Thank you again, Mr. Speaker.
In administering its licensing system, the AECB works closely with other federal and provincial departments with responsibilities in such areas as health, the environment, transport and labour. This ensures that the concerns and legislative obligations of these departments are considered during the licensing process.
The Atomic Energy Control Board is also responsible for regulating the import and export of nuclear materials, equipment and technology. The board is very active in the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency and ensures Canadian compliance with the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In the latter task the AECB is concerned with both domestic and international security of nuclear materials and technology. In all its regulatory and licensing activities the AECB maintains a transparent approach. I believe that the board's responsiveness to public concerns has much to do with its reputation as an effective, responsible, independent regulatory body. However, more than ever before the public is concerned about health and safety issues and demands input into the AECB's decision making process.
The Atomic Energy Control Act gives the AECB significant responsibilities and broad scope for regulating nuclear activities. Through periodic amendments to regulations and licensing conditions, the AECB has regulated the development of the nuclear industry in Canada effectively while ensuring the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment.
Nevertheless there is an obvious and compelling need to modernize the legislation. Many people believe that the 50 year old statute as it now stands limits the AECB's effectiveness. The act's deficiencies have been noted by the courts, the media, special interest groups, parliamentary committees and the auditor general.
Let me mention some of the more troubling weaknesses. AECB inspectors do not have the formal powers they need to carry out their responsibilities. The AECB cannot hold polluters financially accountable for their actions, nor can it order remedial action. The ceiling on fines is $10,000 and is far too low.
The small number of board members hinders the decision making process and does not allow the agency the flexibility it needs to deal effectively with certain issues. The act does not provide explicitly for public hearings.
Bill C-23 corrects each of these weaknesses. It formalizes inspectors' powers so that they can ensure the safe use of nuclear materials whether in a home based business or a nuclear power plant. The bill provides an appeal mechanism as well. Bill C-23 also increases the maximum fine for violations to $1 million.
The proposed legislation will enable the AECB under its new name, the Canadian nuclear safety commission, to act quickly to clean up radioactive contamination when concerns over liability or the polluter's inaction could cause delays that could threaten public health, safety or the environment. The legislation also sets up reporting requirements that ensure that any contamination by radioactive substances or possible exposures to radiation are reported to the commission for remedial action.
Bill C-23 increases the number of commission members to ensure better professional and technical representation and to improve decision making. It allows the president to appoint members to sit on panels which will be more efficient in many cases than requiring decision making by the full commission. This legislation also requires the commission to conduct its proceedings in public wherever reasonable. This simply formalizes current practice by the AECB.
Make no mistake, the AECB has been and continues to be an active, effective regulatory agency essential to the high technology industry. Hon. members must recognize that new legislation is required to ensure that Canada's nuclear regulatory agency has the appropriate mandate and the authority to carry out its responsibilities today and in the future.
This proposed legislation acts on commitments made in the recent speech from the throne, commitments to sustaining our environment and to ensuring a modern regulatory regime suitable for the 21st century.
I urge my hon. colleagues to act in the interest of all Canadians by voting in favour of this bill.