsibilities compelled her to do. The minister, carrying the line for the Prime Minister, said nothing.

Since then we have asked the minister to tell us, all in the interest of transparency and stability of the nuclear sector in our country, how much money it will cost the country to settle this preposterous lawsuit that the government has to defend because of its reckless conduct. Will it cost us half a million dollars? Will it cost us $2.5 million?

We know there is a very aggressive wrongful dismissal lawsuit now in the hands of PCO officials, but the government will not tell the Canadian people how much is will cost. It will not tell them because it was so reckless in firing the chief regulator for the nuclear industry. Canadians have a right to be deeply concerned about exactly what the government has done on the nuclear front.

Let us turn to AECL.

The provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec have to deal with their nuclear capacity as they seek to meet their energy needs for the future. As one of my colleagues put it earlier today, all of this must be seen in the context of reaching and achieving our climate change greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The Premier of Ontario wrote the Prime Minister, asking him to clarify exactly what he would be doing with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited before the province moved forward with an $18 billion request for proposals to help deal with its energy needs going forward. There was no response. Is AECL now being compromised in terms of its potential success with such a bid? Of course it is.

This morning the Minister of Natural Resources was at committee. My colleague, the official critic for natural resources, repeatedly asked him exactly what role AECL would be expected to play in Canada. We know there are some 200 new nuclear power plants being built as we speak. There are 126 requests for proposals right now worldwide, which AECL ought to be winning. What was the answer? Nothing.

We asked the Minister of Natural Resources what the Banque Nationale study, which he asked to have conducted, had to say about the future of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. We asked if the government would move to privatize all of AECL. There was no answer. We asked if it would move to privatize part of AECL. There was no answer. We asked if it would infuse it with new public capital, or if no money was left over after the Minister of Finance pulled yet another voodoo economic act at the federal level? Again, there was no answer. We asked if research and development would remain public or if it would remain possibly private. There was no answer.

This is at a time when the province of Ontario has indicated to the Prime Minister that it needs an answer by June, with clarity and certainty of exactly what the federal government will do with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.

This is not a shell game. This is an important fundamental question about keeping the lights on, keeping our industries humming and providing new forms of energy in an energy mix that Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec at least want to see addressed by the federal government.

The bill is important because it speaks to core issues around liability, indemnification, insurance coverages and the likes. However, it is very unfortunate because while the bill is being supported by the official opposition, what we are really seeing is complete incoherence on behalf of the government when it comes to taking a position on nuclear energy in our country and the future of what used to be and what still is arguably one of the world's pre-eminent nuclear companies.

Are we going to sit back and be out-skated by the French government and its partner in the private sector that is supplying now roughly 80% of France's electricity needs? Are we going to sit back and be outmanoeuvred by American nuclear companies? These questions have to be answered, but the government refuses to answer them. It has to come clean and come clean soon.

At the very least, the minister should admit his reckless incompetence in following suit, taking the lead from the Prime Minister, and singling out a top-notch, apolitical, lifetime official who was running the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. He bullied her, although she would not stand down. He dispatched two other ministers to bully her publicly, and she would not stand down. Now we find ourselves faced with a multi-million dollar lawsuit because of the Prime Minister's choice of what I call non-judicious remarks on the floor of the House of Commons.

The minister should apologize for that conduct. In fact, we repeatedly have called for his resignation. At the very least, he has to tell us how much money it will cost the Canadian people to settle the lawsuit caused by the reckless conduct of the Prime Minister.

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3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised a very interesting question, about the privatization of AECL, which seems to be under consideration.

Does he not think that Bill C-5 is necessary for such privatization? A company that bought Atomic Energy of Canada would naturally fear that it might be responsible for the production of CANDU reactors and fear that it could, in case of accident, at some time be held accountable. Accordingly, for anyone who wanted to buy the company it is more attractive to have $650 million in insurance as a first buffer, and the government responsible for the rest.

In addition, I would like to point out that this morning, during the committee meeting, the minister said that he would make a decision this year and all options are on the table. In my opinion, that seems to indicate very clearly that he will privatize it this year.

Does my colleague think it is right that after the government has invested money in Atomic Energy of Canada, it could sell it or hand it over to the private sector just when it becomes profitable?

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I would like to share with him what I heard at the committee this morning from the Minister of Natural Resources.

As the member himself has indicated, it is clear that the minister is trying to hide exactly what the government intends to do. We have no confidence in the government’s intentions when it comes to the matter of privatizing this crown corporation—none at all. We know that the government appears to be following its own ideology before obtaining scientific evidence, not to mention economic evidence. We see that in all areas. We have no confidence at all in the minister’s promise that there will be an answer within the next year to this very important question.

As I suggested in my remarks, this is very important for New Brunswick and especially for Ontario. The Premier of Ontario wrote to the Prime Minister asking him explain exactly what he intends to do with this crown corporation, before moving forward with a series of contracts worth $18 billion for construction of nuclear stations in Ontario. We have not had an answer.

Under Bill C-5 there would be new regulations that are necessary, but all of this is being done in a vacuum. We have had no answer about the future of this crown corporation and that concerns us a great deal.

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3:25 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the remarks of my hon. colleague, the member for Ottawa South. I sit on the natural resources committee, and we heard from many witnesses during the Chalk River debate. We talked about AECL. One of the things we learned was the Auditor General had done several reports, all pointing to underfunding of AECL over many years, not just the past two years.

I am also concerned about the prospect of the government privatizing AECL. The minister said again today that all options were on the table with the review of AECL, which is ongoing now.

We are talking about amendments to a bill, the nuclear liability act, which states that in the case of a nuclear disaster, there would be a cap on industry at $650 million. After that amount, it basically puts taxpayers on the hook. People will be calling on the government to ensure that it is liable.

Why would the member for Ottawa South and his party let industry off the hook for the price of $650 million?

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, the question of increasing operator liability from $75 million to $650 million puts Canada at par with the liability limits in so many other countries, and it responds to recommendations put forward by Senate committees.

Second, it gives the minister the power to review the liability amount at least every five years, which is reasonable.

It is not as simple as the member puts it here to the House or to Canadians. I understand it is hard for NDP members because they are a very anti-nuclear party, but I would like to know more about how they, for example, can reconcile their climate change and greenhouse gas reduction strategies with the role of nuclear power going forward?

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3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-5 because we are in favour of safety, and we want to guarantee that people are insured if ever an accident happens. I say “if ever” but, given the law of probabilities, there will be an accident sooner or later. If it is not in Canada, then it will be somewhere else. That would effectively change the entire ideology of developing nuclear plants to generate electricity.

In any case, as I said, we are in favour of the bill because it provides a way to respond to an accident, even a small one. I just spoke about the probability of accidents. There are 60 accidents a year in Canada's nuclear plants alone. They have always been small contained incidents, but they could become serious accidents.

I am not talking about the tritium that is released, or that has been released. It took years in order to find solutions to limit the release of tritium into the air, which really caused pollution around CANDU plants. A CANDU plant is not a safe plant. The uranium-filled pipes bend over time because they were poorly designed. And when they bend, they can impede the movement of water around them. It is an example of a dangerous but efficient plant.

The minister again mentioned this morning that they are the four most efficient plants in Korea. We are not denying that these plants are efficient; we are just saying that this is a dangerous system. That is one of the reasons why they have been unable to develop the ACR-1000. It poses the same risks of tubes bending and deteriorating prematurely.

In any case, we really do not see why the Minister of Natural Resources is calling it a clean energy. It is clean as long as we do not talk about residue. Radioactive waste is dirty and will remain so for millions of years.

According to the minister, we will soon be recovering nuclear waste and giving it a second life. I would like to point out that France studied this for 15 years and abandoned the research because there was no prospect of success. And yet, we know that France has great faith in nuclear power. France passed the file on to the United States, which is also about to give up because they have not discovered how to deal with nuclear waste that is at an almost uncontrollable temperature. Consequently, this is not a solution that will materialize and we will therefore have a nuclear energy shortage. The A235 and the A239 may perhaps be ready in 35 to 40 years.

Therefore, we support this bill, which will protect existing plants and the people living nearby. However, we do not want this to automatically encourage the development of nuclear power in Canada, especially since Ontario is presently thinking of going that route. What lies east of Ontario, in its prevailing winds? Quebec. If an accident were to occur in Ontario, we would not want the radioactivity to spread to our province. We would not want that at all. Furthermore, Quebeckers generally do not support the development of nuclear power.

A few years ago, in 2002, not at the time of a referendum but when there was a movement against trucking MOX, 150 municipalities said no to road transportation of MOX.

What makes them think that it will be easy to truck enriched uranium or heavy water in a few years?

It is going to take an army and the police, before and after, to stop the demonstrators, and all that will cost a fortune. Nuclear power is expensive and cannot meet our needs.

At present, in the whole world, 12% of total electricity is produced by nuclear power. If we are going to be able to meet the needs, the rate would have to be 75% in 2050, which is totally impossible, because countries are not rich enough to pay for nuclear power. Nuclear power is necessarily a way of producing electricity that belongs to the rich. There will also not be enough uranium in the mines to supply all of the nuclear power plants.

Some people argue that this is the only solution that will not cause air pollution. That is absolutely not the case. There are other methods of producing electricity in a safe and sustainable way. I am thinking about deep geothermal energy, at a depth of two or three or four kilometres underground.

In the United States, 25 leading soil scientists participated in a $400,000 study on this topic. The study shows that deep geothermal energy is undeniably the only way to supply all of the electrical energy that will be needed in 2050. In Canada, the same would be true, because we have the same kind of soil. There are no social consequences, given that these facilities are not obvious and make no noise. Most importantly, there is no danger.

Deep geothermal energy does not need Bill C-5, because there are no accidents possible. At worst, a little pipe might be pierced and a bit of steam might get out. On the other hand, nuclear power will always be a sword of Damocles, always. It is like with a plane: you never know what day the plane will fall. We never know what day the nuclear power plant will blow up, either.

That is why we support Bill C-5. In our opinion, the legislation as it previously stood, which provided for $75 million of protection, was flatly and plainly inadequate if an accident happened—and they will happen. We do not know how big the problem will be, but there will certainly, and unfortunately, be accidents; it is the law of averages.

Some people will say that $650 million is not much more. It is a little more, but it is not a huge amount. It is not comparable to the United States, where $9 to $11 billion has been set aside. But that is a different system.

Here, we have opted for a system under which the insurance companies would provide this guarantee against nuclear accidents, and they do not want that protection to go above $650 million. In that regard, the government is right. It is the amount the insurance companies have agreed to commit to. Why are they not prepared to increase that amount? The reason is simple: because accidents can happen. If an accident can happen, why are we building more power stations? We should keep the ones we have and end it there.

I spoke about deep geothermal energy, but let us look at the amount of energy that can be produced just through geothermal heating—the geothermal energy found on the earth's surface. If 200,000 to 250,000 homes were powered this way, the yield would correspond to three times the energy potential of a 600- to 700-megawatt nuclear power plant.

I can see that I am running out of time. I would have liked to have spent all evening talking about nuclear energy, as I find it very interesting.

Because there is probably a very powerful nuclear energy lobby, people think it is the future. We think it is the past, and we think we should not focus on nuclear energy without consulting citizens.

The bill we have before us is interesting. However, why does the bill not state how the waste and residue will be buried? Why does it not state that the public would be consulted before we continue to produce nuclear energy? Furthermore, why did the government not say in this bill that it planned on privatizing the agency responsible for nuclear energy? This privatization would mean that we lose even more control, and that nuclear energy would be left up to the market.

Nuclear energy should not be run by the market. We must think about our health. The government is responsible for protecting the health of its citizens. Nuclear energy cannot protect our health, because there is always an imminent danger of a potential accident.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member raised a number of issues that require further consultation with the public and with experts. One of them was the potential privatization of AECL. I believe another imbedded in his speech was the issue around a larger energy strategy that looks at renewable and sustainable energy.

I wonder if the member could comment on the elements that he believes need to be present in a consultative process. Perhaps he could comment on where we should be going with renewable and sustainable energy plans for Canada.

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question. She has raised a very important point.

There are alternative energies, including active and passive solar, active solar with water, geothermal, wave, run of the river hydroelectricity and any number of technologies that have yet to be developed. We could be using these kinds of energy to meet our consumption needs in order to properly function.

Serious problems are linked to corn ethanol, but ethanol can also be produced from household or industrial waste. That is what Japan is currently planning. A great deal of energy could be harnessed from what we are sending to the landfill.

I will come back to my colleague's question and explore geothermal energy a little further. The temperature of water at a depth of two kilometres in Quebec and Ontario is approximately 100 to 150 degrees Celsius, which can drive steam turbines.

Twenty-seven countries around the world have major power plants that are operating on geothermal energy. Here, we have a layer of granite. Since granite cracks easily, we can divert water, capture it and bring it up to the surface to make electricity continuously, that is, night and day, at all times.

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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his speech about nuclear and geothermal energy, a field he knows well and has studied for many years. I believe that geothermal is an alternative to nuclear energy.

I read a document produced by “Sortir du nucléaire”, a French antinuclear coalition. According to the document, over the next 15 years, we will have to invest between $15 billion and $20 billion to keep our nuclear power plants running. That will start within 10 or 15 years, because nuclear reactors tend to last for 10 to 15 years.

My colleague suggested we look to geothermal energy. Can he provide some numbers for this alternative energy source? Can he also explain the consequences of nuclear power generation on people's health? Studies have shown that radioactive waste can cause cancer and other human health problems. I would like him to comment on that too.

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3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi has a minute to respond.

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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will respond directly: geothermal electricity costs between 2.5¢ and 3¢ per kilowatt hour. Why? Because it is costing less and less to dig the pits since this technology has already been developed to get fuel and oil out of the ground.

This winter in New Zealand, I saw geothermal projects that were 50 years old and have not required any renovation costs, except for consistent maintenance on a few pipes and valves. They have been working day and night for 50 years producing 25 kilowatt hours the whole time. There are absolutely no health risks involved.

However, nuclear energy has a whole host of health risks. Think of the danger of radon to those mining and extracting uranium. People have problems related to radon, which is quite dangerous. Sooner or later, they get lung cancer and die. Radon is odourless and invisible.

There are dangers on many levels when it comes to nuclear energy. There needs to be an in-depth study, as my colleague said—

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3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Vancouver Island North.