Mr. Speaker, in one way, I am extremely pleased to speak at third reading of Bill C-27, an act respecting the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste.
I am not taking this personally, but I realize that there are fewer people here since I started speaking. Is this because of the speaker, the topic, or the fact that people are anxious to get back to their ridings for the holidays? This is a multiple choice question, and the answer could be none of the above, or even all of the above. I hope there is no connection with the speaker.
Nuclear waste affects everyone. Everyone has questions. Everyone has certain fears triggered by the words nuclear and nuclear waste. Gasoline has been in use for 100 years or so, and coal for several centuries, and we have known for some years that certain fuels we use emit greenhouse gases.
In the 1970s, the nuclear era began. Nuclear technology came to Canada. Today, there are 22 Candu reactors producing electricity, 20 of them in Ontario, 1 in Quebec and 1 in New Brunswick.
We are told that nuclear energy ranks second lowest in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, behind hydro-electricity, of course. Since that time, nuclear energy has been expanding, in the United States, Europe and Japan of course, but also throughout the world.
However, when people describe nuclear energy as better as far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, they neglect to mention nuclear waste, a result of this technology. Now there is talk of burying nuclear waste.
In the U.S., the Department of Energy has published a scientific report approving of a nuclear waste burial site; the cost of this was a mere $7 billion over 20 years. Hon. members can see what studies of nuclear waste can involve. Yet electricity is still being produced with nuclear power, and we continue to want to sell our Candu reactors all over the world.
What is special about this bill is that the new waste management organization is to be made up of the key stakeholders of the nuclear world, that is Ontario, Quebec, which has one reactor, and New Brunswick, along with Atomic Energy Canada. There are, therefore a number of specialists and involved parties. Some of the people who submitted briefs to the committee pointed out that this was a bit like letting the fox run the henhouse.
Nuclear waste is a problem that arises out of nuclear technology. We are letting those in the nuclear industry develop a waste management plan. We know that nuclear waste is the albatross around their necks. What are they really going to do?
Bill C-27 was the government's response to the Seaborn panel. On April 25, 2001, the government announced legislation dealing with nuclear fuel waste.
The government, through the Minister of Natural Resources, said, and I quote, “This legislation is the culmination of many years of research, environmental assessments and discussions with stakeholders and the public”.
He also said, “Together with the existing Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the legislation would ensure that the long-term management of nuclear fuel waste would be carried out in the best interests of Canadians—in a safe, environmentally sound, comprehensive, cost-effective and integrated manner”.
Having taken part in the different committee discussions and having heard different witnesses, the minister's words to the effect that the legislation was based on what Canadians wanted seemed quite surprising. When he referred to Canadians, the minister was likely alluding to consultation.
As regards consultation, there was a major consultation when the Seaborn panel was created, in 1989, if my memory serves me well. The report was published in 1998. The panel worked on the issue for close to ten years. It held a multitude of consultations and formulated a number of very good, even excellent, recommendations.
The minister refers to consultation in his report, but I do not know where in the history of this bill there was any real consultation.
We are told that the provinces that use nuclear energy were consulted. We are told that the people who live in and around the main areas where nuclear reactors are located were consulted. However, based on the evidence heard by the committee, if the provinces, including Quebec, were consulted, it was probably by telephone or very informally.
When this legislation was announced, we were told that all the provinces agreed with it. Let us take the example of New Brunswick. The New Brunswick Power Corporation appeared before us and proposed no less than 34 amendments to the bill. There may have been consultations at the time, but the fact that the corporation proposed 34 amendments to a bill that has only about 31 clauses is rather telling. We really wonder about the nature of the consultations that the minister promised at the time.
Environmental protection is another issue. As we know, the Minister of Natural Resources is responsible for the energy sector. However, as far as I am concerned, the nuclear energy issue is an environmental one. To be sure, nuclear waste has an impact on the environment. This was an important issue for most groups, not nuclear energy corporations but groups that submitted briefs or took part in the consultation process. One amendment proposed that at least the bill be under the responsibility of the Minister of the Environment. It was also proposed that in certain clauses of the bill the word environment be included, but that term was avoided in the whole government bill.
When this legislation was introduced, an important point was mentioned. It was said that:
—the bill is based on a totally impartial environmental assessment made by the Seaborn panel over a period of 10 years.
This is what got to me. The government told us that this legislation was based on the work of the Seaborn panel, which was impartial, yet it came up with something like this. Most of the witnesses who took part in the committee's consultation process invariably referred to the Seaborn panel and said that the government did not really understand the panel's recommendations.
The government said that the legislation was based on the Seaborn panel, which was impartial, and it came up with a bill like this, which had most of the witnesses who took part in the committee's consultation process referring to the Seaborn panel. They said that the government had not really understood the panel's recommendation, because they naturally addressed various levels, but there were some very important elements in these recommendations which the government basically dropped.
The panel, I think, highlighted one very important element, which is the creation of a waste management organization. The representatives of the Seaborn panel always recommended the creation of an independent nuclear fuel waste management agency, or NFWMA. The report said that for various reasons many communities had a perception of nuclear energy that was detrimental to the activities and projects of the nuclear industry.
If the government hopes to restore any sort of confidence in a long term nuclear fuel waste management system, it must start off on the right foot this time and create a new agency, with no links to the current producers and owners of waste but with a safety-oriented mandate.
It could not be clearer. Obviously, when it came to its bill, the government was anxious that the waste management organization be made up of the principal stakeholders in the nuclear world. In the bill's definitions, we see that the nuclear energy corporations which are to make up the waste management organization are Ontario Power Generation Inc., Hydro-Québec, New Brunswick Power Corporation, and any other body that owns nuclear fuel waste resulting from the production of electricity by means of a commercial nuclear reactor.
The sole reference to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is in connection with any assignee of the company. Obviously, one of our proposed amendments had to do with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited being clearly identified along with Ontario Power Generation Inc., Hydro-Québec, and the New Brunswick Power Corporation as one of the actual nuclear energy corporations. We wanted this to be clearly spelled out, but our proposal was rejected.
Furthermore, the Bloc Quebecois was responsible for some 30 or so of the approximately 80 amendments put forward in committee. We were obviously in agreement with the other opposition parties, the Canadian Alliance, the NDP, and the Progressive Conservatives, on a number of points. On more than one occasion, the other opposition parties were agreeably surprised by the amendments we put forward and wondered why they had not thought of them first.
One of the amendments we had proposed concerned clause 6. It came from the recommendations of the Seaborn panel and concerned the creation of a board of directors that would bring together many more stakeholders than are provided for in the current bill, which includes only nuclear energy corporations.
The board would comprise seven people. During committee deliberations, the government was prepared to add more. I recognize my colleague from Jonquière, who has just joined us and who also took part in its deliberations.
She sat on the committee and asked the government some very good questions. Unfortunately, and I empathize with her, she never got very good responses.
The only answer we got, and I have already mentioned this in the House, was no, no, no. With each amendment we proposed, the answer was a flat-out no.
If only it had been a flat out no after what I hope had been careful consideration. But the way it worked was that the Liberal members were always having to consult about what they should answer.
While we were working on the amendment, and my colleague will testify to this, some members were indicating that things made sense, but, when we asked the question they looked around to see who was the cheerleader, and then it was no, no, no.
Anyhow, they missed an opportunity when they voted down the amendment to paragraph ( c ) that we put forward. We were up to eight directors. Initially, there were seven; we added one and had agreed that eight persons could be part of the waste management organization as board members. We were in agreement; we had improved the bill.
Of course, some people who took part in the committee's hearings said they did not want any nuclear energy corporation. We, however, suggested that with regard to the membership of the board of directors we should have two representatives of the nuclear energy corporations. We wanted to hear their views when the time came to make decisions regarding this very important bill because, after all, it is the tool that will be in place to manage our nuclear waste, and that is something people care about. We wanted to hear a different point of view from that of the nuclear energy corporations.
Of course, there was a representative from the government. In many areas of the bill mention is made of the governor in council, which is the government, and actually the Prime Minister, who for all intents and purposes decides what will happen with regard to nuclear waste management.
We wanted to change the provisions of the bill to make the waste management organization accountable to parliament to members of parliament, who are democratically elected. We could have been the voice of those who consistently say they are afraid of nuclear energy. We could have assessed the situation and voted on their behalf, but the government steadfastly refused to make the process transparent by involving members of parliament.
There were representatives from a well known non-governmental organization dealing with the environment. There was a representative from a scientific and technical discipline having to do with nuclear waste management.
Madam Speaker, you are signalling that my time is nearly up. I must say that in your company time flies.
If we had a Christmas present for Canada and Quebec, it would be to withdraw this bill, send it back to the committee and undertake real consultation. If there were another nice Christmas present to give Quebec, it would be for parliament to unanimously say right now that Quebec is a country, a sovereign state.
I take this opportunity to wish every Quebecer and every Canadian very happy holidays. I wish them whatever their minds and hearts desire.