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 industry.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate, at least for a little while, in this important debate on Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, also known as the nuclear liability compensation act, or as some of my colleagues in this corner of the House have referred to it as the worst nuclear practices act.

That should give an indication of where New Democrats stand on this issue. We have been very opposed to the legislation. We thought it needed significant improvement before we would be able to support it. Unfortunately, despite doing our best in committee and later here in the House, those improvements did not happen and the bill is headed to be endorsed by the Liberals, the Bloc and the Conservatives. We think that is very disappointing for Canadians.

We know many Canadians have very serious concerns about nuclear energy. We know many Canadians understand that nuclear energy is not green energy, that the potential for accidents, the safety concerns surrounding nuclear energy, are very significant. Also the serious concerns about the disposal of waste from the nuclear power process have also baffled and troubled Canada for many years.

The member for Timmins—James Bay made it very clear that attempts to deposit waste from nuclear plants in northern Ontario will be resisted by the people of northern Ontario again and again because of the problems with that kind of process and waste.

There are many problems with the legislation. The legislation was developed to limit the amount of damages a nuclear power plant operator or fuel processor would pay out should there be an accident causing radiological contamination to property outside the plant area itself. The legislation really only applies to power plants and to fuel processors. Those unfortunately are not the only places where nuclear material is used, where there is the potential of an accident that might cause a claim for liability and compensation.

The current legislation dates from the 1970s and it is incredibly inadequate. We know changes are needed to that legislation. Right now under the existing legislation the liability limit is only $75 million, which is a pittance when we consider the kinds of accidents and liability claims that might come about as the result of a nuclear accident.

The proposal before us, however, only considers raising that to $650 million, which is the rock bottom of the international average of this kind of legislation around the world. We know, for instance, the liability in Japan is unlimited, with each operator having to carry private insurance of $30 million. The liability in Germany is also unlimited, except for nuclear accidents caused by war, and each operator has to have almost $500 million in private insurance. That is a far different approach than we take in Canada. Even in the United States, there is a limit of $9.7 billion U.S., with each operator needing up to $200 million in insurance.

The Conservatives' attempt pales by comparison with the assessment of other countries of what the level of liability, what the dollar amount attached to liability, should be. It is easy to understand why it should be so high when we consider the kinds of problems that would result from a serious nuclear accident.

The problem also with the legislation is that once the $650 million liability threshold is reached, the Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for the rest. A nuclear operator would only have to pay out a maximum of $650 million, while the public would be on the hook for millions, possibly billions of dollars in the case of an accident. There would be a special tribunal set up by the Minister of Natural Resources to look at the liability beyond $650 million and that liability would be paid out of the public purse. That is not an appropriate approach that Canadian taxpayers could support.

There are a lot of concerns. Many believe the legislation is an attempt to make the situation for the privatization of Canada's nuclear industry more attractive to foreign corporations to step in and get involved in the ownership of the Canadian nuclear industry, that the Conservatives have a plan to move that way. Given some of their other movements and their other steps, it is hard not to believe that it is what they have in mind.

British Columbia fortunately does not have nuclear power generation, but we are concerned about nuclear power and fuel processing at the Hanford station in Washington state in the U.S. It has been a long time source of concern for many people in British Columbia. We know that over many years the nine nuclear reactors and five massive plutonium processing complexes put nuclear radioactive contamination into the air and into the water of the Columbia River.

Thankfully the Hanford site has been decommissioned and is now in the process of a huge clean up, which will cost a minimum of $2 billion a year, and this clean up will go on for many decades. There are other specialized facilities to aid in the clean up, like the vitrification plant, which is one method designed to combine dangerous waste with glass to render it stable. That facility will cost $12 billion. Sadly the clean up has been put off. The timelines originally scheduled will not be met.

Billions of dollars are being spent just to remediate a former nuclear processing plant area and a nuclear generating site. This shows the extreme cost of an accident, which would be far more expensive.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

When we return to the study of Bill C-5, there will still be three minutes for the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue is not present to move the motion for second reading of Bill C-521, An Act to provide for the transfer of the surplus in the Employment Insurance Account, as announced in today's notice paper. Pursuant to Standing Order 94, since this is the second time this item has not been dealt with on the dates established by the order of precedence, the bill will be dropped from the order paper.

June 19th, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent to see the clock at 6:30 p.m.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is it agreed?

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I previously asked a question about election expenses in this House during question period. I was very disappointed with the stonewalling that I was still getting from the Conservative government.

I would point out that in the last election the Conservative Party defined itself as a party that would champion transparency and accountability in government, yet since the Conservatives have come to government, we have seen anything but.

I happen to be a member of the procedure and House affairs committee. We sat for seven months and listened to government members stonewall and filibuster very legitimate work that needed to get done. There was legislation that needed to go through, but the government members on the procedure and House affairs committee were so worried about Elections Canada's challenge of their in and out scheme during the last election that they did not want it to be scrutinized by the committee.

I would point out that it is the legitimate purview of several committees to look at aspects of this in and out scheme. As a matter of fact, today the ethics committee passed a motion and it will examine this.

Quite clearly it fell within the purview, among other committees, of the procedure and House affairs committee to look at this. This is a scheme to pay for national advertising by transferring the funds to individual ridings.

It is very important to point out that in the Canadian electoral system there is an attempt to make a very level playing field by having campaign limits for every member in each riding. The limit is based on the number of electors in that riding. There are also limits on how much can be spent for advertising nationally by individual parties.

It was the view of the Chief Electoral Officer that the Conservative Party alone--I would point out it was not the NDP, not our Bloc colleagues and not the Liberal Party, but the Conservative Party alone--had inappropriately flowed $1.2 million of spending in a scheme that was labelled in and out. The reason it has that label is it was called that by individual candidates, former candidates. As a matter of fact, 67 ridings were involved in this scheme. Candidates themselves and official agents said that they objected to the fact that they had received a phone call saying that a certain amount of money--and the amounts varied; it could be $5,000 or $28,000--was going to be transfer into their account and they would be sent a bill which they had to pay and transfer the money out, sometimes within a few hours within the same calendar day.

This scheme appears to have been centrally orchestrated. As a matter of fact it is even talked about in a book that was written by a former Conservative organizer. By using this scheme, they circumvented the advertising limit by $1.2 million.

My question is really quite simple. If this government truly believes in transparency, if it truly believes in accountability, what is it hiding? Why will the Conservatives not allow a parliamentary committee to scrutinize this?

I look forward to the ethics committee looking at this and hearing some witnesses. Then we can find out what really happened and make sure that it does not happen again.

5:35 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, this gives me the opportunity today to talk about a very interesting issue that has been the source of much debate for several months.

This week we learned in a Globe and Mail report, which was founded on a group of access to information requests, that in addition to breaking its own rules when it carried out its search warrant on the Conservative Party headquarters, Elections Canada was also totally preoccupied with its own media image and the media consequences of its visit to our headquarters.

There were pages and pages of emails that went back and forth discussing the public relations implications of the visit to the Conservative Party headquarters. That does indeed speak to the motives for that strange and unjustifiable visit that Elections Canada paid to the Conservative Party headquarters some months ago.

We have been trying to get to the bottom of this. In numerous parliamentary committees, Conservatives have moved for there to be an investigation on the subject. We want all parties to come clean and share their financial practices from the last several elections. We voted in favour of allowing such an investigation. We want our books to be publicly investigated at those committees. We encourage all parties to show the same openness that we have shown.

The member across the way said that Elections Canada has shown no interest in her party's finances, nor should anyone else. If she has nothing to hide, however, she will welcome a thorough probe of Liberal practices and Liberal transactions. We know that the Liberal Party transferred about $1.7 million to local riding associations, which then transferred back about $1.3 million.

There is nothing wrong with those transactions. They are perfectly legal. In fact, they are expressly legal under the Canada Elections Act. We would simply like to make that point by making obvious comparisons between the various parties to show the parallels of which I have just finished speaking.

We are really accused of four things. I will ask members which one of them is illegal.

We are accused of having transferred money from the national party to local campaigns. That is expressly legal in the law. All parties do it.

We are accused of having those local ridings transfer the money back to the national party. That too is expressly legal in the law. All parties do it.

We are accused of running national content in local advertising, that is to say, national leaders, national policy, national items in these locally expensed ads. Not only is that legal, in fact it is customary. More of the material that local candidates put in their mailers and other advertisements is national than is local, because of course they are running for a national office.

Finally, local Conservative candidates are accused of having run advertisements that actually aired outside of the constituency for which they were paid. Not only is that legal, it is impossible to avoid. If I were to buy a radio ad, as I have done in the past, as a candidate in southwest Ottawa, that advertisement would by necessity run all over eastern Ontario because there is no uniquely Nepean--Carleton radio station. It would run in probably about 13 or 14 constituencies in two provinces. There is no getting around that.

On all four of the pillars of this accusation that the opposition and Elections Canada have created, we are not only legal but we are very conventional in the way we do our work.

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that there is a selective knowledge or reporting of the Canada Elections Act.

I would point out to this House and to Canadians who are watching this across Canada that every candidate and every official agent signs off on their statements of account. There are a lot of rules and we are asked to abide by them.

From time to time Elections Canada will come back and ask individual members to look at receipts, to provide more information, and we do that gladly. As a matter of fact, if we are in contravention of that, we cannot take our seats in the House. This is not something to be taken lightly and the law of elections in Canada should not be considered to be applied loosely.

Elections Canada has cited the Conservative Party in the last election as having a systematic scheme of contravening--

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The member for Nepean--Carleton.

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, she is right. We all file election returns and all of the information on which the Elections Canada accusations are predicated came from voluntary disclosures by the Conservative Party and its candidates. Every shred of information that led them to make these false accusations came from us.

Let me summarize. Conservative candidates spent Conservative funds on Conservative advertisements. They got financial assistance and transfers from the national party to do so. Elections Canada found out about it because we told them, and why would we not tell Elections Canada? Those practices are legal and all parties do it.

They singled us out. We took them to court, and one day before they were to be questioned, they interrupted the proceedings, breaking their own rules, and barged into our office with Liberal cameras following behind.

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, historically, Canada has always been proud to be a world leader in advancing peace around the world. This fact was clear on March 1, 1999, when the eyes of the world were on Canada as the Liberal foreign affairs minister, Lloyd Axworthy, hosted and championed the signing of the Ottawa convention banning the manufacture and use of landmines.

However, as we all know, this convention did not include a ban on so-called cluster munitions.

All weapons of war, from the most rudimentary to the most highly sophisticated instruments of destruction, are contrary to any fundamental concept of human dignity. However, the intensely insidious nature of cluster munitions even manages to set them apart from other weapons.

These are horrible weapons that do not differentiate between civilians and military targets. They are used primarily from aircraft and descend in a spiral of destruction that often blanket vast tracks of land indiscriminately. These cluster munitions not only fail to differentiate between civilian and military targets, they often maim and kill civilians long after they have been deployed since many remain unexploded.

Beginning in Oslo, Norway in February 2007 and moving through to Wellington, New Zealand one year later in 2008, the process of developing a cluster munitions convention has often been challenging.

While many across the world looked to Canada to take the lead in promoting this convention, it is with dismay that we instead witnessed Canada, along with several other states, pushing for the inclusion of article 21. This article is viewed by many as a loophole that, while still preventing Canada from producing, stockpiling or directly using cluster munitions, does not prevent this country from conducting military operations with a third party state that has not signed the convention and that may indeed elect to use cluster munitions in the course of a joint combat operation.

In the words of Mr. Paul Hannon of Mines Action Canada, he stated:

In our view, there is only one small stain on the fabric of this fine treaty text, which is the additional article added related to participating in joint operations.

When the history of the process leading to this convention is written, it unfortunately will include reference to the fact that instead of leading the world toward a conclusive and non-negotiable treaty banning cluster munitions, the Government of Canada was attempting to water down its objectives.

While we all celebrate the results of the Dublin meeting and the participation of so many states in the process of banning cluster munitions, our joy is tempered by the fact that instead of leading the way, the Canadian government was, in the eyes of many observers, simply representing the concerns of nations that chose not to sign the convention.

The government must represent the views of the Canadian people and the fundamental values of this nation. While Canada may have signed the convention, we most certainly take little comfort in the role of the government in the process leading up to and including the Dublin meetings.

5:40 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Davenport's question provides me with an opportunity to elaborate on Canada's effort to address the terrible impact on civilians of cluster munitions and other weapons as well.

Like landmines, cluster munitions have had a devastating impact on civilians at the time of use and often for years or even decades after the conflict has ended. Canada has never used cluster munitions and we are in the process of destroying all cluster munitions in the Canadian Forces' arsenal.

Canada has also been heavily engaged in the international effort to strengthen the international humanitarian law with respect to this weapon. Canada is among those countries working hard to get agreement to negotiate a new protocol addressing cluster munitions within the traditional disarmament framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons or CCW.

In addition, Canada has been an active participant in the Oslo process initiated by Norway that seeks to put in place by the end of this year a new stand alone treaty that addresses cluster munitions. A Canadian delegation comprised of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Department of National Defence was in Oslo when this process was initiated in February 2007.

The same delegation participated in pre-negotiation conferences in Lima in May 2007, in Vienna in December, and in Wellington, New Zealand in February of this year. Canada was also an active participant in the formal negotiation of this new treaty in Dublin from May 19-30.

I am delighted to report that Canada and the 110 other states participating in these negotiations unanimously adopted the final negotiated text for a new legally binding instrument. If it enters into force, this treaty would: ban all cluster munitions, as defined in the convention text; set specific deadlines for the destruction of stockpiles of cluster munitions and clearance of contaminated areas; provide for risk education for vulnerable populations and assistance for victims, their families and communities; obligate states in a position to do so to assist affected states to fulfill their responsibilities under the convention; and allow states to engage effectively in combined military operations with states not party to the convention, in deference to reality.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions will be opened for signature in Oslo in December of this year.

This is a significant achievement in multilateral disarmament diplomacy. This new convention, the culmination of 18 months work between civil society groups and participating states is no small feat. Canada and other states around the world must now consider the convention text carefully to determine whether or not to proceed with formal signature and ratification of this instrument.

Concurrently, Canada, in cooperation with like-minded states, will continue to pursue complementary efforts to address cluster munitions within the traditional framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. I am confident our collective efforts will contribute a great deal to the protection of civilians from cluster munitions.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the member for Westlock—St. Paul who has been instrumental in Canada's efforts in this area and has done a lot of work in bringing awareness of this situation.

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Dublin convention is a profoundly important step toward a better world as was the 1999 Ottawa convention. In the latter, Canada took the lead in demonstrating to the world our profound commitment to building a better world where horrific weapons of destruction are relegated to the pages of history where they belong.

In the case of this convention banning cluster munitions, we must take note of the fact that the role of Canada in 2008 was so vastly different than that of 1999. In 1999, Canada's position was consistent with the values of our country and what the world had come to expect from us. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the government's representation of our country in 2008.

Irrespective of these realities, we must all work to promote the ban on cluster munitions as we have done with landmines and in so doing continue to work diligently toward a better world where such weapons have no place.