Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-23. We got involved in the production of nuclear energy without being in a position to ensure the consequences properly.
We got involved in the development and production of nuclear energy without really knowing all the ins and outs of it. For years, we have been producing tons of nuclear waste without being able to handle that waste properly.
Our governments have not been equipped to properly manage the hazards to public health, and to the environment in particular. Our governments have been particularly incapable of proper monitoring, as we are well aware.
It is, therefore, not surprising that every time there is an attempt to develop or use a new nuclear technology, environmental organizations and the general public are up in arms. As you are aware, there is a lot of fear among the public.
We must not close our eyes, either, to the fact that the current arsenal of nuclear weapons in circulation on this planet represents a risk of totally annihilating the human race, and the public is very much aware of this.
We all know that there are impressive quantities of nuclear weapons, plutonium and heavy water in Russia, and our governments fear a black market may develop. Non-democratic countries and terrorist groups might get their hands on atomic weapons or on the raw materials for producing such weapons. Even small countries can get them.
I see Bill C-23 as only a tiny step toward enhanced government control, and one that is way too late in coming. It is a very tiny response to the justified fear of the public, of Quebecers in particular.
This bill does not, in fact, solve anything much. In particular, it does not get to the heart of the problem.
Will we really be better protected when this bill is passed? Hardly. What is this government doing to prevent the use of nuclear products in weapons of destruction? I do not think Bill C-23 provides the answer to this question.
As citizens we may well wonder whether this government realizes that mankind is living on top of a volcano. The existing legislation, which goes back to 1946, maintained an almost incestuous relationship between research, marketing and control. There was a genuine conflict of interest.
Fortunately, the bill proposes to separate the two components. How could anyone expect those who develop new technologies and are supposed to market them to exercise effective and much needed controls?
It is like asking the big oil companies to calibrate gas pumps. Not that I do not trust them, but I have very little doubt they would try to take advantage of the situation. So it took the federal government 50 years to realize that this legislation was ill conceived and did not satisfactorily protect the interests of Quebecers and Canadians.
How can you expect the public, which has many fears about nuclear energy, to start trusting this government and the new nuclear safety commission? This public trust will be extremely difficult to rebuild, and I can hardly believe that, with the passage of this bill, all problems will disappear.
In fact, I expect the government wants us to forget the latest visit of the Prime Minister to Russia, when there was some talk of purchasing nuclear waste and processing it here in Canada. At the time, this decision raised a wave of public protest.
There is another matter the government probably could have dealt with as well by examining the question of nuclear energy and introducing a bill on the subject. All things considered, if we analyse research and development investments in the nuclear energy sector in Canada, it is clear that one province alone enjoys practically all the economic spinoffs in this sector. I am of course referring to the province of Ontario.
Who else in confederation is as well endowed with the largesse of the federal government? Who else in this confederation has a vested interest in maintaining Atomic Energy of Canada Limited? Who else in this confederation gets so many of the spinoffs of this industry? It is Ontario, always Ontario, that is the winner in the area of research and development.
If the government were half way serious, it would have used the opportunity to consider the question. In this area in particular, it could have extended its generosity to Quebec. It provides strong support for nuclear energy simply as a favour to the industry in Ontario, in my opinion.
I had hoped that the federal government would commit to better distribute its research and development funds by amending this bill. I am not saying give Quebec the advantage, but give it what it is entitled to. It did the very opposite. We saw this recently with the closing of the regional offices of Atomic Energy of Canada, including those in Montreal. They close the Montreal offices and open others in Ontario.
I would also have hoped that the government would make clear its desire for more research and development projects on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Nuclear medicine has a very definite place, and funding should be increased to enable hospitals to do research. The public will accept atomic energy only when it sees its peaceful uses and its role in everyday life and only when it sees the government has established near perfect means to control the risks involved in its use and development.
The introduction of this bill in the House could also have raised the issue of funding for Atomic Energy of Canada for debate.
I would now like to discuss the funding of the sale of Candu reactors around the world. It is all very well to make sales, but do the countries receiving them have the means to protect themselves and their people? What about financing the sale of CANDU reactors throughout the world? Atomic Energy of Canada is just as much of a bottomless pit as the Hibernia project off Newfoundland may be.
Since this agency was created, billions of dollars have been sunk into it, and the government is only able to sell CANDU reactors by financing them with money from Canadian and Quebec taxpayers. In reality, the sale of CANDU reactors, with their supposedly safe technology, is nothing more than a clever way of subsidizing Atomic Energy of Canada.
This government would have done better to overhaul Atomic Energy of Canada's operations. The days when the government could squander taxpayers' money are long gone. When a government makes savage cuts to unemployment insurance, contemplates making cuts to old age pensions, and attacks the most disadvantaged members of society, it should start by cleaning up its own act.
The necessary clean-up has not been done at Atomic Energy Canada, and Bill C-23 would have provided an excellent opportunity to do just that. The timing was right. The government missed the boat in this case as in so many others. This is a half measure that will only disguise the true extent of the atomic energy management problem.
I think this bill comes too late. It is nevertheless worthwhile, except that it should have been better thought out. This is a bill that could have made a great many Canadians happy.