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

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, if we look at the past and all the comments made by the members from the Bloc Québécois in committee, it is very clear that they felt that the level of civil liability could not be limited to $650 million. Indeed, speech after speech, the members from the Bloc Québécois were very clear on this. Like the NDP, they felt this limited amount of civil liability was clearly insufficient. I can cite member after member, including several who are here in this House today.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay whether he knows where this about-face is coming from in the Bloc Québécois on an issue that affects Quebeckers. They are the ones who will have to pay if there is ever a nuclear accident.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague asks a very in depth question. I was actually thinking about that after I sat down. I thought that perhaps I had finished my comments too early, but I sometimes think it is very important to be brief, direct and to the point in the House. I did feel that things certainly were being left out of the little exchange that I had with my hon. colleague from the Bloc Québécois.

Certainly there were serious concerns raised about the limits on liability, because the Canadian taxpayer will be on the hook. If something goes wrong, the municipalities and provincial governments will be faced with the costs. Talk about the ultimate intervention in the affairs of Quebec: we would be talking about a nuclear accident and the citizens of Quebec being left on the hook. So why the Bloc Québécois would not stand up--

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

We will move on.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is truly a pleasure for me to speak to this bill at third reading and to answer the NDP's many questions about the Bloc Québécois' position.

We have been talking about this bill since October 2007. This bill would overhaul an outdated act that both Conservative and Liberal governments have cast aside. Under the old act, maximum liability for damages was $75 million. Many of our debates have hinged on the amount of compensation. Those on the other side of the House have not really talked about the mechanism, the tribunal, provided for in this new legislation to support citizens and communities seeking compensation.

Bill C-5 seeks to modernize the old act. The amount of liability has not changed in some 30 years. The NDP's position is irresponsible because if a serious nuclear incident were to happen right now in Ontario or another province, even Quebec, compensation would not exceed $75 million. Delaying the passage of this bill is irresponsible because the status quo is not acceptable.

I understand and agree with many members of this House that $650 million is not nearly enough. The interesting thing about this bill is that it includes mechanisms allowing the minister to change that amount as often as every five years. That does not mean the amount will be changed every five years; that just means that it can be.

The fact that the NDP has done everything in its power to delay passage of this bill means that today or even yesterday, had there been an incident, people and communities would have received just $75 million in compensation instead of $650 million. Even though we disagree on certain points, and even though we often disagree with the critic during Standing Committee on Natural Resources meetings, we have good discussions, and we often end up reaching an agreement.

When Bill C-5 was being debated in committee, we heard from many witnesses. A fairly rigorous examination was conducted. This is a somewhat technical bill dealing with insurance. Within the committee, there were no members with expertise acquired in the insurance industry prior to being elected. Accordingly, we listened very carefully to the witnesses as well as to the House and departmental legislative staff who advised us very well. We asked them many questions and I think we did a good job. Of course, the Bloc Québécois cannot say that it agrees with the bill 100%, but we do believe that, basically, it represents an improvement. The status quo was unacceptable. We think this is an improvement and that this bill is better than the previous legislation.

We do share some concerns of the members opposite who were wondering why the Conservative government suddenly woke up and decided to modernize an old act that had been abandoned by previous Liberal and Conservative governments. Why are they suddenly waking up and exerting pressure to see this bill passed quickly? Of course, the Conservative government endorses nuclear energy and is looking into opportunities in that area. Canada's legislation was completely outdated and no longer met international standards and accepted norms.

In that respect, I completely understand the distress and concerns, since I share them as well. The fact remains that, after all the evidence, all the work done in committee and after debating the amendments proposed by the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, unfortunately, very few amendments were retained. If the Blocs' amendments had also been accepted, the bill would have been even better.

In any case, we believe that the creation of a tribunal to hear cases and ensure compensation for communities and citizens is already a step in the right direction.

We heard some rather touching testimony. All municipalities with a nuclear power station located in their limits are members of an association and the mayor of a “host” city spoke to us about her concerns.

Her message was that she does not oppose the bill because she believes that this old, outdated law—cast aside by the Liberals and the Conservatives—should be revised. However, she was particularly concerned that $650 million would not be enough to compensate both individuals and the communities. For example, she stated that all infrastructure could be affected, requiring much more than $650 million in compensation.

Yet, the mayor also said that $650 million was better than the $75 million currently in place. The testimony to this effect by several witnesses determined the position we took in the committee.

It is rather odd. We studied a large number of amendments in committee, which were presented in the proper way and democratically. Then, all of a sudden, without consultation or democratic debate by our committee, a series of NDP amendments were presented in this House and, unfortunately, the committee was unable to hear witnesses in order to further study them.

I am a new member and this is the first time I have had such an experience. In committee, we carefully studied a bill and the amendments; then at subsequent readings in the House, we were faced with fifteen to twenty amendments. Some had been studied in committee and reintroduced, but others were altogether new. I know it takes a lot of work to introduce amendments, and I found it unfortunate that we were unable to study them in committee with new witnesses.

The Bloc Québécois is very concerned by the renewed interest in nuclear energy and, above all, by all the energy this Conservative government is putting into promoting it. I often laugh under my breath. In fact, I find it amusing that the Minister of Natural Resources justifies promoting nuclear energy by stating that it is a clean energy because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, he says that every province is responsible for choosing its own energy and that if the provinces choose nuclear energy, that is their business.

I am saying to him that safety and waste management are federal responsibilities, and thousands of dollars are currently being spent for nothing. There are the MAPLE reactors. Half a billion dollars was invested to design a replacement reactor for the old Chalk River reactor. But this design, unfortunately, will never be built because Atomic Energy of Canada decided to scrap the project due to a major design flaw that could not be fixed. The world's top experts are not able to find a solution to the MAPLE design flaw.

It is true that energy comes under provincial jurisdiction. However, the federal government is responsible for waste management and technology development. Unfortunately, we are facing a government that spends Quebec and Canadian taxpayers' money on projects that result in money pits.

Ultimately, we wonder who will benefit from these projects, which really should be condemned. That is what the Bloc Québécois is doing. We are telling the Conservative government that it is on the wrong track, promoting energy that will produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, but will create problems further down the road. We have a problem right now, but we are putting off fixing it until later, which creates serious consequences in terms of waste management.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

June 19th, 2008 / 4:15 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by my hon. colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry and I take exception to several things she said but one in particular. It is not irresponsible to put forward amendments to try to make a bill better.

I will not apologize for putting forward amendments. It may take a bit of time but it is our due diligence, which is something we must do in the House. It is our job as members of Parliament, as people who represent our communities and our country, to make the best of a bill.

Yes, the NDP put forward amendments. She mentioned that we did not put forward any at committee but that is absolutely wrong. The NDP introduced 30 amendments in committee but, unfortunately, they were not supported. These amendments would have made the bill better and stronger.

My colleague from Western Arctic introduced those same amendments in the House at report stage. They were ruled in order by the Speaker and we debated them. We were hoping the broader House might take an interest in them because, unfortunately, in committee the Bloc, the Liberals and the Conservatives did not.

The other thing my colleague said was that if there were an incident or accident at this moment, Canadians would not be on the hook. AECL is owned by the Government of Canada and if there were to be any kind of situation, especially involving the NRU reactor at Chalk River, Canadians would be on the hook for that.

I want to ask my colleague if she understands any of what I said.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, sometimes when we say things in this House—and I am not criticizing the interpreters—we speak quickly and it can be very difficult to interpret our comments properly. If I may, I would like to make a few corrections.

I never said that the NDP never proposed amendments in committee. I said that it did propose amendments in committee and that a series of other amendments had been proposed at report stage. I found it too bad that those that were proposed at report stage had not been presented in committee for debate so that we could call new witnesses to look into the new amendments further. When making accusations, one has to be sure to have understood what the other said. That is the first clarification I want to make.

I would like to make a second clarification. I never said that people would not be entitled to compensation. I said—and I will say it again slowly—that, currently, in the event of a nuclear incident causing harm to people or communities, the amount of compensation would be $75 million, which is considered insufficient. In that sense, the status quo is not acceptable.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I only have 10 minutes on debate, but I could speak for 20 or 30 minutes on this subject.

As I mentioned in some of my questions to my colleagues, this bill was put forward by the government to amend the Nuclear Liability Act. Unfortunately the bill as put forward was not acceptable to the NDP. We felt it needed to be amended quite substantially, so we proposed many amendments at committee. Unfortunately, they were not supported by my colleagues at committee.

We are quite concerned because we feel the bill is being put forward in this fashion in an effort to aid the government to use nuclear energy in this country basically as a carbon offset. This is the biggest offset plan that anybody could have imagined.

Unfortunately, seeing nuclear energy as a clean source of energy is also misguided. The production of nuclear energy causes waste and that waste has to be dealt with. We have never been able to find an acceptable solution for dealing with the waste. It is still there. It will last for millions of years. It is highly toxic and dangerous. At any point in time an incident could result.

With all these things in mind, we felt it was incumbent upon us at committee and in the House to put forward our recommendations and amendments to try to make the bill better so that we could support it.

We also agree that as it stands now, nuclear liability in this country is far too low at $75 million. That is not nearly enough to cover any kind of disaster in any community. It needs to be increased, but to increase it to the minimum international standard is also not the right way to go. That is why we put forward amendments to increase it to an unlimited liability on the part of the nuclear operator. We feel very strongly that Canadians, including Quebeckers, should not be put on the hook by having their tax dollars used to pay the potential billions of dollars that would be needed to cover the cost of a nuclear incident in this country.

We do have some facilities near our borders. If a nuclear incident were to occur near our borders, what would be the impact from other countries? What would we be on the hook for there?

This is a serious issue and we take it very seriously. We are not here to try to hold up the bill just to play games. We are very concerned about this issue. We want to make the bill better and something we could support.

Right now there is an issue with AECL, the company that operates under the government. The taxpayers basically own this company. If there were to be an accident or an incident, the taxpayers would be on the hook for that company. We would never want to see that.

Earlier today my colleague from Winnipeg referenced a book, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, by Helen Caldicott. I found some interesting passages in this book, which I want to share with the House and with Canadians. It talks about accidental, and unfortunately, terrorist induced nuclear meltdowns, and says:

Nuclear power plants are vulnerable to many events that could lead to meltdowns, including human and mechanical errors; impacts from climate change, global warming, and earthquakes; and, we now know, terrorist attacks.

I would like to read a couple of excerpts to give people a sense of what could happen and why it is important that we have unlimited liability on our facilities so that Canadian taxpayers are not on the hook.

We know also that in this country the reactors are aging. The NRU reactor at Chalk River is around 50 years old. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is looking at having to allow that unit to operate longer. It is only supposed to operate until 2011 but we are looking now to 2016. It is going to continue to operate because there is no replacement for that.

The aging nuclear facilities in this country will have more and more problems as time goes by. Metal fatigue, rust and all kinds of things can happen as things age. We have to ensure that we have the safety and protection of Canadian people in mind when we are talking about nuclear liability.

In her book, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, which is an American publication, Dr. Caldicott says that even though today's reactors were designed for a 40 year life span, the NRC, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, acceding to industry pressure, is currently approving 20 year extensions to the original 40 year licences for nuclear power plants.

That is a concern. Although that refers to the U.S., the same kinds of things are happening in Canada. I am concerned about these aging facilities, that we do not have replacement power. They do not have to be nuclear facilities. They could be cleaner energy alternatives such as solar and wind. We could look at doing an east-west grid across this country.

We could have alternatives to nuclear power. We would not have to worry about pressure being put on our Nuclear Safety Commission to prolong the licences for these facilities if we had alternatives to that energy source. It is quite a concern. If the aging facilities called on the Nuclear Safety Commission to extend their licences for longer periods, we would have to start worrying about the near misses that might happen in continuing the use of those aging facilities.

Another thing that Dr. Caldicott talks about is global warming. Who would have thought that global warming would have impacted nuclear facilities. She says in her book that there are many facilities that are built on coastlines which could possibly be impacted by tsunamis or earthquakes in places around the world such as India. They could be impacted by global warming.

She talks about terrorist attacks, which we are quite concerned about as well. According to this book, the necessary steps have not been taken to increase security around nuclear facilities in case of a terrorist attack. We have seen increased security measures at airports and other border security measures, but we have not had an increase in security around nuclear facilities.

We need to make sure that the steps are in place to protect Canadians in the event of a nuclear accident. We must make sure that the liability on the part of the operator is a lot higher than $650 million, because we know that if there were an accident, the liability costs would be in the billions of dollars.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to my colleague across the way. We share many of the same concerns about the safety of citizens and communities in terms of nuclear energy.

We have grown increasingly worried since the Conservative government interfered politically with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission by firing its president, Ms. Keen, last year. That action shattered the trust of Quebeckers and Canadians. And since our nuclear reactors are getting older, trust in the commission is waning.

My colleague works with me on the Standing Committee on Natural Resources. I would like to ask her if, in light of the testimony we have heard during our current study of the MAPLE and Chalk River reactors, she is reassured when it comes to nuclear safety.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. I know that the member is very concerned about nuclear safety as because that came up in the discussions at committee and she put forward questions in a very forthright manner. I have to congratulate her on her interventions there.

Yes, it is an issue of trust for many Canadians and something that was shaken very severely back in November when we had the incident at the NRU reactor in Chalk River. Canadians are very concerned.

I have received many calls and many letters from my constituents and we do not even have nuclear facilities in our area, but they are worried about what might happen across this country.

This is an issue of national trust and we must do everything we can to ensure that Canadians are protected in every way.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was very interested in the points my hon. colleague raised about these aging facilities and the real serious questions about safety.

I want to be very careful. As someone who is closer to 50 than 30 now, I am a little more sensitive to the issue of age. However, I would not drive a Studebaker. I would not use a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I would not use an IBM adding machine. I would not wear a ducktail or have my wife go around in a poodle skirt.

Now I know that members in the Conservative Party probably figure Canada peaked mid-1950s and it has been downhill ever since, but I certainly also would not want the safety of our country to be dependent on facilities that were not meant to last past 50 years, facilities with incredible risks of liability.

Given the fact that the Conservative government, which again probably still is in the black and white world, fired the head of the regulatory safety commission that is looking over these aging energy behemoths, I would like to ask my hon. colleague if she has any concerns about the state of our present facilities.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is another good question from my colleague. I go back to what my colleague from the Bloc also asked. The nuclear safety commissioner was basically fired in the dead of night for doing her job of protecting Canadians. This has again shaken the trust of Canadians.

We know that the NRU unit is 50 years old. It is starting to deteriorate. Increased safety measures are having to be put in place and yet, there is nothing coming forward for the replacement of this facility which makes, primarily, medical isotopes. Unfortunately, this is something that we have to get our heads around.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Kitchener Centre, Elections Canada; the hon. member for Davenport, Cluster Bombs.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

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

I am especially pleased to be speaking right after our critic, the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, who does an excellent job and very capably represents the Bloc on the Standing Committee on Natural Resources. A specialist in community services, she always defended peoples' interests when she was in business or working in the community. She always paid special attention to the men and women around her. That is why she is capable of defending her constituents every day, and that is why our colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry sits on the Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

I am not an expert. I have some things to say. I listened to her speech and learned from it. However, I do understand the political game the NDP is playing. It will always astound me, because the NDP has never been in power in this country—

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

In five provinces and one territory—

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

We will not talk about the disasters in the provinces or the NDP disasters in Ontario. This member makes me laugh when he says that the NDP has been in power in five Canadian provinces. In any event, it has never been in power federally. We have an advantage over the NDP in that we know we will never be in power, whereas the NDP is doing everything it can to come to power.

The NDP will never come to power for the simple reason that the New Democrats do not get it. That is the tragedy of the New Democratic Party: it does not understand. It does not understand that the Conservative Party introduced this bill on compensation because it wants to develop nuclear energy.

We know that, in Quebec, nuclear energy will not solve all our problems. Those days are gone. We have plants in Gentilly, but those days are gone. We have moved on to hydroelectricity. We in Quebec do know, though, that we are going to have to pay 22% of the bill when there is damage. That is a fact.

Every day in committee, the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry defends the interests of Quebeckers, as I do every day, and as all our Bloc colleagues do. Our objective is to defend our fellow citizens. We are Quebeckers.

This bill has one benefit: everyone agrees that the $75 million for compensation is out of date. It is true that we would have liked to improve on the $650 million.

We would have liked to have supported the NDP, except its problem is that it did not understand that the Conservatives and the Liberals were together and had decided that $650 million was enough. What the NDP is doing is just delaying the implementation of this bill. In the meantime, if there were an accident, there would be no bill to guarantee the $650 million in compensation.

As the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry said, at least the bill states that it will be reviewed every five years. If the minister ever finds that the compensation is insufficient, he will be able to increase the amount. Once again, it is a matter of understanding the dynamics of politics.

Earlier, the NDP critics said that they are not playing politics. When the Liberals say white, all they do is say black. It is always the same. Since I came here in 2000, it has always been the same. In their approach to politics they are cut from the same cloth as the Liberals. They look at what the Liberals are going to do and then decide to do the opposite.

That amazes me, especially when we are talking about issues as important as compensation for damage in case of a nuclear accident. It does not need to be spelled out. We know that reactors, not just in Canada, but throughout the world, are not in good shape. We know that these nuclear reactors are dangerous.

So it is important to be able to counter that. Obviously the Conservatives want to develop this energy system. It is really something to hear the Minister of Natural Resources claim that it is a clean energy, yet no one knows what to do with the nuclear waste.

Furthermore, the tragedy for Quebeckers is that the government wants to bury the nuclear waste in the Canadian Shield in Quebec. We are not the ones producing the waste, and we are the ones getting stuck with it.

Every day in this House, the Bloc Québécois will fight tooth and nail to keep nuclear waste that has been produced in other provinces from being buried in Quebec. Imagine. Other members in this House need to realize this.

In Quebec, we decided to develop hydroelectricity without a penny from the federal government. I hope that no one faints: we did not get one penny from the federal government.

Quebeckers alone paid for the development of hydroelectricity, through their taxes and their hydro bills, which they pay to Hydro-Québec, a crown corporation. The federal government has never contributed a cent, yet Quebec has always paid 22% to 25% of the costs of nuclear energy based on its contribution and its population compared to that of Canada. Quebec has always footed approximately a quarter of the total bill for development of nuclear energy, non-renewable energies and fossil fuels, the oil sector and all of the investments made. That is a fact.

So there is no reason to be surprised if the Bloc Québécois members rise in this House to defend the only solution we see—quite simply, Quebec's separation—so that we can manage our own energy development. Quebec is the province most likely to respect the Kyoto protocol because we developed our hydroelectric system with our own money.

We are doing the same thing with wind energy. Admittedly, the federal government is somewhat involved, but not anywhere in the range of the $900 billion invested in fossil fuel development.

I would point out that tax credits for petroleum development still exist, but there is no such development in Quebec. Furthermore, not a single litre of oil produced in western Canada goes to Quebec, because of the Borden line. People listening to us all think that Canada is an oil producing country and that we pay our share, but not a single litre of that oil makes it to Quebec, thanks to the famous Borden line, which comes from the west and stops at Borden. The rest goes to the United States. We, on the other hand, have to get our supply from other countries. It arrives by tanker along the St. Lawrence. We buy it from overseas. That is the reality.

If Quebec were its own country, it could have energy self-sufficiency. It would be very easy, simply because we produce our own hydroelectricity and receive our oil from other countries. We buy it internationally, so we do not need Canada. People must accept that reality.

We worked very hard in committee, especially the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, to try to improve this bill as much as possible, in order to force companies in nuclear development to be responsible in the future, and have them pay compensation and pay out large sums in the event of a nuclear disaster. We are talking about $650 million. We chose the maximum amount possible, while remaining very realistic.

The Conservatives and the Liberals were in bed together and therefore had the majority. Considering the Conservatives' hunger to develop this sector, we simply want to pass a bill very quickly to increase fines and compensation in the event of a nuclear incident or disaster. That must be clear. Otherwise, the Conservatives will sell the development of this sector to the Americans, as they have done with so many Canadian businesses. They like to let things take their course. Clearly, that allows foreigners to come and make their profits at our expense and, especially, in the event of an incident, at the expense of certain people who could not be reimbursed for all damages.

Once again, we are supporting certain bills but we are not happy about it. We had hoped the NDP amendments would be adopted and we supported them. However, reality caught up with us. The Conservatives and the Liberals are in league on this one. They have chosen to go full steam ahead in that direction. Unduly delaying Bill C-5, as the NDP is doing, will prevent passage of a bill that could be of great benefit in the event of a nuclear disaster.

We saw what happened after the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl in Ukraine and Three Mile Island in the United States. No one wants disasters to happen but they do. The only way to avoid them is to stop building nuclear power plants or to devote them to producing other types of energy. However, there are none. The Conservatives have no imagination when it comes to energy. The Conservatives' priorities are oil, nuclear power and the military. They do nothing for seniors, the forestry and manufacturing sectors or the general public and everything for all-out development.

Once again we will vote in favour of the bill even though we know it could have been better. It is nonetheless better than what we have.