House of Commons Hansard #59 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was insurance.

Topics

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

May 15th, 2009 / 12:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if the member understands the process we went through. This bill is actually in its third reincarnation. It came in as Bill C-63. It was Bill C-5 in the last Parliament, and now it is Bill C-20.

He was not at committee last time, but we did have extensive consultations. We had open committee meetings. We had the communities come in. We had the interested parties come to speak to us. Obviously, we have talked to the industry as well. There have been broad consultations at least twice on this bill. We bring it forward with the support of the communities, the support of the industry, and we believe with the support of Canadians as well. The NDP members were the only ones who were opposing this bill last time, and we understand they will likely do that again.

However, the reality is that this bill has been put together. It has been crafted with input from a lot of different Canadians and with the industry as well. We certainly look forward to support from the other parties in this House, because this bill is long overdue. We need to raise the liability limits. It is something that everyone acknowledges. Certainly we hope the NDP members will not stand in the way of protecting Canadians, as they did last time.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker the parliamentary secretary talked about bringing the insurance level in line with other jurisdictions. He also talked about our CANDU reactors in Canada, the tremendous safety record they have and the tremendous redundancies they have built into their technologies to ensure we do not have an accident.

We did hear a lot of testimony in the last Parliament on this bill. People commented about the potential loss with regard to some of these accidents that could happen.

I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could take a bit of time to comment with respect to how raising the level from $75 million to $650 million compares to other jurisdictions and how the safety record of our existing facilities in this country makes the $650 million more than adequate for what is required.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian nuclear industry has an outstanding safety record. The member for Tobique—Mactaquac has worked with me and the government side on this issue for some time now. He was on the natural resources committee last time and did an outstanding job as we tried to bring Bill C-5 through the legislative process. He is working on that same committee this time on Bill C-20. We rely on him for his memory and contributions and we appreciate them.

Our industry in Canada has been safe and has had a tremendous record in that matter. When we came to put this new legislation together, we needed to decide how high the level of insurance needed to be. There needs to be a level of insurance that is adequate in the case of an incident but it also needs to protect Canadian citizens and it cannot be so high that it is impossible for the operators to even get insurance.

The limit they came up with was $650 million and we feel it really fits the public's need for adequate compensation in the event of any foreseeable incident at a Canadian nuclear facility. As I mentioned, we need to balance the need to ensure adequate victim compensation without burdening operators with costs that are completely unrealistic. We could have taken a number of different avenues but we made this choice for a number of reasons.

As I need to wrap up, maybe I can get into the reasons as to why we chose $650 million on my next answer. Others will speak to that as well.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two specific questions as a follow up to what was discussed earlier.

The parliamentary secretary talked about the liability cap of $650 million. I just want to know specifically if that meets the demands and requests made by the various stakeholders. Is that a sufficient level? If he was about to explain how he developed that amount and how they came to that amount, that would be greatly appreciated.

Second, does the legislation allow the industry to shop for insurance outside of Canada? If the parliamentary secretary could answer those questions, it would be greatly appreciated.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that there is one insurance provider within Canada that will be providing that insurance.

I just want to talk a little bit about the comparison with some of the other venues as well before I get into the details of the $650 million. This compares favourably with what is happening in other countries that have nuclear facilities. There are a number of different ways that countries approach this but what we are doing here is in line with what most of the other countries do and it is line with the limits that other countries have on their liability requirements.

I just want to run through a couple of reasons why we have done this. The $650 million liability limit exceeds what we believe is the public's need for adequate compensation in the event of an foreseeable incident. It balances the need for victim compensation with the requirement for the operator to provide insurance. It responds to the recommendations of the Senate committee on energy, the environment and natural resources from a number of years ago that felt that this was an adequate limit.

It reflects insurance capacity, which is also important. If insurance is required to be carried, the industry must find a capacity where the insurance industry is able to carry that. There are some other areas that are moving to limits that are a little higher and some that are at lower limits. For example, the Americans require a little bit less on each of their individual facilities. However, we believe this is appropriate here.

I think it is important that we recognize that the amounts can be raised by regulation. There will be a review regularly and if it is found not be adequate, it can be increased. That has not been done in the present legislation.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the parliamentary secretary who knows a great deal about this. I want to follow up on the question asked by my colleague from the Liberals. The liability limit in the U.S. is somewhere in the range of $10 billion for such insurance accidents. As proposed in this bill, Canada comes in at $650 million.

The Americans have an upper limit of liability 1500% higher than what our government is proposing. Could the member clarify why the Americans' liability on their facilities, which have the very same scope and scale of nuclear facilities, not that much bigger and not affecting that many more people, is so much more restricted under his bill rather than matching what the Americans have done.

The fact that insurance companies will not insure these facilities is of some note. No other industry enjoys such favourable dealings with the government.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, we can already see the NDP's enthusiasm for one more government initiative.

The reality in the United States is that individual operators are required to carry $370 million in primary insurance and another $135 million in secondary insurance. They also pool their resources. The industry in the United States is much bigger than it is here in Canada.

In order to deal with this issue fairly, as well as with the operators, the Canadian taxpayers and the industry itself, we believe the $650 million is more than adequate to deal with any of the incidents that we may be able to foresee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-20, which deals with the important issue of civil liability and compensation in the event of a nuclear accident at a Canadian facility.

The Liberal Party supports this bill in principle but will use the natural resources committee to give it careful consideration in assessing whether it should be a mandate. We believe this legislation seeks to replace the outdated Nuclear Liability Act of 1976.

The bill has had a long history, the result of a decade of discussions that I am proud to say began under previous Liberal governments.These issues are complex, which is why we will be studying this bill and listening to expert testimony of individuals who understand these very complex issues. This bill deals with the fundamental aspect of Canadian nuclear safety by seeking to establish a clear regime in the event of a nuclear accident. It lays out rules for compensation and civil liability in the event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation.

The bill retains the basic principles of the 1976 act by ensuring that nuclear operators remain absolutely and exclusively liable for damage. It requires that they carry insurance but limits the liability in time and money. The bill also ensures that suppliers and contractors are effectively indemnified.

The key aspect of this bill is that it increases the operator liability limit from $75 million to $650 million. That is the core issue. I would like to talk more about that and then ask some questions.

The Department of Natural Resources tells us that the increase reflects a balance of considerations. What we have heard from it so far is that it addresses foreseeable rather than catastrophic risks, that it reflects the insurance capacity that is available in the market at a reasonable cost and that it would put Canada on par with liability limits of many other countries. However, there are still some exceptions and we want to know why.

By putting this legislation forward, the government is responding to the explicit recommendations of the Senate committee on energy, the environment and natural resources that require this type of revision. These issues do not get a lot of media attention. They are not headlines that we see in the newspaper but they are, nevertheless, critical to the safety and security of Canadian nuclear facilities.

The need for a specific regime governing civil liability in compensation in case of a nuclear incident is based on the fact that private insurers have systematically and consistently refused to provide coverage for damage resulting from nuclear incidents. Over time, technology and innovation, coupled with a changing understanding of nuclear science, has meant that the current legislation no longer reflects the needs of Canadians. This threatens the security of the nuclear industry.

In the age of climate change, nuclear technology is critically important to our efforts to build a stable supply of clean energy. Also in a time of recession, the nuclear industry provides high-paying, high tech jobs to thousands of Canadians across the country.

The bill addresses two key aspects. First, it helps us in terms of dealing with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and also the preservation and creation of jobs in the high tech industry.

In fact, a number of my constituents in Mississauga—Brampton South depend on this industry for their livelihoods. They work at the head offices of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, which is in the riding of my very well respected colleague from Mississauga South. That organization alone has provided jobs to thousands of Canadians and has shared its unique expertise and knowledge in 14 offices spread across seven different countries.

Intelligent Canadians going abroad, sharing our expertise and making a name for their country in the process makes us proud of what we as Canadians can achieve abroad. It is in sharp contrast, and I digress a bit, to the silly, unnecessary, unwarranted attacks by the Conservatives on the leader of the official opposition simply because he has taken Canadian experiences abroad. Many Canadians have worked abroad and have returned to Canada and it is unfortunate that those people are viewed negatively by the government.

These are the types of highly-skilled, well-paying jobs that the Conservatives are supposed to be creating for Canadians, jobs that will help us to maintain our global competitive advantage and our high standard of living.

Therefore, one would expect that a bill dealing with such an important issue for such an important industry would rate as a priority for a Conservative government that claims to have the best interests of Canadians at heart. I am sorry to say that the government has failed to act time and time again and, in some cases, actually worked against itself on this issue.

Various other versions of the bill have sprung up under the Conservatives but were shamefully allowed to lapse. In fact, Bill C-5, the bill's immediate predecessor, was being debated at third reading when the Prime Minister broke his own promise for fixed election dates and dissolved the House, killing the bill in the process.

This legislation has not been a priority, which speaks to the lack of trust that I and many others have regarding the Conservative record on nuclear safety.

The Canadian nuclear industry is at a critical crossroads. Its future is uncertain and yet the government continues to delay this important work. What kind of message does that send to nuclear workers and the industry? I suppose I should not be surprised. This is, after all, the government that fired Linda Keen from her position at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, blaming the regulator when it was the minister who should have taken the responsibility.

Before this firing, the Office of the Auditor General submitted a special examination report to the AECL board of directors, pinpointing serious funding deficiencies that were holding back the necessary expansion and upgrading. It would be nice to know where the government stands on this matter but the minister and her government refuse to share their future plans for the crown corporation.

We know, through committee testimony, that the National Bank report, looking at the future of AECL, is in the hands of the minister. The problem is that the last we heard the minister has not even had an opportunity to read it. It is somehow in her department, maybe with some staff, but she does not have the time in her busy schedule to really look at this very important issue.

Again, this an important industry with thousands of Canadian jobs and yet the minister and the government refuse to show any leadership. They prefer to allow uncertainty and mystery to continue and wear the industry down through their inaction.

AECL is banking its future on a bid currently before the Ontario government to sell its next generation of Candu reactors. Candu technology is currently in use at over 40 plants around the world and the future expansion of that business depends on this.

I invite the minister to table the National Bank report today in the House and come clean on her plans for the future of AECL. Too many jobs and the industry depend on it.

Worse than endangering jobs are the lives that we put at risk because the government has not sought to find a way to a stable, long-term supply of medical isotopes, a direct result of the Conservative record on nuclear safety. This year alone there has been three radioactive leaks on the Chalk River site. How can Canadians possibly have trust in a government that refuses to take responsibility for upgrading and ensuring the security of our nuclear facilities?

We need to do what we can to ensure that we have a safe, stable and prosperous nuclear industry. In committee, we will take up that responsibility as we begin and conduct our studies.

A number of vital questions need to be answered before the bill is passed into law. I had the opportunity just a few moments ago to ask questions of the parliamentary secretary and I hope these questions are addressed in committee. Should this legislation allow the industry to shop for insurance outside of Canada? Will they allow for such openness and flexibility? Does the operator liability of $650 million address the needs of all stakeholders? Is it a sufficient level and how was that amount determined? Is that amount comparable to other jurisdictions around the world? What, if any, terms exist for qualification for appointment to the nuclear claims tribunal? What is that criteria? Is that criteria sufficient? In addition, I would seek witness testimony on the definition of nuclear damage laid out in the bill, and whether it is too narrow.

Those are the kinds of questions that need to be addressed but, most important, my colleagues and I will seek to examine in committee powers given to the Minister of Natural Resources to review the liability amount. It is absolutely critical that proper checks and balances are in place.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in committee to tackle these very important issues.

I ask the government to change its approach to the nuclear industry. We need the minister to fight for the health, safety and economic security of all Canadians. If we continue down the same path, the future of the Canadian nuclear industry looks very dim.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments, aside from some of the partisan ones that he threw in.

He was talking about Chalk River and he is well aware from the testimony that was provided in the committee that there was a situation with the reactors and he knows full well that it was contained. That is the evidence that was given. There was no health risk to the public. In any event, we will get past that and we will get on to the bill.

I appreciate in the last Parliament the tremendous support we received from the Liberals to get the bill through. I would like the member to comment on the importance of bringing the legislation up to date and in raising the amount to $650 million. I would also like him to comment on the safety records of the nuclear facilities in Canada and how that will help us, as Canadians, to mitigate the potential insurance that needs to be carried on these units.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by my colleague specifically with respect to nuclear safety.

This is a very important issue. The legislation essentially needs an overhaul. It came into force in 1976. The provisions in the legislation were sufficient to deal with the industry at that time. However, there has been an enormous amount of advancement in technology and innovation, and concerns have been raised over nuclear safety in the past year, as I indicated in my remarks with respect to Chalk River.

It may be a separate debate and I do not want to get into the details of that debate, but in essence, I believe the bill deals with the important issue of civil liability and compensation in the event of a nuclear accident at a Canadian facility.

In my opinion we need to look at the limit. We need to have a serious discussion. Is the $650 million limit sufficient? Does it meet the requirements of the stakeholders? Is it a sufficient amount to deal with the recommendations put forward by the natural resources committee and the Senate committee? Does it reflect the ongoing dialogue, debate and discussion in the industry?

That is one key aspect and there are many others which I believe need to be discussed in committee. That is why we are supporting sending the bill to committee. We want to make sure we are able to capture expert testimony from people who understand the issues and complexities. We want people who have the expertise to provide us with their insight and recommendations.

I hope the member opposite is open to looking at amendments, if necessary, based on the testimony that we get in committee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately and not for the first time I am a little unclear about the Liberal position when it comes to the nuclear industry and also nuclear safety. In the last Parliament, the Liberals supported an identical bill. My colleague is now raising concerns about whether the dollar figure is high enough.

This gets to the point that there have been nuclear safety concerns in Canada with the system that we run. That is legitimate and there is a public debate about the viability of nuclear energy in terms of safety but also cost overruns. As the member is from Ontario, I suspect he is well aware that his tax burden, the money coming out of his pocket and going toward cost overruns on nuclear also has been a concern.

In terms of the amount of money, what formula would the member suggest to the government should go into a bill like this one to compensate a community for the loss of life, for the loss of the community itself, in the event of a serious nuclear accident?

That is a legitimate question, because if the formula is wrong, insurance companies are accustomed to it all the time and they try to get a formula that works to compensate people in the event of an accident. The scale and scope of nuclear accidents are potentially enormous, but also long lasting. It is not the same as a car accident that happens on the road and someone is compensated to a certain dollar figure.

What formula would the member suggest? If he is a little concerned about $650 million being the upper limit and beyond that no one could get more compensation, what would he suggest? What is the formula? Would it be per person? Would it be by the square mile? Would it be by the size of the nuclear accident? These are important considerations which I hope the member can clarify either today or at committee.

Without that knowledge in Canadians' hands, the assuredness they need to have about nuclear energy will not be there. I assume that is what his position is and that is what he is hoping to achieve.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the key questions we have. As to the criteria itself, I do not know specifically what number would be deemed to be adequate. That is why we need expert testimony. That is why we in the Liberal Party support sending the bill to committee, to find out what the criteria is, how it compares with other jurisdictions, whether it is adequate and whether it meets the legitimate concerns raised in developing the bill. More important, in terms of moving the bill forward, that is why we support sending it to committee. If we oppose the bill and do not have this discussion, then we would be putting aside this very important issue that is well overdue to be examined.

My humble request to the NDP member is to support sending the bill to committee where we can ask these very legitimate questions and ask legitimate points to make sure that the experts can give us the advice that we need to be able to determine what amount is reasonable and why.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I grew up in Port Elgin. My father worked his whole career at Bruce nuclear. I worked at Bruce nuclear for three summers as a summer student. My sister works at Bruce nuclear. My brother-in-law works at Bruce nuclear. I may be the only one in the House who has actually been inside and worked at a nuclear plant.

I appreciate that the Liberal Party is supporting sending this bill to committee for further discussion. Does the Liberal Party have a position on the safety record? I am speaking not only for Ontario, but for all of Canada on the nuclear industry overall and how it has performed over the last number of years since its inception from the first major nuclear plant, Douglas Point. I was there as a summer student when it was decommissioned. Does the Liberal Party have a position or comment on the quality of the safety in the nuclear industry in this country?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the cap of $650 million, we want to make sure that the criteria developed for that is done in a clear and transparent way to make sure that whatever criteria used is adequate for the stakeholders.

With respect to the nuclear industry, I raised those remarks when I talked about the bill. We have legitimate concerns about the government's handling of Chalk River and about the way it fired Linda Keen. The nuclear industry's performance over the years speaks for itself. It employs many Canadians. We take pride in the Candu reactor technology. That is not the issue. The issue is how the government has dealt with the nuclear industry, how it has dealt with Linda Keen, how it has dealt with security and safety for Canadians. That is the area of concern. That is what I expressed in my remarks.

I hope the member opposite understands the concern we have expressed is reflected in the fact that we saw the government again fail to protect the supply of isotopes. It neglected to show leadership on that file. It is just another example of where the government has let down Canadians and the international community, and the many Canadians whose health and well-being depend on the stable supply of isotopes.

The question is not necessarily about what our view is of the nuclear industry. The question is about how the government has handled its leadership with respect to the nuclear industry in times of need. Unfortunately, it is sad to say, it has failed miserably.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, at some point we have to ask, are we going to get involved with responsible energy policy? The bill is putting forward a minuscule amount for liability. When the American law provides $10 billion and in Germany it is unlimited, how can we honestly stand in the House and say that the amount in the bill is anything serious in terms of dealing with liability? We know it is the bare minimum and we know it is a throw to the industry.

I would like the member to comment on what he thinks of the American legislation which allows for $10 billion and the German legislation which allows for an unlimited amount, juxtaposed to the amount in this legislation.