Madam Speaker, it is with great sadness that I rise today to address Bill C-27, an act respecting the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste.
A few days ago, I spoke on Bill C-10, an act respecting the national marine conservation areas of Canada. My Bloc Quebecois colleagues also addressed Bill C-36, the anti-terrorism act, and Bill C-42, the public safety act.
I would like to explain from the outset what issues I will discuss over the next 40 minutes. First, I must point out that this government constantly displayed a confrontational attitude, despite the fact that Bloc Quebecois members were committed to co-operating regarding this bill, whether at second reading, during the review in committee, or at report stage.
The Bloc Quebecois, which acted in good faith at all stages of the parliamentary process, was always told by Liberal members opposite no, no, no.
This afternoon, I will again directly address my constituents and all Quebecers and Canadians. We feel that Bill C-27 is incomplete. It lacks transparency and it does not take into account public opinion.
Under the circumstances, we could have said no right from the beginning and made things complicated for the government, but no, we felt that we had to give our support at second reading in order to improve the bill in committee.
However, during the review in committee, when we heard witnesses and when the time came to amend the bill, Liberal members sitting on the committee said no, no, no, without really knowing what the issue was all about.
We are talking about the management of the country's nuclear fuel waste. I was stunned to the hear the Liberal member for Frontenac—Mégantic say, as he was leaving a meeting, that plutonium and uranium were no more dangerous than asbestos. The chair of the standing committee on natural resources and member for Nickel Belt also made a similar comment.
This is a serious matter. We heard many witnesses at the standing committee on natural resources. My colleague, the hon. member for Sherbrooke and Bloc Quebecois critic in this area, has done an excellent job, with some contribution from myself, in his desire to improve this bill.
It is clear, however, that the Liberal members of the committee did not have any idea what we or the witnesses were talking about. At that time, and still today, we were addressing nuclear waste, precisely, 24,000 tonnes of uranium and plutonium which will remain radioactive for some 25,000 years. This has nothing in common with asbestos.
When I hear comments like that, I feel there is no point in talking to the Liberal MPs. They heard all the same things we did, but understood nothing. I think they were there with their ears and eyes firmly closed. The only thing they could say was no, no. That was all we got out of them.
I will therefore continue to talk to our audience instead. Despite what the Liberal committee members have said, the taxpayers of Canada and Quebec are very much attuned to what is going on as far as waste in general is concerned, and nuclear waste in particular. I feel their judgment is far superior to that of the Liberals.
What is Bill C-27 all about? The whole thing dates back to 1989, when the Minister of the Environment of the day mandated the nuclear fuel waste and disposal environmental assessment commission, known as the Seaborn panel, from the name of its chair, to come up with a concept for the permanent storage of this country's nuclear waste.
I would like to digress for a moment. It would be mistaken to mix things and say that the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to Bill C-27. The Bloc supports strict management of nuclear waste. This is a matter of huge importance, and the government has not bothered in recent years to resolve it. The situation has continued, and today we realize that problem must be solved, but not at any cost.
The main recommendations of the Seaborn panel were that an agency be established that would hold public hearings and propose a type of management for this country's nuclear waste. It recommended as well that the cost of this country's waste management be assumed by the nuclear energy industry.
What is there in Bill C-27? Does it follow the letter of the recommendations of the Seaborn report? We must remember that the Minister of Natural Resources was drawing on the recommendations of the Seaborn report when he said he was going to draft the bill. This, however, is not what the chair of the standing committee on natural resources said to me. He said that the Seaborn report is outdated. I think the Seaborn report is very important. The Seaborn panel was independent. It lasted 10 years, cost a small fortune, but it has given us guidelines for the successful management of nuclear waste.
The management is to be independent of the nuclear energy industry. As the committee studied the matter, the Bloc Quebecois proposed a number of amendments to bring Bill C-27 closer to the conclusions of the Seaborn panel. Contrary to what the Minister of Natural Resources said in his speech at second reading, his bill bears no relation to the main recommendations of the panel.
Indeed, the Seaborn panel recommended that energy companies be excluded from the management committee that would propose a form of nuclear waste management.
Let us look just at recommendation 6.1.2, which advocates the creation of a nuclear fuel waste management agency. It reads as follows:
For various reasons, there is in many quarters an apprehension about nuclear power that bedevils the activities and proposals of the nuclear industry. If there is to be any confidence in a system for the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste and—
I am still quoting the Seaborn panel:
—a fresh start must be made in the form of a new agency. The agency must be at arm's length from the producers and current owners of the waste. Its overall commitment must be to safety.
Bill C-27 specifies that energy companies will have to establish a management committee to propose to the minister a long term nuclear fuel waste management concept.
Such a situation is tantamount to opening the henhouse door wide open to let the fox in. As far as the Bloc Quebecois is concerned, recommendation 6.1.2 should be fully implemented. Unfortunately, the Liberal government rejected it out of hand. Incidentally, a number of witnesses who appeared before the standing committee on natural resources also asked that Bill C-27 be amended to reflect that recommendation.
I will quote a few. Irene Kock, a research consultant with the Sierra Club of Canada, testified before the committee on November 8, 2001. She said, and I quote:
The Seaborn panel recommended that an independent agency be formed at arm's length from AECL and the nuclear utilities in order to manage the programs related to long-term nuclear fuel waste management, including detailed comparison of waste management options. The waste management organization must be at arm's length from the nuclear industry. This is a very key part of the recommendations from the Seaborn panel.
It is not just the Bloc Quebecois who says it. All the witnesses said the same thing to the committee. Irene Kock added “It was a very well thought out conclusion and must be incorporated in this legislation”.
I will quote from another testimony, namely that of Brennain Lloyd, a co-ordinator for Northwatch, who also testified on November 8, 2001:
The context is that there have been a number of experiences on the part of the public with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, and with the nuclear industries more generally, specific to this issue of nuclear waste management and related siting processes. They've been very negative experiences for the greatest part, and that needs to be kept in mind.
She was warning the government about certain past experiences. Ms. Lloyd went on to say that:
The resulting mistrust and apprehension on the part of the public must be kept in constant consideration...Third, the waste management organization lacks independence. Given the track record of a number of the agencies that are proposed to be involved, that's particularly problematic. The panel was clear that the waste management organization must be independent and it must be perceived to be independent.
It said an independent agency, not an industry agency. This would be an industry agency. This in fact is what Bill C-27 proposes: a management committee composed of members of industry. This can only be problematic in terms of delivery, the ability to look more broadly at the issues, and the ability to engender public trust and engagement.
The Bloc Quebecois therefore proposed that paragraph 6(2) be amended as follows:
No nuclear energy corporation may be a member or shareholder of the waste management organization.
But what did the Liberal members say? No, no, no.
We have not lost our sense of humour or our desire to see the government make this bill into something that would be what the Seaborn panel and the general public wanted. We proposed other amendments.
I could talk all day about the amendments which the Bloc Quebecois proposed in committee. There were, and the member for Sherbrooke is nodding, between 40 and 45. The New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative/Democratic Representative Coalition also moved amendments.
But each time, the committee, which was chaired by a Liberal member and contained a Liberal majority, said no, no, no. At every stage of the process, they said they were right.
Earlier, the Canadian Alliance member spoke about the fact that the public had to be consulted, but it is plainly written in the bill that the governor in council “may”. In other words, it is not required. When you are told “you may do something” you always have a choice. The majority prevails. If one says “I have everything I need” or “I do not have what I need”, I am going to go ahead. In this case, what it says is that the public may be consulted.
This reminds me of the very moving times we went through in the summer of 2000, when this government wanted to import MOX fuel from Russia and the U.S. I stood up to this, all five feet, five inches of me.
The people of Saguenay--Lac-Saint-Jean, hon. members will recall, were on side with me on this. A total of 99.9% of my constituents said they were opposed to the importing of MOX. Some 120 municipalities throughout Quebec and a number of regional county municipalities did the same. The Quebec government and the aboriginal peoples voiced their opposition.
Atomic Energy of Canada officials came to the region, telling us that this was just a little rod that went into a big cylinder. They made it out to be such a wonderful and attractive thing that I would have been happy to have it as a decoration in my living room.
Away we went to consult people. This is not an expensive proposition, and it provides us with an opportunity to speak to people concerned by a problem. We talked to the experts. We asked their opinions. We also consulted the Quebec department of health. We even went to a university, along with our regional environmental committee, and held an information session. We invited three experts, who told us that the concept of importing MOX and the method planned for its transportation were not safe.
According to U.S. studies, this concept was not acceptable because it was not 100% sure. Afterward, people were entitled to make comments via the Atomic Energy of Canada website, and this took some 28 days.
So 99.9% of those in our region were opposed. Nevertheless, they went ahead and did it. One fine evening, I am not sure exactly when, the MOX shipment set out. Everyone was on the alert. We have the Bagotville military base in our area. They said they were going to bring the shipment in via CFB Bagotville or an Ontario military base. Let us remember that the MOX was headed for the Chalk River nuclear facility in Ontario.
One night—and I know because I took a stroll near the military base in Bagotville—there was quite a flurry of activity. We did not know when the big day would be, but people from national defence, from public safety and from the health sector were there. There was this flurry of activity. And yet, officials from Atomic Energy of Canada told us, when they came to see us, that there was no danger.
What was all the commotion about if there was no danger and if it was not serious, as they said at the time? Everyone was on edge.
They went ahead and they took it to Chalk River. This proves the government's attitude, that they went ahead despite what everyone thought. In my riding, it was a very strong majority. I held my own consultations. Representatives of Atomic Energy of Canada were in one room and I was in another, that the hotel where the consultation was taking place graciously let me use.
Before going into the room with the Atomic Energy of Canada representatives, people came to see me and sign a petition. They would then come back from the consultation and say to me, “Ms. Bujold, if I could, I would sign the petition twice. I am not sure about what they are saying”.
So we can see just how important the issue of nuclear waste is. We must consult with people. But this is not reflected in this bill.
We must manage our nuclear waste, because it our waste. We have to store it in a way such that it remains inactive for many years to come. Most of the waste that is currently being stored is at nuclear reactors located in Ontario. There are 24,000 tonnes of nuclear waste being stored there. That is a lot of nuclear waste.
We cannot count on the goodwill of a management committee that says it is the representative of these companies that are going to manage the storage.
We, elected members who represent people, must be kept informed of what is happening. We need to challenge them and say “Show us what you are going to say and do. We will accept it or reject it on behalf of our constituents, because we have been democratically elected.”
In committee we proposed a clause to the government which stated that members would have to be consulted in the House of Commons.
Madam Speaker, you are a member like me. When we run for election we say to our constituents “I am going to represent you on all issues. I am able to represent you. If I cannot represent you, I will consult with you and you will give me your opinion”.
People know that whether we are talking about domestic, nuclear or other kinds of waste, we must not become the world's dump. Nobody wants to have any kind of wastes in their backyard. We always say “Not in my backyard”.
So to reassure the public, we had asked the government that the plan be submitted here, in the House of Commons. What did the Liberals say? They said no, no and no. They refuse to be accountable to the people who elected them on a most important issue.
I do not think this is being very transparent. Since we have been sitting in this House, we have noticed that when introducing bills the government always says that it will listen to us, that it will refer the bill to committee for further study, that it will hear witnesses and be open to amendments.
That did not happen for Bill C-27. Nor did it happen for Bill C-36, Bill C-44 or Bill C-42. Who does this government take people for, particularly those people who represent all those who did not vote for the Liberals and that the Liberals no longer represent? I am talking about opposition parties.
I am thinking of people who take the trouble to appear before the committee. I recall that on the last day, before the committee began to examine the bill clause by clause, the mayors of Ontario municipalities came before it. They were involved with this issue because there are nuclear plants in their municipalities. They came to say to the committee “We have to be informed and be part of the development of management. We are involved on the front line because we have to protect our people”.
A member from the Progressive Conservative Democratic Representative Coalition proposed an amendment in this regard, and the members of the Liberal Party once again said no, no, no.
It was also pointed out that consideration should be given to having people representing the native communities on the committee. Some witnesses said that it was important that these communities be consulted. There are not just the experts, there are ordinary citizens as well, who have some expertise in this regard. The answer was no, no, no.
I think we should call them the no, no, no gang. This is what comes out as soon as opposition members introduce something intelligent. Initially they suggest that a bill be drafted. Officials then draft it. Then the minister or members representing the Liberal majority in committee must defend it. Most of the time, I think they do not even know what the subject is and this is unfortunate because it is extremely important.
It was not only yesterday that I started being concerned about nuclear waste and all sorts of waste that we import from the United States and elsewhere. The Bloc Quebecois even asked, through an amendment it put forward, to have the bill provide that we manage our own waste and contain a clause banning the importing of waste from elsewhere. This amendment too was rejected. The Liberal members said no, no, no and yet we know how important this is.
The Seaborn panel was set up by people who wanted to do something about an issue that had been dragging on for years. It took time to write the report. The panel made excellent recommendations. The Minister of Natural Resources, whom I really like, seemed to show goodwill. He had said from the beginning, and I believed him,“I rely on the reports of the Seaborn panel”. But over time he made an about-face.
Now I cannot make sense of the bill. There are many Quebecers and Canadians who will also be lost. Why? Because when it is passed, they will no longer be consulted. It will be the governor in council who will consult, because he “may” do so.
The first recommendation of the Seaborn panel was that the public should be consulted on any nuclear waste management principle. This is what should have been done. That was the panel's first recommendation. This is the one recommendation that should have served as a basis for all the other ones. The government ignored the one recommendation that should have been taken into account with this bill.
Had it not been disregarded, I would have told myself “At least the government is taking this issue seriously. It is not doing this to please people who are close to the powers that be. No, it is really presenting a bill that will reassure Canadians and Quebecers”. I would have welcomed this initiative.
I sat on the Standing Committee on the Environment for two years. When good things were happening, I would always say to the minister and the Liberal members “Yes, we will co-operate, because when it comes to the environment we have to co-operate to advance government initiatives”. That was always my attitude during these two years, and things worked well. When I did not agree with something, I said so.
This bill is now at third reading. Yesterday we voted on the last amendments at report stage. The Bloc Quebecois presented four amendments. They were not even examined. They were rejected out of hand. It was time to do something about this issue, but the government should act in the respect of people, of the public.
That is not what the government is doing. This bill will be studied by the other place, and I hope that they will be able to do what the Liberal government has not done.
Such a bill, such an issue, must not be dealt with casually, as we have seen. I was not present for all of the hearings, but my colleague, the hon. member for Sherbrooke, was. He told me “It makes no sense. There are so many things going on; the witnesses that are appearing are only talking about the Seaborn report. They thought that the government wanted to implement the recommendations”.
Do we bring in witnesses in as a formality, or are we there to listen to them? Most of them are experts. Sometimes, regular citizens can become experts. They came in good faith to warn this government about the problems with this bill. They came and said “We are warning you; listen to us, introduce amendments. It needs to be done properly”.
But the Liberals did what they did to the opposition: they turned a deaf ear. They turned deaf and blind. As far as they were concerned, it was no, no, no. Their answers were dictated by the minister's instructions and the overall bill.
I am very disappointed for the people of the riding of Jonquière, which I represent, and I am also very disappointed for future generations. I have grandchildren, two boys. My daughter has given me two beautiful grandsons aged 5 and 3. Tomorrow, I do not want to tell my grandsons “You know, grandma could have done something. She tried, but nobody on the other side listened to her”.
I am very disappointed because they are the ones who will have to live with the results of our lack of action on December 5, 2001. We will have failed to convince the government to change Bill C-27 into the bill that we wanted at the outset.
This is a sad situation. The holiday season is upon us, and in 20 days it will be Christmas. This is a time of celebration, a time for enjoyment, for spending good times together, but I will be using that opportunity to tell my constituents “We did everything we could to get the government to listen to us, but to no avail. It is doing as it pleases, and it is not even interested in consulting you”.
I think that this government sees itself as the one possessing the truth. Of all those listening to us today, there is not one who possesses the whole truth. When one has an idea in mind, one must take into consideration the opinion of those who want to caution us, who tell us “Take care, there, don't go in that direction. I have proof of my stand, just listen to me and I will tell you why”. We need to listen to others if we are members of parliament. Otherwise, we would be better off elsewhere.
I believe that all members of this House, be they Liberals or opposition members, should have that ability to listen to others, yet in the standing committee on natural resources, I could see that the government MPs lacked that ability.
This has been a great disappointment to me, because today we are forced to acknowledge that we could have done something worthwhile, something to advance a cause that involves everyone. Last week, my colleague from Sherbrooke told me that there were people in one region discussing bringing in waste from the United States to bury in their area. One might also bring up a matter that we settled last year.
Do you remember this, Madam Speaker? At the time, you were not the acting Speaker. They wanted to bury waste from the Toronto area in northern Ontario, near the Témiscamingue area in Quebec.
With the help of the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, we set up emergency hearings. The Minister of the Environment arranged for an environmental assessment to be done. People came to tell us that there were many irritants and they were right, so the government said that this would not be done and it was not.
All the witnesses who appeared before the committee at various times told us the same thing. The city of Toronto was forced to back down.
The government could have done the same thing with Bill C-27. It could have said “Yes, there are irritants”. We never said that this bill was all bad. We said that there were things that were not what we were looking for and that the bill needed to be improved.
We are calling for consultation, management and a report to be tabled in the House. The other day, we suggested the services of the Auditor General of Canada. Yesterday she told us about what was going on with employment insurance and about the $75 that the government handed out before last year's election to individuals below a certain income. She told us about that. The auditor general is credible.
The government members refused. They said that they want an independent auditor appointed by the governor in council.
Our request for clarity demanded an answer, ut we can see beyond any doubt, and it is a shame to have to say this, and I am sad to do so, that there is no clarity. Clarity is not a predominant characteristic of the Liberal government in this issue. I am sorry to see this because I am certain that there are members across the way who would have liked more clarity too, when they realize how little there is, and that they too hear from their constituents on the whole topic of waste. They are going to start looking at the bill and I hope that they will ask themselves what questions their constituents will have for them when they see this.
We must not disappoint the people who elect us. We must ensure that issues as important as nuclear waste management are not relegated to the back burner, as a third, fourth, or fifth priority.
This is a top priority. We have done much harm to our planet in the past. Today it suffers from what we humans have inflicted upon it. With this bill, we had an opportunity to lessen the burden that we have placed on the planet.
However, we did not. The government turned a deaf ear and did not innovate. We hear the word innovate a lot. Today we need to innovate more and more. Since the events of September 11, the world has changed, I believe.
Every weekend I meet a great number of constituents who always tell me, “You know, Jocelyne, we have changed since September 11. Our values are different. We see things more clearly now and we to want to change the little day to day things that we overlooked”.
This bill was an opportunity to change the little day to day things and allow us to finally keep an open mind and consider the winds of change on this very complex and difficult issue.
Today the Bloc Quebecois can say that it is against this bill and that it will continue to oppose it. I hope that my speech will spark something in the members opposite. That is my wish.