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House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can safely say, with no hesitation whatsoever, that I approve fully of the idea put forward by the Bloc that $150 million a year is not a great deal of money given the complexity and scope of the problem we face. It would be much better spent exploring every avenue of recourse in green renewable energy sources rather than going further into an area of science that we believe was possibly a mistake from day one.

In his opening remarks, the hon. member from the Bloc mentioned that it was a cruel irony in a sense that the burning of fossil fuels was creating harmful greenhouse gas emissions that have caused climates to change and which have taken away our access to a cleaner form of energy which is hydroelectric energy. It is a vicious and unsustainable circle.

Still though to this date we are fortunate enough to have many opportunities to develop hydroelectric projects in most of the provinces. I look forward to being able to further open the north. As we get into the Northwest Territories we need to be able to get that power to market. One of the biggest problems with hydroelectric power is the line loss. When shipping hydroelectric power, many thousands of miles sometimes, a lot of the power is lost in the transmission. It is therefore necessary to convert the power to DC for transmission and then when it arrives at its destination it is reconverted back to AC power for marketing throughout households.

Many of those developments are fairly recent and as we get more sophisticated, new bipole lines will be built to add to our network and our grid. As an added benefit, we now have access to the American grids. We used to have to fight with every utility in the United States to get Canadian power onto its power grids. That is becoming a lot easier and the market opportunities are opening up for Canada to be a key producer of clean, efficient and economical hydroelectric energy.

I should point out that because it is a public utility, Manitoba enjoys the lowest hydroelectric costs in North America at 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour. This is something that would have been so disastrous if we had let the Tories stay in power for one more year because Manitoba Hydro would have been gone to the highest bidder. We would have killed the goose that laid the golden egg and that would have been tragic.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise once again in the House and speak to Bill C-27. The point of the debate is to discuss whether or not we should have further amendments to the bill before it leaves this Chamber.

I would argue that there are a number of amendments, many of which have already been recommended, that would add to the validity of the bill and make it much better and more legitimate legislation.

Unlike the member who just spoke, the NDP member for Windsor--St. Clair, the Bloc member for Sherbrooke, the Alliance member for Athabasca and I worked jointly at committee because we all felt the legislation was poorly crafted. We did not use this as an opportunity to slam other members of parliament or try to position one party against another. We simply said that the legislation was poorly crafted and that it was not accountable to the Canadian public.

The problem with the committee was that it never gave the Canadian public the opportunity to look at the details of the legislation or the opportunity to appear before committee.

As parliamentarians, we used the committee to our advantage and tried to bring as many witnesses before it as possible. However we were never satisfied with the length of time the committee had to study the issue. The main reason for that is that this is an issue that is not going away. It will be here next year. Unlike some members of parliament, I do think we have a responsibility to deal with the issue. However, we did not have to deal with it before Christmas. Another month, six weeks or ten weeks of study at committee surely would have produced a better bill.

Significant issues, as well as significant dollars, are at stake here. Certainly the industries that produce nuclear waste in Canada, such as Ontario Hydro, Hydro-Québec, New Brunswick Power and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., are putting significant dollars into the waste management organization. The bill states that Ontario Power Generation will put up $500 million toward the waste management organization; Hydro-Québec will put up $20 million; New Brunswick Power Corporation will put up $20 million; and Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. will put up $10 million. We are talking about nearly $1 billion. On an annual basis, these companies continue to add to the pot. Ontario Power Generation Incorporated puts in $100 million on an annual basis. Hydro-Québec puts in $4 million. New Brunswick Power puts in $4 million. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. puts in $2 million.

We are dealing with a lot of money that would go toward looking after the problem of nuclear waste in Canada. When that amount of money is on the table there should be a number of overlying rules and regulations, one being accountability and another being transparency.

One of the main problems the PC/DR coalition has with the bill is that there is not enough transparency. Federal government money, through a crown corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., would go toward setting up a waste management organization to deal with nuclear waste in Canada, yet access to information will not apply to the legislation. I think most Canadians would be surprised to hear that. Certainly that was not a recommendation by the Seaborn panel, which studied the issue at great length.

Beyond its sloppiness is the very arrogance of this legislation. The mayors and wardens of the three Ontario municipalities which already have nuclear reactors appeared before the committee. They had a number of recommendations. None of those recommendations was accepted.

I put forward a number of the recommendations as amendments. Of the 19 amendments that the PC/DR coalition submitted, not one of them was accepted by the government. The government simply brought its members in and voted the amendments down. The Bloc Quebecois put forward a number of amendments. The New Democratic Party and the Alliance Party put forward a number of amendments. We debated the amendments for two days, yet only two amendments were carried.

Surely on an issue of this magnitude and importance to the Canadian public, there should have been more time and at least some acceptance of the democratic principles applied at committee.

There were amendments put forward to deal with the importation of nuclear waste. I wanted to see it very clearly stated in the legislation that there would not be importation of nuclear waste. That amendment was voted down at committee. All of the opposition parties supported that amendment, every one of them, yet the government voted it down. The fact that other legislation may deal with that issue is not good enough.

As an aside, Mr. Speaker, I have a bad cold and I do not think there is enough water here to bury it. It is interesting that one of the members stated earlier that we could put all of the nuclear waste in Canada in an olympic sized swimming pool. I think I need an olympic size swimming pool just to get rid of this cough in my throat.

There are 1.3 million spent fuel bundles in Canada. I would agree that perhaps we do not need a huge space in which to put that amount of high level nuclear waste, but certainly it would take a considerable space. I do not think one swimming pool would be enough.

We have said from the very beginning that we have to deal with the issue and I agree. I for one do not think the nuclear energy sector will go away. The nuclear energy sector will continue. It provides cheap energy. There is a huge cost to pay for that cheap energy and that is radioactive material that will be with us for the next 500, 1,000 or 1,500 years. Nobody is certain of the amount of time that the radioactivity stays.

We have a number of issues to face as a country. Therefore we have a number of issues here to deal with as parliamentarians. We have to deal with nuclear waste. We have attempted to do that with the legislation. However, the legislation was not accurate enough in detailing what nuclear waste is.

The nuclear sector itself asked for a new name. Instead of calling it nuclear waste, it wanted to call it irradiated spent fuel because there is some life left in the nuclear fuel bundles.

There is a very good possibility that science will find a way to take the remaining radioactivity out of those nuclear fuel bundles and simply recycle them through the reactor until all of the radioactivity is gone. There is an opportunity for science to help with the problem that we are faced with.

There is also the opportunity that science will find other ways. It was discussed at great length at committee that perhaps the whole science of transmutation may allow us to change the nuclear fuel bundles into inert material. We are off into the realm of science fiction here and the issue becomes one of dealing with a radioactive dangerous material today. What are we to do?

One of the major problems is that it really only leaves two alternatives. The two alternatives that the waste management organization and the advisory council came up with are in the legislation. One is deep geological disposal, which seems to be the primary alternative and certainly the one most often looked at. The other one is on site at surface storage.

Personally, I find the idea of on site at surface storage completely contrary and not a feasible long term storage alternative. We would not be dealing with the waste; we would simply be piling it up. We would wait for 20 years for another generation to deal with it, or wait for 50 years or 100 years for someone else to deal with the problem. We would simply not be accepting our responsibility as parliamentarians to do something about nuclear waste today.

Having said that, let me say that there is no reason that it has to be done tomorrow, the next day, or the day after. Certainly there was time enough that we could have studied the issue for another three months. We could have made more amendments to the legislation. We could have crafted a better piece of legislation to send to the Senate. Instead, with typical arrogance, the government is insisting on sending the legislation in its present form to the Senate. I expect the Senate will make amendments as well.

I will outline a number of the specific problems with the legislation. One is that the waste management organization will only have representation from industry. I would certainly argue on industry's behalf that it should be the major player in the waste management organization. It is certainly putting the dollars into the waste management organization. There is no reason that some non-governmental officials could not sit on the waste management organization, specifically representatives from environmental organizations and the municipalities that are home to many of the nuclear reactors in Canada.

The advisory council will be appointed by the waste management organization. It recommends that environmentalists, local and regional governments and aboriginal people, as well as technical experts may be involved in the advisory council. That is only a recommendation. It is only saying that they may be, it is not saying that they must be. There is a critical difference in the wording.

On the issue of foreign waste, the legal advisers for the research council stated that there is nothing in the legislation that prevents the importation of foreign waste.

There is another nuance that is even more insidious and even more dangerous. Let us say that tomorrow Hydro-Québec, Ontario Power Generation Inc. or New Brunswick Power Corporation decided to build a nuclear generating station in Maine, North Carolina or wherever. There is nothing in the legislation that prevents any of them as a Canadian corporation from importing that nuclear waste back into Canada for burial in a deep geological vault or for on site storage.

Most Canadians would agree that continued on site storage should not be a long term option. We have to have a better long term option than that but the legislation only gives us two options: deep geological burial or on site at surface storage.

The sloppiness of the legislation, the rush the government was in to get it through this place and the refusal to accept amendments are all in contradiction to what we are supposed to represent as a democratic parliament. Certainly we could have done a better job.

There is no point in trying to deny the future of the nuclear industry. Although we all may not be supporters of a continued nuclear industry in Canada, I would argue that the industry will continue whether we support it or not. It will continue worldwide, which is an even greater issue.

The future of power generation on the continent is going to turn more and more to nuclear, especially in the Indian subcontinent and in China where they are dependent on brown coal with high emissions. If we are to meet our Kyoto standards we are going to go more and more to nuclear energy.

We stated the opportunities with hydroelectric power. There is still a lot of hydroelectric power to be developed in Canada. The Lower Churchill is a prime example. As the NDP member said, the real problem with hydroelectricity is the transmission line drop. I am not 100% sure but I think it is 2% per 100 miles. That is a significant line drop and loss of power in order to transport it.

Perhaps if we put the type of funding and research dollars into alternative sources of energy and hydroelectric power we would find that there are other ways to combat that. We would be able to get over some of the obstacles.

There are opportunities in wind power. There are opportunities in cogeneration. There are opportunities in continuing to burn coal in a clean and safe manner with fluidized bed coal fired generators. There is an opportunity with natural gas. There are a number of opportunities.

In summary, there are a number of issues. First, this was a poorly crafted, extremely sloppy piece of legislation when it came to committee. The government simply did not do its job the way it should have in bringing this legislation to committee.

There was not enough recognition of the importance of local communities that are home to nuclear reactors, specifically the three municipalities in Ontario whose witnesses appeared before committee. There was not enough consideration given to the role of aboriginal communities that may end up being the home to some deep geological deposit and to the input they wanted to have on the legislation. There was not enough consideration given to amendments, including the amendment to prevent the importation of foreign waste into Canada.

Not enough time was given to adequately bring presenters and witnesses to committee. Nor was enough consideration given to amendments that industry put forth and which the government refused to accept. These are the very people who are paying for this particular waste management organization.

The final point is there is no guarantee that we have democratic representation on the advisory council. There is no guarantee that local municipalities and aboriginal communities will be represented on that council or that there will be the technical expertise.

At the end of the day, we cannot accept or support the bill. It is just impossible.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member on his very interesting speech.

Since the beginning of the debate this afternoon, I have heard extremely interesting comments. This bill, which the government wants to pass too quickly, should have been discussed more thoroughly. A bill of this importance could have been improved.

Those who have spoken so far agree on one thing. They find that this bill really lacks transparency. The hon. member who just spoke mentioned that he too made suggestions and moved amendments to improve this legislation. He was not opposed to the bill. The Bloc Quebecois supported the principle underlying this legislation, but we wanted to improve it because this is a bill for the future. The management of nuclear fuel waste that will take 24,000 years to become inert or inactive is unquestionably an issue relating to the future. It is unacceptable that the government will not accept any recommendation from the opposition to improve a bill like this one. It is unacceptable and it is a disgrace.

I wonder if my colleague could elaborate on the suggestion that he made to improve transparency for the waste management organization. It does not make sense to ask the industry to manage such dangerous waste. It is absolute nonsense. I would like to know what the hon. member recommended concerning the waste management organization.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, we made a number of recommendations for transparency. Transparency is absolutely critical for the bill to work. One recommendation, which was accepted, was that when the minister received the report from the waste management organization, he would submit that report to parliament. Previously that was not in there. Therefore parliament will get to see the report on the option chosen by the organization. We are not certain what that will be.

The other issue, which was extremely significant, was to ensure that instead of using the words “may be” that we use the words “must be” for representation on the advisory council and that representation should include, instead of may include, representatives from the municipality that ended up being the home for depository nuclear waste, from the aboriginal community, if a depository was on one of its lands or if it had a significant claim to that area, and from environmental groups.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I do not think we have the time to have a question and we certainly would not get the answer in the few seconds left before 6.30 p.m. Therefore the hon. member for South Shore will have approximately five minutes remaining on his questions and comments when the subject matter is before the House again.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am on my feet tonight in relation to a question I put to the President of the Treasury Board following the tabling in the House of the auditor general's report. We are concerned about government spending and the wasting of taxpayer money.

The auditor general came out with what I believe was the strongest language ever in the history of the country condemning the government for its spending habits. Page 1 of the report of the auditor general, in what incidentally is her first report to parliament, states:

--the erosion of parliamentary control over how the government raises money and spends it. Canadians have the right to control how public funds are collected and used, and ultimately it is the members of Parliament we elect who carry out this control on our behalf. That is why I am concerned about recent examples of the erosion of parliamentary control, involving billions of dollars of revenue and expenditure.

She identified $16 billion in what we call grants and contributions. In other words, it is almost discretionary funding by the Government of Canada on projects that have never come before parliamentarians for any kind of scrutiny.

One of those was the fuel rebate program. Members will remember that $1.4 billion was designated to help Canadians when fuel prices were going through the roof. This is an example of spending without parliamentary control or checks and balances in the system. Fuel rebate cheques were sent to 7,500 dead people.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

An hon. member

The grateful dead.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

The grateful dead, Mr. Speaker. Fuel rebate cheques were also sent to 4,000 people living outside of Canada and to 1,600 federal prisoners in our penitentiaries. In addition to that, 90,000 Canadians who were entitled to cheques did not get them. That is what happens when government spending is out of control and does not receive the kind of scrutiny that expenditures used to receive on the floor of the House of Commons.

One of the strongest condemnations in this report, one that really hits me as a critic for this area, has to do with the EI fund. We have $36 billion in that fund as we speak. The auditor general has said that only $15 billion would be required to sustain that fund over a recession, which we are now in. We have a $21 billion surplus in that fund, which obviously the government is using to offset its accounts. It is a bookkeeping measure that the finance minister simply loves because it enhances his position as the finance minister.

Simply speaking, the government has taken $21 billion out of the hind pockets of Canadians, which it did not have to take, simply to enhance the finance minister's position.

The story goes on. I have only had a couple of minutes to explain it. I will sum up after the parliamentary secretary speaks, and I look forward to her comments.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Parkdale—High Park Ontario

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his earlier question to the President of the Treasury Board. I would like to address his concern regarding the need and importance of scrutiny.

The government supports and promotes mandatory annual audits. The office of the auditor general is legally mandated to carry out these audits. Mandatory audits are carried out by internal audit groups in all departments across government. All in all there is an impressive level of highly effective mandatory external and internal audit activities going on at any given time throughout the whole of government.

As an external independent auditor, the auditor general is mandated to carry out audits throughout the government. The auditor general is entirely empowered to select areas, topics and departments for her audit work. She chooses what she will audit. The auditor general tables the results of a large number of audits that her office carries out in each of her quarterly reports to parliament.

Again, the auditor general reports to parliament. The hon. member was talking about scrutiny in parliament. It is the job of the auditor general to highlight areas so that we can scrutinize them.

The government works closely with the auditor general and her office. We need to take into account the government's commitment to internal auditing within departments to fully appreciate the extent of its commitment to mandatory auditing. In fact the government announced a revised internal audit policy in February.

According to policy departments must carry out internal audits. It is mandatory for all departments to have an annual internal audit plan. It is also mandatory for all departments to have a committee to review all audit reports and adopt annual audit plans. The review committee must be chaired by a representative of the senior management group of the department. These committees are chaired by the deputy head in most cases.

Departments would be required to make their completed internal audit reports fully accessible to the public and available in both official languages. This is transparency. Parliament and the public would have full access to the completed internal audit reports.

The government intends to monitor very closely the active and efficient use of mandatory audits across departments. The internal audit policy would require that all departments provide the Treasury Board Secretariat with all their completed internal audit reports. Departments must provide their annual internal audits and plans to the Treasury Board Secretariat.

We have set up a centre of excellence for internal audit to help strengthen the internal audit function and commitment across the government. The centre is responsible for setting auditing and reporting standards for internal audit activities in all departments. It sets standards for the annual plans. The centre closely monitors a department's compliance with the policy. It provides strong leadership to the internal audit community to improve its professional competency and equality of the auditing work.

I want to confirm that the government is committed to mandatory auditing both by the auditor general and the new internal audit policy.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, this is government by executive decree. This is not the first auditor general who has mentioned that. There is simply no scrutiny, despite what the parliamentary secretary tells us.

The government has used closure 73 times since taking office. It is using closure to get its way. Parliament is nothing more than a nuisance to the Prime Minister. We are saying that some of those powers have to be given back to parliament so we can scrutinize those expenditures on the floor of the House of Commons.

I have an example of mismanagement. I failed to mention the billion dollars that went missing in HRDC. It is still hunting for that. How do we explain the loss of a billion dollars? That is still a lot of change.

What we are saying, and we stick by it, is that the government must start listening to what the auditor general is saying. Let us bring scrutiny back to the floor of the House of Commons.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I reply to the hon. member's additional question or comment, it is important to make it clear for the record that it is not accurate for the hon. member to speak of how the government has invoked closure. The government has exercised the need for time allocation, but in many cases the parliamentary process was being abused. Let us make it clear that we are not talking about closure. We are talking about time allocation when it is deemed necessary.

I will talk about scrutiny again. One of the things the member must remember is that the reason the auditor general tables a report quarterly is in fact to allow all of us in parliament to look at those reports to find better ways to improve. In fact the government responds to all of the auditor general's concerns in every chapter. I think there are many ways in which we can scrutinize, and we will continue to scrutinize and to improve to make things more efficient so that we truly can help Canadians.

Nuclear Fuel Waste ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.38 p.m.)