House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nuclear.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, if there were a nuclear facility in Montreal and there were an accident at that facility, how much does my colleague think Montreal would be worth? Would it be worth $650 million or would it be more? I just want to get an idea as to whether he thinks $650 million would be enough liability or if he thinks it should be more in the case of a nuclear incident.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague can rest easy: no nuclear plants will be built near Montreal. She can be sure of that because we have hydroelectric power. However, should $650 million ever have to be paid out, it would probably not be enough; it will never be enough. Of course I agree with them on that.

Nevertheless, we have to face political reality and understand that the Conservatives and the Liberals have decided that $650 million is enough. We can try to block it or stop it, but in the meantime, the $75 million figure applies. That is the NDP's position: if an incident were to occur tomorrow, the $75 million maximum would apply. That is what it is focusing on.

If we were to listen to the New Democrats and do as they suggest, the maximum liability would remain at that level for a long time because they are delaying the passage of the bill, thus limiting compensation to $75 million. That is probably what they are hoping. I have never understood their political strategy, and I still do not understand it today.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech. Because he is an infrastructure specialist, because of his responsibilities within the Bloc Québécois, and because he has been a mayor and president of the Union des municipalités du Québec, my question will be very precise.

Earlier, our New Democratic colleagues recommended solar and geothermal energy as alternatives to nuclear energy, and we agree with that. They recommended an east-west power grid. The Bloc Québécois does not agree with that solution. We agree with the idea of a grid, but as to who will pay for it, that is another matter.

I would like my colleague to comment on that issue and the debate over an east-west power grid.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry for working every day in the interest of Quebeckers.

Again, given that Quebec paid for its own hydroelectric network without any federal contribution, given that we buy our gas and oil ourselves internationally, which is delivered by ships on the St. Lawrence River, I hope that my colleagues in this House will understand that Quebec is going to sell its electricity to the highest bidder.

It is obviously not our role to support the development of this grid and it is certainly not our role to pay a cent for one-quarter of developing it, because Canada has never paid for the development of Quebec's hydroelectric grid.

I hope hon. members will be understanding and respectful enough of Quebeckers not to make them pay 25% of the bill to develop grids for the others and that they will understand that we are going to sell our electricity for the best market price to those who will give us the most money. If it is the Americans, then it will be the Americans. If it is Ontario, then it will be Ontario. If it is the other provinces, then it will be the other provinces. We are here to do business, the way they have always done business with Quebec. They have always exploited us to the maximum. That is the reality.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to make a comment in response to the statements by the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. It is interesting to note that he spent his entire 10 minutes talking about the NDP. That is likely because of the big nominations we have seen recently, such as the one in Outremont or the one yesterday in Gatineau. Three hundred people came out for the NDP nomination in this riding represented by the Bloc Québécois. Obviously the Bloc feels it is important to try to attack the NDP, because it can see that more and more Quebeckers are turning towards the NDP.

Why? It is very clear. The Bloc's position on Bill C-5 is incomprehensible. We know what the Conservatives are doing, and I will come back to that in a moment. We know that the Liberals go along with anything the Conservative Party says. As for the Bloc Québécois, after supporting the Conservative Party on all those budgets and confidence votes, this is the third time it has given up when faced with something that is not in the best interests of Quebeckers.

In the case of Bill C-5, it is clear that civil liability will fall on Quebeckers for any amount over $650 million if there is an incident. That is what happened with Gentilly-2, just east of Montreal. Once this is privatized, Quebec taxpayers will have to pay. Based on the costs of other nuclear incidents, that could mean paying $499 for every dollar paid within the liability limit. That is ridiculous.

I wanted to make these comments before moving on. I do not understand the Bloc's position, but it is very clear that this is not in the best interests of Quebeckers.

I would like to come back to this issue of Bill C-5 which should be known as the worst nuclear practices act put forward by the government in an attempt, in the long term, to essentially privatize Canadian nuclear facilities.

We know that the current status of nuclear facilities makes it impossible for American private companies to take over Canadian nuclear facilities because there is liability legislation in American law that when foreign liability insurance is too low those nuclear companies are responsible for picking up the liability in the event of a nuclear accident.

What have the Conservatives done? Their privatization agenda seems to be as broad and vast as possible. They have privatized airline transportation safety and given it over to the companies, which certainly did not work with railway safety or business aircraft and it will not work with public transport in the skies, and now nuclear liability itself. The government seems hell bent on privatizing every facet of Canadian life. We have to wonder if this is in the interest of the Canadian population.

I will come back to this term of worst nuclear practices because we need to look at what is happening around the world and how other countries are handling this same question. Hopefully, in all four corners of the House, there would be some degree of consensus that we have to move to best practices, not worst practices.

What is the issue of liability? What it means is that whatever the liability limit is in Canadian legislation, Canadian taxpayers will be picking up the tab for everything beyond that amount.

What does that mean? It means that if we privatize nuclear safety, and the government has shown its willingness and determination to privatize safety in every other aspect, we could have a private nuclear company botching its nuclear safety and causing a massive accident. It would not be the first time it has happened. We have tabled in the House dozens and dozens of nuclear accidents taking place since 1945. It is a regular occurrence.

Therefore, to say that there is a possibility of an accident, one needs only look at the facts and the reality. We cannot pretend that there will not be an accident when we have this past track record. Therefore, we need to look at the whole issue of how we handle these accidents and how we handle liability.

Other countries have said that companies need to have strong liability levels. Germany and Japan both have unlimited liability. In the United States we are talking of liability limits that are in the order of $10 billion. What do the Conservatives propose, with the support of the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois, three-quarters of this House basically just dropping their arms in surrender and saying that whatever the Prime Minister wants he gets? They are proposing $650 million. It is ridiculous.

We need only look at one nuclear accident and the estimated damages, the nuclear accident that took place in the Ukraine. The estimated amount in terms of overall damages by the Russian government is in the order of $235 billion. I will repeat that because I think it is important for our hon. friends in the other three-quarters of the House to understand the difference between $650 million and $235 billion. What does that mean? It means that the potential consequences of shoddy management practices in nuclear facilities would cost in the order of $235 billion and yet the government proposes to set the liability limit far below that.

In fact, in that particular case, if that had been a Canadian nuclear reactor and if that had been on Canadian soil, under the guidelines of Bill C-5 that would mean the company's liability would be $1 and the Canadian taxpayers' liability would be $500. For every $1 of the company's responsibility, the taxpayers would be libel for $500.

I say that is absurd and so do members of the NDP caucus who have been speaking in the House against this bill. It is absolutely absurd that we would limit the company's responsibility to that small an amount, the minimum possible international standards. That is why we in the NDP say that Bill C-5 should be known as the worst nuclear practices act.

In the recent statistics coming out of the latest parliamentary session, and I do not think I am betraying anything unless there is a massive shift in the next 24 hours, it turns out that the average NDP MP does 19 times the work of MPs from other caucuses, particularly backbench Conservatives and Liberal MPs.

When Bill C-5 came forward, we immediately got to work offering dozens of amendments to clean up the bill so Canadian taxpayers would not be on the hook. We raised it in committee and thought we had the support of the Liberals and the Bloc. However, any time there is a bill the Prime Minister wants passed, the Liberals back off immediately and simply agree to pass it. In something reminiscent of the softwood lumber sellout, which both the Liberals and the Bloc supported the Conservatives on and on which B.C. is still suffering the enormous consequences of that sellout, the Bloc told the Prime Minister to take whatever he wanted and Bill C-5 was not amended.

We then brought forward amendment after amendment in the House and still there have been no changes, which is why we have been speaking against this bill. It is ridiculous. It is simply the worst possible nuclear practice. It is not in keeping with Canadian interests and it is irresponsible.

The reason we have been speaking out against this so-called responsible bill, the worst nuclear practices act, in the House of Commons, and raising this issue in every tribunal that we can and, by the way, getting significant public support, is because it does not make sense to push for the privatization of the nuclear industry, to lessen safeguards over the nuclear industry or to have a liability amount that is so ridiculously low that Canadian taxpayers, in the horrendous and horrific possibility of a real nuclear accident, would be on the hook for centuries.

We know that nuclear material is radioactive for centuries. This bill, the worst nuclear practices act, is a radioactive bill because it would have consequences that would last for centuries, which is why we are opposing it.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster understands what this bill means and why we tried to amend it but, sadly, could not get it amended in committee and could not get it amended in the House at report stage. We want our voices to be heard loud and clear, which is what he has done, about the problems in the bill and why it should not go forward.

One of the biggest issues is the amount of the liability. I want to ask a similar question to the one I asked my Bloc colleague. Does he think the government is devaluing Canadian communities that have nuclear facilities where there could be an incident? When we say that a community is only worth $650 million and we know it is worth a lot more, does he think the government is devaluing Canadian communities by having such a low liability?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver Island North represents an area that has been devalued by the Conservative government, North Vancouver Island. Through the devastating softwood lumber sellout, she has seen first-hand what she has had to do to fight on behalf of her communities.

The Conservative government basically sold out pretty well every community in British Columbia, certainly, northern communities across the prairies, northern Ontario and northern Quebec, with the softwood lumber sellout. Ten thousand jobs were lost. There was a hemorrhaging of jobs to the United States and a billion dollars were given up, which is absolutely ridiculous.

We see yet another initiative of the Conservatives as part of their great agenda to sell out Canadian communities. There is absolutely no doubt that when we limit liability to $650 million and we know the potential in a nuclear catastrophe is in the order of hundreds of billions of dollars, when we see that other countries like Germany and Japan have unlimited liability, which forces the companies to assure proper practices in the nuclear sphere, and when we see it in its entirety, it is very clear that the Conservative government does not value Canadian communities, whether they be in Newfoundland and Labrador, or on Vancouver Island or in the north.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, based on the analysis he just gave, does my hon. colleague not agree that it would actually be better for Canada to find ways to produce electricity that are permanent, sustainable and viable, unlike atomic energy? Does he not also think that, since such a low limit is being established, there is good reason to believe that that limit could be surpassed?

Indeed, as the member just mentioned, would it not be better to follow the example of countries that are setting much higher limits as a guarantee that companies will do everything they can, knowing the consequences they face in the event of a tragedy?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Outremont for his question.

He is quite right. It is important to establish a strategy that includes other kinds of energy.

Fortunately, we in the NDP have done so recently, with the energy plan we are currently establishing in order to really create a new kind of sustainable development in Canada. We believe that a vast majority of Canadians support this new kind of development.

I know the hon. member represents a very important community in Quebec and I also know that he is worried about the position of the Bloc Québécois, who wanted to follow the NDP's lead regarding Bill C-5, but who threw in the towel and said they would stop fighting the Conservative government, as one Bloc member just mentioned.

The Bloc says the Conservatives and the Liberals are too strong and that it cannot do anything. We saw this with the softwood lumber agreement and we are seeing it again with air safety. Time and time again, the Bloc Québécois refuses to represent Quebeckers—

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is with regret that I must interrupt the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster. We are now resuming debate.

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel would like to take the floor, but it is the member for Outremont's turn to speak.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, such excitement. For a moment I thought the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel would speak, but no. Maybe one day we will hear his voice in this House.

We are talking about an extremely important bill that aims to relieve the nuclear industry of its responsibility. Nuclear energy represents very real dangers. Because using nuclear energy to produce electricity is so dangerous, the Conservative government, which has no vision for sustainable development, wants to make things easier for companies should an accident occur.

What I am about to say may seem incredible, but to the south of us, in the United States, the limit on compensation that could be paid out for a nuclear accident is $10 billion. The Conservatives would like to set the limit at $650 million. However, we know that the total cost of damages from an accident like Chernobyl would be hundreds of billions of dollars. For a single accident. The proposed amount is obviously insufficient. It does not even represent 1% of the potential damages in the event of an accident, which is not something anyone wants to see happen, of course.

How did we get to this point? The answer is simple. For at least the past 13 years, the Liberals claimed they were doing something about sustainable development, but in reality they were not. They were all talk and no action, as is their habit. Although we do not agree with the Conservatives, at least they do not pretend to care about future generations. All they want to do is get as much as they can now, look after today and let tomorrow look after itself. That is their attitude, and it is reflected in all their decisions.

We are faced with a situation that came about through Liberal inaction: no vision, no plan for clean, renewable energy, no hydrogen, no wind power, no solar power or hydro. What we have instead is an attempt to promote nuclear power in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

I want to be very clear. The NDP is opposed to any new nuclear infrastructure in Canada. We find it regrettable that, instead of looking at potential energy sources—and what Quebec is doing is a perfect example—instead of developing clean, renewable energy sources, the government is relying on a technology that is more than 60 years old.

As I just demonstrated with the case of Chernobyl, in Ukraine, nuclear accidents can have devastating consequences. I am talking about damage in the hundreds of billions of dollars, as well as tens of thousands of deaths. Many people died immediately, as a direct result of the accident, but a huge number of people also developed cancer. By looking at the concentric circles emanating out to Europe from Chernobyl, we can even see changes in types of cancer 5, 10 and 15 years after the accident, which occurred about 20 years ago.

I am reading a book about Chernobyl and was interested to see that the accident prompted Gorbachev and Reagan to focus on the urgent need to work for peace. However, it seems as though these lessons—pursuing peace and working to eliminate the real danger of any form of nuclear energy, whether it be a nuclear weapon or, in the case of Chernobyl again, a series of reactors to produce electricity that could get out of control—are often lost.

Let us look at how extraordinary Canada is. It is the second largest country in the world, in terms of geographic area, with a small population of barely 35 million. In this country, solutions have varied over the years and generating electricity is a provincial and local responsibility. We could work, for example, with wind energy. Did you know that Quebec is heading toward a production of 4,000 megawatts? That means 4,000 times a million watts in wind energy. We have potential wind energy sites all across Canada, in other words, sites that are particularly favourable for generating wind energy, particularly in regions where first nations live.

Last week, quite rightfully, the government apologized for some of the harm caused to the first nations. What an incredible opportunity for us to have a vision of the future, to work with the provinces, which are primarily responsible, to provide incentives, including tax programs, to develop clean and renewable energy that comes from the wind.

If we combine wind energy with hydroelectricity, which is often a potential source of energy across Canada, we can, when weather and market conditions are suitable—why not export clean, renewable energy if we have it in abundance?—we can create something that is sustainable and also very useful for future generations.

Quebec's current finance minister, Monique Jérôme-Forget, recently went to different capital cities to explain the intrinsic value of Hydro-Québec, and I must admit that I more or less agree with her. She was talking about the wealth that can be created, but the Conservatives do not see it that way. To them, the only thing worth doing in Canada is to develop the oil sands in Alberta as quickly as possible and soon those in Saskatchewan, too.

In an extraordinary new book by Montreal journalist William Marsden, aptly entitled Stupid to the Last Drop, he considers the oil sands and recalls a historical fact. In the early 1950s, the suggestion was made that to get oil out of the oil sands in Alberta, it would be a good idea to set off atomic bombs here and there throughout that province. Plans were created and analyses carried out. It would not surprise me to learn that they actually tried that.

Something almost as stupid is now being proposed: the construction of a number of nuclear plants to generate the steam used to extract the oil from the tar sands. This is already an unsustainable situation. Natural gas is presently used to extract oil from tar sands. And the oil is being exported directly to the United States without any value added.

This is somewhat similar to the mistake made, generation after generation, with respect to our forests. My colleague just explained to us how ridiculous it was to sell out to the Americans. Even if there were real concerns about the sustainability of certain forestry practices, that did not at all justify, in light of NAFTA, giving away $1 billion just to settle the dispute. But that is what was done. We were directly exporting our forest products, while the value added, the processing, was done elsewhere, primarily in the United States. Most of the time, this is also true of ores and our other resources from the primary sector.

The same thing is happening with oil. The new Keystone project, just approved by the National Energy Board, proposes to export 200 million litres per day to the United States. Despite the problems of extracting the oil and the pollution that already exists in Canada, the errors will be stupidly compounded by exporting the oil in bulk to the United States, along with all the jobs in processing.

For the Keystone project alone, that amounts to 18,000 jobs that will be exported to the United States. The environmental problems will be placed on our shoulders and on those of future generations and the first nations. All the benefits will be exported. With regard to the obvious problem of NAFTA, we are creating a situation where the Americans can, under the NAFTA rules of proportionality, demand that we continue sending the same amount.

This bill exemplifies the Conservatives' lack of vision in terms of energy production. They have gone so far as to draft a bill to help the nuclear industry avoid its civil responsibility. It is outright shameful and I am very proud to be a member of the only political party that has the courage to rise in the House of Commons and to express its disapproval. I am very disappointed that the Bloc and the Liberals support the Conservatives in this matter.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe the member has a good understanding of the problem with this bill. He was once Quebec's environment minister. Therefore, he has a lot of experience with the need to develop a long-term plan, with environmental requirements, and with the effects of power-generating projects. The NDP is opposed to this bill and to the development of the nuclear industry.

The reason for our opposition is there are so many issues of liability as well as unanswered questions.

Clearly no one has never come up with a plan for the waste, for the MOX fuel, for the spent rods and for the contamination that is created in the nuclear industry. It is shipped in barrels and moved on trucks. Continually the great lands of the north are looked at as an ideal dumping ground. I am proud to say the citizens of Timmins—James Bay will stand steadfast in ensuring that such waste is never dumped on us. However, there is lack of a plan for contaminated substance that has thousands of years of liability and impact on the environment.

From his many years of experience with the Government of Quebec, could he explain to us, if this process is so safe, why we still have not found anybody, any jurisdiction or any way of addressing or accepting the waste left from these projects?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague and friend, the member for Timmins—James Bay, has hit the nail right on the head with his question. That is where the real problems of sustainable development, longevity and viability arise.

Like him, people on Quebec's North Shore are concerned about certain companies. This concern is not merely theoretical. There are some companies—and I can comment on them because I knew them when I was Quebec's environment minister—that have definite designs on the region because they think there is nothing there, nothing but a few people, anyway. They think the place is huge and that they can always dig deep enough.

That is exactly the mentality underlying this bill. The fact that they are exploring the vast reaches of northern Ontario and Quebec looking for places to dig and bury waste, hoping that it will not escape somehow, which makes no sense at all, is proof positive of the problems inherent in nuclear development, just like the problems with this bill to limit liability.

The very idea of limiting liability reveals the danger this kind of activity poses. The government recognizes these threats, but it does not want to reduce them; it wants to limit companies' liability. That is why this bill is so shameful, and that is why it is so unfortunate that the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals are supporting the Conservatives on this one.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

June 19th, 2008 / 5:20 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I referred to the bill as a sad case of trying to introduce carbon offsets for our greenhouse gases in the oil sands. The Conservative government seems to think nuclear is clean energy and it is sadly mistaken.

Because my time is so short, does my hon. colleague think the $650 million, this small amount of money attributed to operators of nuclear facilities, is basically a devaluing of Canadian communities? So many communities that have nuclear facilities are populated areas with businesses, families and homes and these assets are worth a lot more, collectively, than $650 million. Is it a sellout to our Canadian communities to not go with an unlimited liability?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is exactly right. It is a further illustration of the fact that the Conservatives simply do not believe in sustainable development. What is saddening today is the Liberals and the Bloc are endorsing their positions against sustainable development.