House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nuclear.

Topics

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has received notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Mississauga South. I will hear the hon. member now.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this morning I rise on a question of privilege arising out of statements made in the chamber yesterday which were, in my view, a personal attack on my person, on my integrity, on my honesty, on my character and on my honour as a member of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, on Thursday, May 13, I gave notice to you on a matter arising out of the statement by the member for Selkirk—Interlake just after question period.

The reasons and the basis for making this statement, I think, are sustained by all of the reasons why you, Mr. Speaker, had to issue a letter on February 26, 2009, to the House leaders of the House of Commons concerning members' statement made pursuant to Standing Order 31 in which you state:

In recent days a number of Members' Statements made pursuant to Standing Order 31 have caused me some concern.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at pages 363 and 364, sets out guidelines governing the content of such statements. In particular, it states that “personal attacks are not permitted”. I intend to halt at an early stage any trend in this direction. As such, I am writing to advise you that I will vigorously enforce the authority given to me by Standing Order 31 to cut off Members if, in my opinion, improper statements are made.

I am seeking your assistance in informing Members in your party of my approach in this regard.

It was carbon copied to the whips of the House of Commons, as well as to the two independent members of Parliament at the time.

I will begin by referencing the specific statement, because I believe that anyone who is following this would like to know what actually was said.

On page 2787 of the House of Commons Debates of yesterday, the member for Selkirk—Interlake rose and stated:

Mr. Speaker, by long-standing constitutional convention, any MP may attend and participate in any committee meeting. Standing Order 119 says:

Any Member of the House who is not a member of a standing, special or legislative committee, may, unless the House or the committee concerned otherwise orders, take part in the public proceedings of the committee, but may not vote or move any motion, nor be part of any quorum.

He goes on to state:

Today, defying the Standing Order—

My emphasis is on “defying the Standing Order”.

—the Liberal chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics—

Who is myself.

—forbade the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development from participating in its proceedings. This ruling was contrary to law and turned the committee into a kangaroo court.

Further, by denying the minister her legal right to participate, the chair was undermining the principle of ministerial responsibility and accountability, a key principle of our Constitution. It is outrageous that the chair of the ethics committee, the member for Mississauga South, would reject the principle of ministerial accountability, all in an attempt to score cheap political points. He should be ashamed and he should resign.

Those are not just casual statements. This is an indictment of a member of Parliament. It is contrary to the spirit and the intent of your letter of February 26, 2009, to the House leaders.

It went further than that. During question period, a question was posed by the member for Peace River in which he asked:

Mr. Speaker, today is perhaps a precedent-setting day in the history of a Westminster system of parliament.

This morning a minister of the Crown appeared at committee as an individual. According to our system of government, she is ultimately accountable for her ministry and yet the opposition, led by the chair of that committee, [myself] dismissed our system of ministerial accountability and would not let her answer for her department or for herself.

Having been silenced this morning, I wonder if the Minister of Human Resources will now be permitted to speak and to share with this House her reaction to this seemingly unprecedented event.

The minister in response answered:

Mr. Speaker, today I voluntarily appeared before the ethics committee to answer questions about the department for which I am ultimately responsible. Shockingly, opposition members refused to allow me to speak.

This may be the first time in parliamentary history that a ministerial responsibility has been denied. Ministerial responsibility is the cornerstone of our parliamentary system.

This is proof that the opposition members are not in it for accountability or truth. They are just in it for themselves.

I think those statements from the member for Selkirk—Interlake, from the assertions of the member for Peace River and from the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. are very clear.

Mr. Speaker, I need to rise on a question of privilege because I have no other recourse but to rise in the House to defend myself.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Richard Harris

You had a recourse yesterday.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had no recourse.

I want to address the points and the allegations made within Standing Order 31 to demonstrate this. I appreciate that this is in reference to matters that occurred before a committee. The proceedings are on the public website of the Parliament of Canada.

I would simply like to indicate, with regard to the allegation from the member for Selkirk—Interlake, that I have contravened Standing Order 119, which states:

Any Member of the House who is not a member of a standing, special, or legislative committee, may,--

And here is the operative part:

--unless the House or the committee concerned otherwise orders, take part in public proceedings of the committee, but may not vote or move any motion, nor be part of any quorum.

The terms of reference and the order of the day before the committee was with regard to a special study, a study of the allegations of deliberate interference in the release of information by the human resources department. The order said that the motion by the member for Malpeque also called specifically for witnesses. The first witness was the Minister of Human Resources Development and following, and it says specifically, at subsequent meetings other members listed. In fact, the witness that we had at committee yesterday was one such member.

The motion adopted by the committee specifically indicated that the minister would appear first and subsequently the other witnesses. That was an order of the committee. In fact, we had the minister before us on May 4. We invited her to appear, pursuant to the order of the committee, and she appeared, but she agreed only to appear for one hour, even though we requested a full meeting of two hours. However, we gave her the opportunity to address these allegations.

Yesterday at committee, we asked Mr. Ryan Sparrow, who was named in the motion, to appear and answer questions by the committee. Mr. Sparrow appeared but he also appeared with the minister who sat beside him at the witness table.

Before I commenced the meeting, I went to speak to the minister and Mr. Sparrow and I asked why the minister was here. She told me, “I'm here to answer questions for my departmental employee, my political adviser on communications”. I told her that that was not possible because we had called a specific witness, Mr. Ryan Sparrow, of whom members were prepared to ask questions. The minister had already appeared.

Section 119 is not applicable here because the committee specifically ordered that Mr. Sparrow would be the witness. We already had the minister and therefore it is the committee's ruling that the member is not permitted. It did not say she could. It said that we were here to see Mr. Ryan Sparrow on the matter before the committee.

Therefore, the whole premise of the S. O. 31 by the member for Selkirk—Interlake, based on section 119, has been complied with. The committee ordered what took place there and I told them but the minister would not accept the ruling of the chair.

I hate to say this, but when we started the questions at committee, the member for Guelph asked, “Why did you not say that in your email, that you were unable to give accurate figures?”. The witness responded, “'ll refer that question to the Minister”. The member for Guelph said, “Well I would rather you answer the question. You're the witness”.

The minister started to speak, notwithstanding, and she said: “Mr. Chair, may I intervene?”. I said, “No, I'm sorry, Minister. I've made a ruling”. She came back and said, “Mr. Chair, with all due respect, Mr. Sparrow operates under my delegated authority. Anything he does is under my authority, authority that I carry as Minister. Therefore, I have that authority. I respectfully request that I be allowed to exercise that authority myself”.

She was arguing with the chair of a committee, which is improper. I responded to her, “Yes, well, Madam Minister, the committee has already addressed this issue. In fact, it is the reason why in the motion we have specifically indicated that it wanted to have yourself and other witnesses at separate meetings so that this wouldn't happen. That is the motion adopted by the committee”. I went on to say, “I've made my ruling”.

The minister argued yet again with the chair of the committee saying, “Mr. Chair, I would actually refer you...”, and then she carried on. I said “order” to get order back in the committee but she carried on yet again even after I called for order, and said, “to the experts on the subject of ministerial accountability, O'Brien and Bosc, and Marleau and Montpetit, Guide for Ministers and that...”. I called for order yet a third time.

The minister refused to listen. She went on again to say, “The Minister is accountable and that is why I am here today because it is my authority...”. I will not read the whole transcript.

I advised the minister again, “Madam Minister, Parliament has the right to call for persons, papers or records--all persons. Members of Parliament are exempt from that. They can refuse to appear”.

“We have called Mr. Sparrow as an individual related to this matter before us to respond to our questions. The ministerial relationship of their staff is not going to supercede this committee's right to ask this person, whom we have duly called, to respond to questions. I will not entertain further debate on whether or not you can answer for Mr. Sparrow. My decision, based on a motion passed by the committee, is that Mr. Sparrow is going to answer the questions directed at him”.

All of that transpired before question period and yet, with the full knowledge that the minister was not invited, as she said in the answer in question period and that she came voluntarily, well of course, she came voluntarily without telling the committee she was coming and she voluntarily sat herself beside our witness and voluntarily declared that she would answer questions. I do not understand what we could do when the Conservatives argue that this is the first time in the history of Westminster parliamentary system that a minister has been denied the right.

Let us flip it on its head. I believe this is the first time in the history of the Westminster parliamentary system that a minister has tried to impose herself as a witness before a committee. Ministers do not have to appear and they cannot be compelled to appear before a committee. If we follow what the minister believes, which is that she is accountable and speaks on behalf of her employees, that would mean that any of those employees called before a committee would have the minister with them when it suits the minister's purpose and at her choice. That is improper because, if it were not in her best interest to appear, she would not. We cannot have a double standard here.

Let me go on, Mr. Speaker, with my privilege and the references that I must give to you from the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice 2009. I will be referring to O'Brien and Bosc.

First, I make reference to Standing Order 18 regarding the use of offensive words against either House or against a member thereof, in which the House is well familiar. I also refer to page 618, O'Brien and Bosc, where it states:

The proceedings of the House are based on a long-standing tradition of respect for the integrity of all Members. Thus, the use of offensive, provocative or threatening language in the House is strictly forbidden. Personal attacks, insults and obscenities are not in order.

I will go on and cite footnote 176, as it relates to Standing Order 18:

This includes any allegation that a Member has lied or misled the House.

This is a very important aspect. Certain allegations in the statement of the member for Selkirk—Interlake he knew were incorrect and yet he proceeded to make a statement in the House just one hour after the meeting.

Continuing with the quote at page 618, it states that:

Personal attacks, insults and obscenities are not in order. A direct charge or accusation against a Member may be made only by a substantive motion for which notice is required.

It should be noted that the chair made a ruling, referred to the ruling several times and not once did any member in that committee challenge the ruling of the chair. They had that opportunity to make argument at that time, not to bring it to the chamber and to disregard and disrespect your letter of February 29, 2009 in which you expressed your sincere concern about the deterioration of matters related to Standing Order 31.

I should indicate that I gave notice yesterday, Mr. Speaker, but I had to wait for the blue. That is why I am rising today.

In Speaker Michener's ruling of June 19, 1959, on page 98 of O'Brien Bosc, it states, “Such a privilege confers gave responsibilities on those who are protected”. This refers to the immunity privileges that we have here that nothing we say in here can be used against us outside the chamber. The same goes for things that are said in committee. For instance, it goes on to say, “By that I mean specifically the Hon. Members of this place. The consequences”, and Mr. Speaker, this is very serious, he states:

Such a privilege confers grave responsibilities on those who are protected by it. By that I mean specifically the Hon. Members of this place. The consequences of its abuse can be terrible. Innocent people could be slandered with no redress available to them.

I believe that is the case. He goes on:

Reputations could be destroyed on the basis of false rumour. All Hon. Members are conscious of the care they must exercise in availing themselves of their absolute privilege of freedom of speech. That is why there are long-standing practices and traditions observed in this House to counter the potential for abuse.

I thought that is what you attempted to do, Mr. Speaker, in your February 29, 2009 letter.

Speaker Parent emphasized the need for members to use great care in exercising the right to speak freely in the House. In the footnote on the debate of September 30, 1994, page 6371, he states:

—paramount to our political and parliamentary systems is the principle of freedom of speech, a member's right to stand in this House unhindered to speak his or her mind. However when debate in the House centres on sensitive issues, as it often does, I would expect that members would always bear in mind the possible effects of their statements and hence be prudent in their tone and choice of words.

He goes on to say in footnote 170 on page 98 in the Debates of May 5, 1987:

Specifically, during a debate as well as during Question Period and other House proceedings, Members are bound by the Standing Orders and practices of the House with respect to the content of speeches and remarks. For example, Standing Order 18—

That is what I referred to, and it also:

—prohibits the use of disrespectful or offensive language in debate. Moreover, personal attacks, insults, obscene language or words that question a Member's integrity, honesty or character are not permitted. It is unparliamentary to state that a Member has deliberately misled the House.

As you yourself, Mr. Speaker, observed in 2002:

If we do not preserve the tradition of accepting the word of a fellow member, which is a fundamental principle of our parliamentary system, then freedom of speech, both inside and outside the House, is imperiled.

This is very powerful. These are the fundamentals of Parliament. These are the fundamental issues which we must respect and defend.

I want to move on specifically with regard to statements in Standing Order 31. I refer to Marleau and Montpetit, page 525, with regard to unparliamentary language. It states:

The proceedings of the House are based on a long-standing tradition of respect and integrity of all Members. Thus, the use of offensive, provocative or threatening language in the House is strictly forbidden. Personal attacks, insults and obscene language or words are not in order. A direct charge or accusation against a Member may be made only by way of a substantive motion for which notice is required.

I believe that is what is happening.

On November 18 I rose in the House on a similar point, and O'Brien and Bosc would have been helpful. In fact, that was the day it was tabled in the House. On page 614 of O'Brien and Bosc, there are some relevant references. It states:

Remarks directed specifically at another Member which question that Member's integrity, honesty and character are not in order. A Member will be requested to withdraw offensive remarks, allegations, or accusations of impropriety directed towards another Member. The Speaker has no authority to rule on statements made outside the House by one Member against another.

It gives you, Mr. Speaker, the authority to order the withdrawal of statements which are inappropriate in this place. I think that was the thrust of your letter of February 29, 2009.

There is another reference that says that making allegations or insults or otherwise questioning the character, honesty or integrity of another member of Parliament are absolutely out of order. There are more references, but I believe I have provided sufficient argument at this time with regard to the content of these statements and the fact that the assertions are wrong technically or are incorrect or untruthful.

The minister cannot say that she voluntarily came to committee and she was denied her right to speak. She was not the witness. Maybe she entered the room voluntarily, but she is trying to aggrandize herself somehow that she did something and we did not let her do it. She was not called as a witness.

The statement that she made in this place during question period yesterday implying that she was there, ready to be accountable and the committee did not allow her to be accountable is nonsense. It is not true. Yet she said that it is true with a straight face, without a flinch, not saying the truth and looking like it is okay. I cannot believe it.

Being a chartered accountant, I am subject to rules of ethical conduct. I have been a member in good standing of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants for over 35 years. However, this matter of privilege, the allegations against me, the attacks on my person, personal integrity, ethics and ability are serious.

It happened previously when I rose on a question of privilege on May 10 because the member for Peace River also attacked under Standing Order 31. This is the third time Standing Order 31 has been used to attack a member, which is chock full of statements which are simply not true.

I take this very seriously and I have taken the time to open up to the House on this matter. I believe the Speaker shares my concern, which he expressed in his letter. Speaker Parent once said that once it is on the record, it is hard to retract it. It is almost impossible. It is like telling a jury to disregard the comment.

At any point in time, there could be five million people watching the proceedings of this place. If we allow the chamber to be used to attack other members of Parliament without recourse or response at the point of time, those statements, on their own, will stand.

Could there be other potential consequences to a member after the fact? Could it be possible that these statements by themselves, in Hansard of yesterday, attacks and assertions about the character and integrity of another member of Parliament, would appear in somebody's election literature to show that this member is not worthy of being a member of Parliament? It is going to happen.

With due respect, this is a form of intimidation. It is a chill factor that every time a member of this place, whether it be in committee or here, challenges the government on any matter, it retaliates with bullying tactics to try to intimidate other members of Parliament so they will not move in that direction and not challenge the government. Our job is to hold the government accountable, to respect the rules of the Standing Orders of the House, the rules of the House of Commons, the practices and procedures of this place.

Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, should you find a prima facie case of privilege, of my privileges and of my rights, without intimidation, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, it has been a painful few moments listening to the member for Mississauga South, but I only have a couple of points to make.

First, by the member for Mississauga South's own statement, before polling the committee to see whether the minister would be allowed to speak, he personally said to the minister that it was not possible for her to speak before the committee. That was his decision. He indicated in his presentation that it was the decision of the committee, but it was his decision before he even asked the committee if it would allow her to speak. He made that decision.

The second point is this. The member for Mississauga South has said that it is your decision, Mr. Speaker, to rule on the inappropriateness of the actions of members. I agree with that; it is. However, I would also like to suggest that as chair of the so-called ethics committee, it is the responsibility of the member for Mississauga South to allow or disallow statements that have been made by members of that committee, in particular, to use his words, any statements that may be deemed inappropriate, disrespectful, abusive, offensive, provocative, threatening, or in other words, unworthy of members to say.

I would insist and request that if you are to make a ruling on what the member has claimed, Mr. Speaker, that you go back through every word of Hansard from the committee he chairs and take careful note of every statement that he has allowed members of that committee to make to witnesses who appeared before him.

If you do that, Mr. Speaker, I know you will find that, by comparison to what he has claimed about the member for Selkirk—Interlake, I would suggest that would be considered milquetoast compared to what that member, as chair of the ethics committee, allowed members of the opposition to make toward witnesses who appeared before his committee. Even a few days ago, he did not question the member for Winnipeg Centre when the member accused the witness of “lying his ass off”. The member for Mississauga South, did not even attempt to reproach that member. He thought that was okay.

If you are to rule on what the member for Mississauga South has just presented and asked you to rule on, Mr. Speaker, you must go back through every word and statement in Hansard and see what he, as chair, has allowed. Upon comparing that to what he is saying today, then you must make your decision.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today as the deputy government whip to indicate that the government will reserve its response to this question of privilege.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:30 a.m.

Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, I have had experience being on committee with the member opposite. In fact, I recall I spoke with the member, as chair of the ethics committee, on the issue that we would discuss which witnesses would come to committee. He agreed we would do that and then unilaterally disallowed all witnesses by the Conservative Party.

The chair, in another case, walked out and spoke to the media. That is probably allowed, but one would question the ethical nature of such a thing.

There was another case, and when you review Hansard of the committee proceedings, and I encourage you to do that, Mr. Speaker, you will also see that the chair denied speaking to witnesses before they got to committee. Then on questioning the witness, the witness did tell us that was not true, that the witness actually did speak to the chair. The chair did admit later that was the case. He apologized because he forgot it. Apparently he was sitting on a deck somewhere and had received this phone call and forgot. I do not know whether that is privilege or incompetence.

However, on the matter of privilege, if anybody has harmed the member's privilege, it is the member himself. The member has behaved in a way that has caused attention to his conduct, and by the member's own admission, not once, not twice, but three times at the very least. I believe if the member has any issues with privilege, he made them himself.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, most of us realize how impossible it is for the Speaker to sit in any kind of adjudication on what happens at the numerous committees that meet from time to time on the Hill. You have said in the past that it is not possible. The slimy Conservative slandering innuendo I hear is distorting debate. Let me get back to my remarks.

In trying to deliberate on what happens at committees, Mr. Speaker, you are indeed handicapped. What you really need to have is a report from the committee before you are in a position to take notice of what has happened.

In my view what really is at issue is the use of Standing Order 31, members' statements, and question period to slander or attack another member, when in neither of those procedures, neither in the statements nor in the question period, does any member, including a chair of a committee of the House, have an opportunity to respond or deal directly with the issue.

As you look at this, Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to include a reference to the distortion or misuse of either members' statements or question period for attacks on matters that are not urgent. It is hard to understand how this could be seen as a matter of urgency, as set out in the Standing Orders dealing with oral question period.

If this is a matter of privilege, and I think the member has raised a serious issue, I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will take notice of that procedural perspective. We are really in danger of losing a couple of our most important procedural vehicles, the members' statement and question period, as they are taken over by initiatives to distort, attack and undermine those procedures.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

As Indicated, I think I have heard enough on this now. The government is coming back on the matter. There will be an opportunity for the hon. member for Mississauga South to respond after the government has responded. As we have had a request for reservation on that point, it would be better if we left the matter now until we hear more. There will be further submissions at some future time and we will leave it until then.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member may want to consider withdrawing a remark. He referred to the member for Winnipeg Centre making a statement in my committee about lying his ass off. I am the chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The member for Winnipeg Centre is a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

I am not a member of that committee. I may have been a room at the time, but I was certainly not the chair. He may want to withdraw the allegation that I did nothing to correct the statement of the member for Winnipeg Centre.

Statements by Members
Privilege

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

This dispute is to facts. I am sure hon. members can sort that out by looking at the record and making the appropriate adjustments in their comments.

The House resumed from May 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, we note that the Conservative Party is applauding for us. The Bloc Québécois, a party that represents the interests of Quebec, has been applauded.

I have the pleasure of debating Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, which aims to establish a liability regime applicable in the event of a nuclear incident.

Since I represent a region located near a nuclear plant, I am very familiar with the issues related to nuclear energy, and I am aware of the questions that have been raised in my region after Hydro-Québec decided to refurbish the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant.

The Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant, which has been in use since 1983, is part of the regional landscape in Mauricie and Centre-du-Québec. It is located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, in the Gentilly sector of the city of Bécancour. A number of citizens have shared their concerns about Hydro-Québec's decision. They are wondering how this will affect the health of the people who live in the surrounding area and the health of the environment. A number of people have raised questions about the permanent management of high-level radioactive waste.

Therefore, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding this subject, and I understand the importance of reviewing the current legislation, because it simply does not meet the international requirements for liability in the event of a nuclear incident.

Given that the government has taken a keen interest in nuclear power, and that Ontario and Alberta are about to embark on this new and difficult venture with the help of the federal government, updating the current legislation, which is over 30 years old, is crucial.

The current act is out of touch with new developments in the nuclear power sector in Quebec and across Canada. Contrary to what the Conservative government says, nuclear energy is not clean energy.

Both the Conservative government and the Liberals express unflagging optimism about nuclear energy, especially in connection with Alberta oil sands exploitation. We believe that the government should exercise extreme caution with respect to this source of energy, which is very controversial and comes with serious risks.

Let us not forget that radioactive waste is still a major problem and very expensive to manage. Let us not forget that the experts have yet to find a miracle solution for dealing with highly radioactive waste accumulated over years. That waste is so toxic that it has to be stored in sealed reservoirs for thousands of years so as not to compromise the health of future generations. That is a major problem that remains to be solved.

That is why, when it comes to nuclear power, the Bloc Québécois believes that strict and effective oversight at all stages—extraction, transportation, heat and electricity production—is critical. Who could forget the disasters that happened in Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Three Mile Island in the United States? We must not compromise on nuclear safety. These tragedies should forever stand as reminders of the serious consequences of nuclear incidents and the importance of doing everything in our power to prevent them. Public health should be our top priority.

That is why the Bloc Québécois supports the principle underlying this bill to hold operators responsible for nuclear incidents. We have to do as much as we can to prevent such incidents, but when they do happen, we have to compensate everyone who is affected, bearing in mind that no sum of money can replace a human life.

Although Bill C-15 is far-reaching and complex, its main purpose, which is to set up a liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident, relies on three basic principles. First, it defines the liability of facility operators. Second, it defines the financial terms and limits of that liability. Third, it creates a process or administrative tribunal to hear claims in case of a major incident, which no one wants to have happen.

This bill is flawed, but it does improve the existing act, which, as I said, is more than 30 years old and is not suited to the new reality. It improves the existing act by updating the financial responsibilities of nuclear plant operators. The operators have financial and social responsibilities pertaining to public health.

The bill that has been introduced redefines nuclear damage. The new definition is clearer and more complete, and it is closer to the international standard, but still does not quite reach it. The international standard is $1.4 billion. This bill would increase compensation from $75 million to $650 million in the event of a nuclear incident, so it is an improvement. The amount of $75 million is obsolete; it put very little responsibility on the companies.

Bill C-15 clarifies the liability of nuclear facility operators. It clearly defines what kind of damage is compensable and what kind is not; it lists all of the compensable damages, such as bodily injury or damage to property. A nuclear accident can have catastrophic consequences. The companies that run these nuclear businesses must accept significant responsibilities towards the economy and community.

In short, this means that if there is a nuclear incident, regardless of the cause, with the exception of an act of war, civil war or insurrection, the facility operator is responsible and must compensate those affected.

In addition to updating the responsibilities of nuclear plant operators, the bill also significantly increases the financial limit on this responsibility, from $75 million to $650 million. I would remind the House that the federal government has not reviewed that limit since 1976. That is unbelievable. We know that this Parliament can be very slow to react to new situations that come up in Quebec and the rest of Canada and this is a perfect example.

It was definitely time to increase the liability of these companies. This is a significant jump, which is an excellent reminder that it is precisely because of the federal government's mismanagement and failure to periodically adjust the amount that such a drastic adjustment is needed at this time. The amount should be adjusted regularly—more often than every 30 years.

If the federal government had fulfilled its responsibilities in this matter since the bill was first enacted, the amount of insurance would have been raised gradually to allow for suitable compensation, instead of increasing it so drastically because it has become apparent that the amount is ridiculously low.

Lastly, Bill C-15 also establishes a special tribunal to hear claims when the Governor in Council believes that it is in the best interest of the public.

The debate we are having on this bill today serves as a powerful reminder that the government has very little credibility when it comes to nuclear energy. I know that my colleague across the floor will not appreciate that statement, but it is an important and fundamental observation. I must also warn the government on this.

We wonder why the government is so enthusiastic about this energy source. It is always saying that nuclear energy is clean, yet it has not solved the problem of how to manage the nuclear waste that has accumulated over many years. It has not yet found a good way to manage this waste. If it had, it would not have to go to such lengths to regulate and define nuclear plant operators' legal and financial liability. We believe that nuclear energy is dirty energy, which is why this bill provides for a very elaborate liability regime in the event of a nuclear incident.

As I said in my speech, nuclear incidents have catastrophic economic, social and human costs. The people of Mauricie are concerned about the development and management of the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant, and they need information. They have been living with this plant for a number of years now, but naturally they have concerns. The people need reassurance, and they need more information about nuclear plant management, nuclear safety and the health impact of nuclear power.

The Conservative government, which continues to be optimistic about nuclear energy and especially its potential use in extracting oil from the oil sands, should exercise caution, because this energy source is far from universally accepted and carries risks that are far from benign. Without being alarmist, we have to realize that nuclear energy should not be this government's first choice.

At a time of climate change and sustainable development, going the nuclear route is not a sustainable solution, particularly because there is a lack of expertise in managing nuclear waste. By making bad choices, the government will end up shifting the environmental burden the nuclear industry leaves behind onto the shoulders of the next generation.

Although nuclear energy produces only a small amount of greenhouse gas, it does produce radioactive waste that is difficult and expensive to manage.

We often hear it said that nuclear energy is not expensive. However, the investment required to build a plant and the cost of managing nuclear waste are astronomical. We should spend more on green energy such as wind, geothermal or other forms of energy that are much cleaner.

In our opinion, the government should concentrate on these new emerging and alternative forms of energy instead of putting all its eggs in the nuclear basket.

Unlike nuclear energy, really clean energy such as solar energy and hydroelectricity are not a threat to people's health and safety. The government should adopt a long-term energy policy based on the implementation of an energy conservation program and significant bolstering of funding to develop renewable sources of energy.

The Bloc Québécois will carefully examine Bill C-15 in committee to ensure that it has no loopholes enabling operators to shirk their responsibilities under the bill.

The bill increases the liability of businesses from $75 million to $650 million, which is a significant improvement. However, we know that the international average is $1.4 billion. American and European governments require even higher amounts from nuclear operators. Therefore, we still have work to do. However, this bill is a step forward and for that reason we are supporting it.

Taxpayers should not share the risk and the cost of compensation. In recent years, the trend has been to give the profits to the private sector and to give the losses to the public sector. This must not happen with the management of nuclear energy.

Finally, the amount of insurance coverage should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it is in compliance with international standards and that it represents the real cost of the damage that may result from a nuclear accident.

I will close by stating that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill because it increases the liability of operators substantially, from $75 million to $650 million. Nuclear safety should always be questioned because people often worry about nuclear malfunctions or accidents that could happen and seriously affect their lives, as we have seen with nuclear accidents in recent years.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member. When debate resumes, he will have 10 minutes for questions and comments.

Lifetime Achievement Award
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker in 1961, a young man of modest means started a small retail shop in the Byward Market, moments from where we now stand.

Now almost five decades later, Giant Tiger employs 6,000 people, has over $1 billion in sales and gives roughly $2 million annually to small charities across the land.

That is why I am pleased to honour company founder Gordon Reid who is this year's winner of the Retail Council of Canada's lifetime achievement award. He had his first retail job at age 16, and now at age 76 he still works six days a week. His business success is based on meticulous attention to his customers. His personal trademark is a gentle humility.

That is why, to all who know him, Gordon Reid is a true Canadian giant.