House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was industry.


Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.


Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, is now back as Bill C-4. It had been introduced at first reading on Friday, May 31, 2002. It went to second reading the following Tuesday, June 4, 2001. I think we all agree that this was fast.

It now is one of the first ones to come back, which shows the government's eagerness to give in to the demands of the nuclear lobby.

Of course, it is not a very large bill. It even seems quite simple. However, if we take a closer look at it, some fundamental issues emerge. The bill is only five lines long. It contains only one short paragraph. Subsection 46(3) of the old act said:

Where, after conducting a hearing, the Commission is satisfied that there is contamination referred to in subsection (1), the Commission may, in addition to filing a notice under subsection (2), order that the owner or occupant of, or any other person with a right to or interest in, the affected land or place take the prescribed measures to reduce the level of contamination.

In the French version, the word “responsable” is being replaced by the word “occupant” , and in both versions the words “with a right to or interest in“ are being replaced by the words “who has the management and control of”.

In the French version, the terms “En outre, elle peut” refer to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. As can be seen, subsection 46(3) is amended as follows:

(3) Where, after conducting a hearing, the Commission is satisfied that there is contamination referred to in subsection (1), the Commission may, in addition to filing a notice under subsection (2), order that the owner or occupant of, or any other person who has the management and control of, the affected land or place take the prescribed measures to reduce the level of contamination.

We can all agree: this is quite simple. However, the government tells us that it is simply correcting an irregularity and that we should move on to other things as quickly as possible. That is the government's wish. However, it is a bit brief.

When we say it is a bit brief, it reminds me a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac, whom I will paraphrase if you will indulge me. We could say the following: “Oh no, young man, that is a bit brief. One could convey much to the gods just by varying one's tone of voice. There is curious: But what does this apparently inoffensive simplicity conceal? Timorous: There are therefore risks if financiers do not wish to commit themselves. Cavalier: Ah, that is a private matter. We should not concern ourselves with it. Interrogative: Can we do without nuclear energy? Affirmative: Nuclear energy is not a greenhouse gas solution. Provident and considerate: Invest in renewable energy; it will be to your advantage.

The arguments of the minister and the sponsor to justify this amendment are clumsy to say the least. They claim that it is merely a very minor technical correction to correct a mistake that was made when the legislation was passed in 1997. According to them, Hansard makes no mention of a discussion on this paragraph and they also claim that the legislator did not intend to make it so difficult to finance nuclear generating stations. These claims distort the reality, or dare I say, the truth.

In a message written to the government, Brian Armstrong, Bruce Power's general counsel and corporate secretary, describes the points that the government should take into consideration, and I quote:

Generally, the legislation has a negative impact on the capacity of private corporations to invest in nuclear plants, and this is detrimental to the future development of the Canadian nuclear industry.

This is all that was needed to launch the debate. There are two specific things in this statement, namely the privatization of nuclear plants and, more importantly, the anticipated development of that industry. I am convinced that this small clause in the bill did not go unnoticed.

In 1997, no one had stated any intention of privatizing nuclear plants. All the funding was provided by the provinces or by their crown corporations through the issuance of government backed bonds, and not through mortgages on nuclear plants. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the legislator acted the way it did. It acted in compliance with the strict rules that have always governed the nuclear industry.

Moreover, the whole argument overlooks the major negative developments in the nuclear industry since 1997, both in Canada and around the world. It is as if they wanted the House to begin this debate with a 1997 vision, that is without taking into account the evolution of the situation in recent years.

On the contrary, I think we are justified in addressing the issue in a 2002 context. We must put into perspective the changes that have occurred in that industry since 1997, and we must see if it is in the public interest to now promote not only the privatization of nuclear plants by eliminating these constraints, but also, as I said, the development of the nuclear industry.

Before briefly reviewing the major events which have occurred since 1997 and which serve as arguments against the nuclear development which the Ontario privatization effort is attempting to achieve, and before showing the increased environmental and safety risks which would result from this amendment, it is appropriate to examine the government's main arguments and to comment on them.

The government tells us that the nuclear industry is at a disadvantage, compared to other forms of energy. It is perfectly normal to treat the nuclear industry differently, since the scope of contamination following a nuclear plant incident is tremendous, both in terms of its geographical impact and the duration of its effects.

The explosion at Chernobyl contaminated the land all the way to the south of France and numerous cancers relating to this accident still surface every day and will continue to do so for decades to come. Therefore, it is normal to be much more demanding with the nuclear industry.

The government also tells us that this puts Canadian industries at a disadvantage compared to their international competitors. What industries? Nuclear power plant construction is totally under the control of the federal government, Atomic Energy of Canada being the sole Canadian supplier. As for the operation of these plants, it has been under the control of the provinces so far, and this standard also applies to a foreign private operator wanting to invest in a plant here. That foreign operator is treated the same way as any local private operator. The government also says that this was an exceptional measure.

When dealing with an industry that produces extremely hazardous waste that will remain hazardous for thousands of years, including plutonium and some other components which can be used and have been used to build mass destruction nuclear weapons and for which there exists no solution that would be safe in the long term, it is absolutely normal that such an industry be subjected to stricter rules than those that apply to an oil well or a hydroelectric dam.

The government also tells us that the general powers of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission are sufficient. In view of the commission's lack of independence, it is preferable to keep this specific power rather than rely solely on the regulatory power provided under section 24 of the act.

I should point out that this commission did not exist in 1997. Until 2000, it was the former Atomic Energy Control Board. As was the case with members of the old board, members of this commission are appointed by the government, which also owns Atomic Energy of Canada and has an obvious business interest in the development of the nuclear industry.

This explains why it has never refused or withdrawn a nuclear generating station licence, despite the many dangerous incidents that occur on a regular basis. It took a report from American consultants, in 1998, to convince Ontario to close half of its reactors, which had become too dangerous after just some twenty years in operation.

Let us look at the important events that have occurred in the nuclear industry since 1997. I say 1997 because that is the year the Nuclear Safety and Control Act was reworked and amended. Subsection 46(3), which the bill seeks to amend, dates back to that time. However, we must look at what has been happening in the meantime to determine if it is still appropriate to privatize and expand the nuclear industry.

First, in 1998 Ontario had to shut down half of its reactors, resulting in a $10 billion loss for Ontario Hydro, which now had a negative net worth and had to restructure. The utility was divided into three, leaving behind a huge debt for taxpayers.

The shutdown was due to the premature aging of the equipment and the inability of the staff to manage an environment that had become difficult and dangerous.

In Canada, we also had the publication of the Seaborn report. Here, as everywhere else in the western world, the commission found, after a ten-year study, that the proposed solution to bury spent fuel was strongly opposed by the general public and that there was no other long-term solution.

To avoid having to shut down plants whose cooling pools were full to capacity, the number of temporary on-site dry storage facilities was therefore increased.

Moreover, no new plant has been built in Canada over the past 20 years, none is planned for the next several decades and none of the plants shut down in 1998 has yet been able to re-open.

The only plant in New Brunswick, which is now 20 years old, is showing signs of premature aging, and over the past 24 months it has had to be shut down on several occasions for prolonged periods of time. According to an ongoing preliminary study, it would take over $850 million to extend its life past 2006, if it lasts that long, which is doubtful.

In Quebec, an identical plant, Gentilly-2, will be 20 years old next year, and the recent increase in the number of reportable problems seems to indicate that it too will have to be shut down earlier than planned.

When it is possible to obtain 800 megawatts for $500 million by constructing a new natural gas fired plant, which is not excessively polluting—I am not promoting natural gas, but speaking against nuclear generating stations—it would be surprising to see $850 million invested in renovating, without any guarantee, an old 675 megawatt nuclear lemon generating 2.3 tonnes of irradiated fuel weekly, without any long term solutions for disposal of that spent fuel.

What is more, as far as events in Canada are concerned, the bad reputation of this industry has put young people off, and as a result, nuclear plants are having difficulty finding replacements for their highly skilled staff.

In the meantime, between 1997 and the present, certain events have taken place in other countries. Most of the countries of western Europe that use nuclear power, with the exception of France, have decided to end the experiment, particularly because of the lack of solutions for disposing of spent fuel, with its 1% plutonium content. This is even the case for heavily nuclear-dependent states such as Belgium, which is 50% dependent, and Germany, which is 30% dependent.

Most of the pressure has come from the public, which refused to allow plutonium shipments to pass through their towns and villages on the way to or from MOX processing sites. They cannot be faulted for this, when we know that a single microgram of this substance can kill in a very short time, if inhaled.

There is one other point. Canada has been unsuccessful in all of its attempts to market Candu to other countries since the China contract. After a long process, Turkey has deferred for another 30 plus years its decision on the advisability of using atomic energy. As for Korea, having had a lot of problems with its Candu, it has decided not to use Canada to supply its needs in future.

Atomic Energy of Canada therefore needs to convert to the service sector, since it does not have a single contract for new power plants. Even the completion of the long-suspended Rumanian plant, which has been on hold for years due to lack of funds, has not yet been approved, and private funding is no more easily obtained.

Still looking beyond our borders, moreover, an accident in 1999 in a Japanese reprocessing centre under construction shook up the entire world nuclear industry and forced it to re-examine its standards and risk assessments relating to this technology. This accident, following the Chernobyl disaster, was the catalyst for a number of countries going off nuclear power.

Even highly nuclear dependent Japan has re-examined its investments. As for France, it halted operations in its breeder reactor, since these were unjustified in a shrinking market context, which ought to lead in the medium term to reprocessing plants, and possibly the nuclear plants themselves, being closed down.

There is one final point in regard to the events in other countries. No new plants have been built in the United States since Three Mile Island, in 1979. The state of Nevada used its veto to stop the planned construction of the only disposal site for millions of tons of spent fuel in the United States. This site was supposed to be built in the Yucca Mountains, approximately 80 miles from Las Vegas. A vote was pushed through Congress in an attempt to go ahead with the project, which has already cost $8 billion for technical studies alone.

A protracted legal battle can therefore be expected in order to prevent any new plants, which President Bush dearly wants, from reaching the drawing board before the end of his term. No one wants to invest in this technology as long as there is no long-term solution for disposing of the spent fuel. This fourth point is the second last one. I have one final point left.

The disappearance of the U.S.S.R., the rise in terrorism, and more recently, the conflict between India and Pakistan have highlighted the grave dangers of nuclear proliferation, both in terms of states capable of producing and launching arms of mass destruction, and small groups that are able to explode dirty bombs made up of conventional explosives and highly radioactive nuclear waste right in the middle of our cities.

Obviously, this was the situation that existed from 1997-2000, which leads us to wonder why the government has taken a position that favours the private sector and places even greater emphasis on the development of nuclear energy.

There are also environmental and safety risks with the nuclear industry. Ontario decided to hand over the ownership and management of a nuclear generating station that is currently closed, to a private company, to the qualified staff of a foreign company, in order to avoid having to make the major investments required before it could be re-opened, because staffing deficiencies were a determining factor in the forced closure of 1998.

In terms of environmental risks, obviously in the event of a major contamination that would bankrupt the local subsidiary, a mortgage lender that had the benefit of a guarantee from the foreign head office in addition to the mortgage guarantee, would exercise the former rather than seize the property, as many businesses often do, which would make it liable for any damage to the environment. In such cases, the head office would cut loose its subsidiary and nobody would be take responsibility for the contaminated site.

There are also security risks. Again, it is clear that putting the private sector in charge of any part of the operation or decontamination of sites containing nuclear material increases the risk of nuclear proliferation through the infiltration of individuals working for terrorist states or cells.

That is why, since 1980, the United States has prohibited the private reprocessing of any nuclear matter within its jurisdiction to prevent even the smallest amount of plutonium from finding its way into the hands of individuals over whom it has absolutely no control.

Regarding plutonium, let me give a quick example to illustrate the situation to our listeners. The size of the piece of paper I just crumpled corresponds to the amount of plutonium that was used in the Hiroshima bombing.

The proposed change to subsection 46(3) will encourage the development of nuclear energy in Canada. Privatization will make it easier to reopen plants that were closed down in Ontario and will increase environmental and security risks.

Because it is contrary to Bloc Quebecois policy to promote the development of nuclear energy, because there is practically a global consensus about moving away from nuclear energy, and because the dangers of proliferation have been abundantly illustrated by recent events on the international scene, we must oppose this amendment, and take this opportunity to promote a broader debate on the relevance of privatization and indeed of this whole foray into nuclear energy.

One objective of the Bloc Quebecois is to initiate a debate in which I think people would be very keen to participate. I have been hearing comments about this debate, and will share a few. Someone said “I will not agree to having future generations foot our nuclear energy bill and pay for our squandering”.

True, there is no such thing as “the rights of the human of the future”. Even the rights of the child are not yet a fait accompli. This does not concern all the lobbies that care only about immediate profit, and do not care about what happens tomorrow, let alone in the distant future.

The nuclear waste issue has yet to be resolved. It will probably never be resolved at a reasonable cost. Meanwhile, the nuclear lobby has opted for site storage, or perhaps underground storage, leaving our children's children with the burden of managing it for centuries to come.

Other comments foster debate or show the need for debate.

Some people have said that the civilian nuclear industry, an offspring of the military nuclear industry, was established without debate. The public, the only beneficiary of this huge source of energy, was not consulted. A true debate was never held. Decisions were always imposed upon the public.

Others have said that nuclear energy is not unavoidable and, most of all, should be thoroughly debated to evaluate its pros and cons; this debate is clearly needed in order to avoid an impasse.

Others also say that nuclear energy has beneficial as well as damaging effects and wonder whether we should consider only its benefits, namely power, and forget its damaging effects, hazards and waste.

We need to ask this critical question: should we, yes or no, drop nuclear energy? As matters now stand, the government has decided to go ahead by privatizing, thus indirectly acquiring the tools needed to develop the nuclear sector. Meanwhile, the fundamental question remains unanswered, and people were never consulted nor informed in a manner that would allow them to take a position on the issue.

I really hope that this short provision of five lines or so will bring about a true debate on the future of the nuclear industry as soon as possible.

Nuclear industry experts define the nuclear energy in three words: hazards, waste and costs. In short, this is what nuclear energy is about. How, then, can we honestly avoid the fundamental debate and promote the development of nuclear energy only because we are in favour of privatization? To my knowledge, there is no one in the private sector who will invest money if there are no profits to be made. And yet, development is often the only road to profits.

If we want to get into the debate, we have to consider hazards, waste and costs.

Let us talk about hazards. The protection of the public and of the environment against atomic radiation hazards generated by nuclear power plants is already a hazard linked with nuclear energy, as defined in dictionaries.

We know that a tremendous media campaign is being conducted tto make the public feel guilty about being concerned. The underlying message is always “If you are worried about nuclear energy, it is because you are stupid and incompetent”. It is urgent to stop making the public feel guilty. Its concerns are perfectly rational. In most forums—but that does not necessarily make it a societal debate—whether on the radio or elsewhere, people and scientists who believe in nuclear energy tend to put down those who have legitimate concerns.

The danger or hazard linked with nuclear energy comes from the very large amount of energy released by nuclear fission and the existence of a chain reaction, which create the risk of an uncontrollable exponential runaway. The radioactivity of the spent materials is released.

The threat posed by nuclear energy is related to several factors. It is often due to operating errors and material deficiencies. Indeed, in nuclear plants, many accidents are caused by operating errors, acts of sabotage, or equipment failure.

The more complex the technology, the more the human factor becomes a key factor. As I explained earlier, because of the bad reputation of nuclear energy, young people who would have the skills, the intelligence and the brain to work in this industry are turning away from it in increasing numbers. The government says that this is yet another reason to privatize the nuclear industry and, perhaps, to hire human resources abroad.

Earlier, I briefly mentioned that it is also for reasons of competitiveness and profitability that the safety aspect is being eroded. It has been said that nuclear plants are getting old. We are told that the costs of renovating and upgrading them are huge. In a strictly private environment where profitability is the number one priority, we have every reason to voice serious concerns.

To ensure a competitive production cost per kilowatt-hour, the operating life of plants is being unduly extended, the downtime of reactors is, perhaps, imprudently reduced and there is also increasing reliance on middlemen. We know that nuclear plants were originally expected to have an average operating life of 25 years. Now, they are talking about extending it to 40 years or more. However, equipment failure is often age-related.

Disasters could very well happen. Who is responsible when disasters occur? The House will remember that, in 1957, the United States congress passed the Price-Anderson Act limiting the civil liability of nuclear operators in the event of a nuclear accident. Such a limit was considered a precedent in civil liability.

Members will also remember than on July 29, 16 European countries signed the Paris convention setting forth the strict liability and the exclusive liability, but also the limitation upon the liability in the event of a serious nuclear accident. Pursuant to the agreement, measures are taken to avoid any interference with the development of the production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Limited liability would help the nuclear energy industry avoid major financial setbacks caused by a nuclear accident. Since exclusive liability applies only to the operator, it protects subcontractors and building companies against any hidden flaws in the construction of the facilities.

This is strikingly similar to the attempt by the government to exempt from reducing the level of contamination anyone who could be linked to such a risky but potentially very lucrative business, if no accident happens. Then, if something bad occurs, the financial security they provide, hence their liability, would be limited.

Later on, in France, the legislation passed on October 30, 1968 set out the terms and conditions of the Paris convention. It confirmed the exemptions to the general law of liability. Section 3, as amended in 1990, limits the compensation to be paid to the victims by the operator to 600 million francs and by the State to 2.5 billion francs. So, there is still a limitation upon the liability of private operators managing and operating nuclear plants. I do not agree with this approach.

Therefore there is a risk of major disasters. As my time is running out and the Chair is indicating to me that I have five minutes left, I will now talk about risk, waste and costs.

We already talked about risk. In terms of waste, last year Bill C-27 provided for large amounts of money to manage dangerous nuclear waste. It also provided for investments from every user. These were large amounts of money, but we do not know how far they will go. We are not even sure how long it will take.

However, as I said earlier, the United Stated has spent $8 billion in studies alone. Imagine what it means in terms of making storage secure or even ideally getting rid of and maybe completely eliminating waste. However, this does not seem possible.

So we are left with what I would call the terrible and catastrophic irresponsibility of our predecessors, who never really wondered how to manage waste, or even eliminate it, and what the impact would be. That is all I had to say about waste management.

With regard to costs, we know very well, for example, that federal subsidies to Atomic Energy Canada over the past 46 years amount in total to $15.8 billion in 1998 dollars.

It should be noted that this $15.8 billion subsidy is real money, and that it does not take into account the opportunity cost, that is what the subsidy would have been worth if the government had invested in less costly initiatives. At a rate of 15%, the opportunity cost of government subsidies to Atomic Energy Canada is $2.2 billion. You see how much money has been sunk into this. We can foresee how much more will be sunk in the future.

The question could be asked during an extensive debate on the nuclear industry. We could ask ourselves the following question: Can we opt out of nuclear energy? The answer is relatively simple. Yes, we can. People will ask what we can turn to. Saying yes, we can opt out of nuclear energy is saying yes to something else.

What are the alternatives? Our renewable resources, of course. Human beings need sun, water and air. The whole earth needs wind to operate properly and renew its own energy. It is the same, in terms of energy, as what the earth needs to operate.

Renewable energy sources are constantly replenished. As I said earlier, these sources are the sun, the wind, water and the biomass. If we put all the money that was invested in nuclear power and related fields, all the money that is still owed, at today's value, and the money we will have to spend to manage nuclear waste and environmental problems, if we invested all that money in renewable energy, we would not even need to bother with Kyoto. The problem would be settled quite quickly.

Here in Quebec—we are not in Quebec, actually—

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

An hon. member

It is across the river.

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.


Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

It is not that far away. In Quebec, wind energy is being promoted more and more. To those who fear a loss of jobs and money if we give up on nuclear energy, I say that wind energy creates many more jobs, and we know for a fact that it does not produce any greenhouse gas.

I will conclude by saying no to clause 46(3). We need a comprehensive debate on the future of nuclear energy in Canada and Quebec.

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to rise on the debate of Bill C-4 today. I listened fairly closely to the hon. member for Sherbrooke. He raised a number of very important issues about furthering this debate and making it broader. I encourage the hon. member to continue with that thought process because there is much more to be debated.

I agreed with the member on a number of issues, but quite frankly my Progressive Conservative colleagues and I disagree with him on a number of other issues. It was quite telling when he spoke about the future of nuclear energy. Although we are in agreement with how the government has ignored its responsibility to deal adequately with nuclear waste, certainly the future of nuclear energy will meet part of our energy commitments.

The hon. member for Sherbrooke quite rightly used Europe as an example. Although much of Europe is downsizing its nuclear sector, Germany has absolutely no compulsion about continuing to buy nuclear energy from France. With the German arrangement for getting rid of its reactors credits can be transferred between German reactors. Therefore Germany will continue to be a nuclear operator well into 2025 and 2030. In and of itself that does not set the case for nuclear energy, but it is part of the argument as it unfolds that should be laid out for people to discuss.

With the background of the bill there is a real sense of déjà vu, for my French colleagues. It seems to me that not long ago we were here debating this very bill. We had been lobbied by the banking institutions and the nuclear sector. At that time there was a great amount of urgency about this piece of legislation. It had to be passed within a certain timeframe.

There are a number of bills and I will mention just one of them: the Kimberley process for grading and marketing diamonds. That is another bill that has a great amount of urgency. We have to get it passed by December 31, 2002, because we have already signed a charter at the United Nations.

These two pieces of legislation are urgent. Both of them have a fair amount of importance. We need to get them passed. Yet the government prorogued the House. It said in the middle of September that the legislation was not important, that we did not have to come back here, that the nation's business could wait. It simply got rid of the legislation, the committees and the members who sit on the committees and said that it would set them all up again.

In the government's infinite wisdom I am sure there must have been a reason for that, but I do not know what it was. I am waiting to be enlightened. I expect that some time over the course of the next couple of weeks the government will enlighten us on the reason it prorogued the House. We had already debated this legislation in the House. It had already gone through committee. Why did it take this legislation and say “Forget it. It is not required. We do not have to worry about it. We will just start all over again”?

By the way, it now wants us to take the Kimberley process and fast track it. We are to forget about having a debate on it because it is not required. The government has a deadline so it will fast track it. If it cannot fast track it, it will just use its majority to force closure and get it passed. That is not democracy. Even the Liberals in their limited knowledge of how democracy works would understand that this is not democracy in any way, shape or form.

To speak directly to the bill, the government passed the Nuclear Safety and Control Act in 1997 but apparently, like all the rest of the legislation it has passed, it forgot to read the bill. Specifically it did not read the fine print.

We have subsection 46(3) of the act that was passed in 1997 by the government which has become problematic. When nuclear corporations asked for debt financing from the banks and the debt servicing people of the country they found that the banks did not want to provide it. When we read subsection 46(3) it is quite clear why they did not want to provide it. Subsection 46(3) reads:

(3) Where, after conducting a hearing, the Commission is satisfied that there is contamination referred to in subsection (1), the Commission may, in addition to filing a notice under subsection (2), order that the owner or occupant of, or any other person with a right to or interest in, the affected land or place take the prescribed measures to reduce the level of contamination.

Back in 1997 I do not think it was the intent of the government to put the responsibility for nuclear contamination cleanup on the backs of the financial institutions that would be supporting the said nuclear reactor or site. Certainly that is the way the banks looked at it. Under the old section of the act they had a liability that there was no reason they should assume.

I look at the debate about nuclear energy as a separate debate about the wording of this particularly sloppy piece of typical Liberal legislation. It is absolutely no surprise to me that we have to go back to fix legislation as we have done many times with many other pieces of legislation in the House that the Liberals had passed by forcing the issue, by preventing debate and by using their huge majority.

Today in Canada the CNSC licenses over 3,500 operations. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is responsible for 3,500 operations in Canada. We are not just talking about nuclear reactors. There is a handful of nuclear reactors in the country but there are 3,500 nuclear operations. These operations use nuclear energy or materials. They include uranium refineries, nuclear power plants, hundreds of laboratories and most hospitals.

If we look at section 46 of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act as it is currently written, we realize that the liability for contamination at any site extends not just to the owners, occupants and managers of that site but to lenders such as banks and other financial organizations.

When we read that, and if even we are against the principle of nuclear energy, we must realize this piece of legislation affects a lot more operations than just nuclear power plants.

I do not think many members of the House want to start shutting down our laboratories and our hospitals because of a mistake in a piece of legislation that was forced through the House in 1997 by another majority Liberal government.

If we look at the substance of the bill to amend section 46 of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, the amendment changes the wording of section 46 to eliminate the liability of lending institutions for remedial measures in instances of nuclear contamination. There is still a liability for the operators, managers and owners, as there absolutely should be, but even in my wildest dreams I do not see an argument for liability on behalf of lending institutions.

I am not trying to say that somehow we should allow the big banks to run the country or not be applicable to the laws that govern the country, but in this case there is clearly no reason that it should apply to the financial institutions. Liability for any possible radioactive contamination would only apply to the owners, occupants and managers of the site that may be contaminated.

Under proposed section 46(3) that measure can be interpreted to extend beyond liability for nuclear site remediation as it is worded now. It should apply only to an owner, operator and manager of the site, not to the financial institution.

Hopefully it is not the job of government to stifle the nuclear sector or to prevent it from being a supplier of clean energy, which it is. We had unanimous consent in the House against Bill C-27 that was to deal with nuclear waste with which the government dealt in a very sloppy, ineffective, unorganized, unprincipled and totally arbitrary manner. All opposition parties in the House voted against Bill C-27.

To this very day the government has not dealt with the long term storage problems inherent in the nuclear energy sector. However, that does not mean we should not approve a small change in legislation that would allow nuclear operators, laboratories, hospitals and research facilities to access debt financing.

There are all kinds of reasons that I would tend to debate this issue. Did the government take its responsibility to the people of Canada seriously when it reintroduced the bill after it prorogued the House and threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater? I do not think the government took its responsibility seriously at all.

We could have been back here in the middle of September and we could have been moving on a lot of legislation, not the least of which is the Kimberley Process. Now we are hearing at the natural resources committee that somehow we may not have time to deal with the Kimberley process because it is October 10 and we need to have this done by December 31. We have known about it for some time but we have not dealt with it, so we will just shut down the diamond industry if we do not get it ready.

Canadian mines are producing 6% of the world's gemstones. With the Ekati mine coming on line we are expected to produce 12% of the world's gemstones. It is a huge market, a wonderful industry, a great opportunity for northern Canada, and we have a helmsman who is asleep at the wheel. His first mate jumped ship and the rest of the sailors are ready to mutiny at any minute.

Now we will throw out all the legislation, never mind what is or is not important, and we will rework it all. It is not a question of the Progressive Conservative Party supporting the legislation, we will support it, but we do not support the arrogant, indecisive, totally unorganized approach the government has to everything.

If the government makes a mistake today, it will worry about it some day. Some day down the line it will get it fixed. It did something in 1997 but it did not have the competency to craft legislation that would actually last more than five years before it had to be fixed again here in the House. Somehow or another it muddles along throwing out legislation and then bringing it back. In the meantime the important issues facing the country are put on the back burner.

By the way, now we have another burning issue, the Kimberley process, which is a great process. Because it is a natural resources issue, we might have to send it to the trade committee where it can be dealt with in a timely manner. It is not the opposition's problem and it is not the fault of the opposition parties in the House that the government cannot figure out how to run this institution.

We have spoken to this subject a number of times and, unfortunately, we will be speaking to it again. It was the result of poorly crafted legislation that was introduced in 1997. We have a responsibility as parliamentarians to fix the legislation. I intend to vote in support of fixing that legislation but I will not vote in support of stifling debate.

Because the government made the decision to prorogue the House and because it does not understand the basics of governing the nation, we will debate this issue as long as anyone cares to debate it, whether it be members from the Bloc, from the NDP, from the Alliance or from the Progressive Conservative Party. We have a responsibility to Canadians to examine all parts and aspects of this legislation, which we already did.

However, since the government said that we would have another opportunity, I feel as an opposition member of Parliament that we will take that opportunity and look at the legislation until it goes through all the hurdles and the whole process, to the Senate, is approved and comes back to the House again. That is not the fast track. That is not the easy way out for a government that denied its responsibility, decided to look the other way and prorogue the House of Commons for no foreseeable and observable reason.

Points of Order
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.



Ralph Goodale Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hesitate to otherwise interrupt the other business of the House, but I wonder if I could seek unanimous consent to table two documents at this time. The first document is entitled “Quick Response Team Sponsorship File Review Final Project Report”.

The second document is entitled “Actions To Date and On-Going“, regarding the Government of Canada sponsorship program file review by Public Works and Government Services Canada.

I have copies of both documents in both official languages.

Points of Order
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12:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the request. Does the House give its consent?

Points of Order
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12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Government Orders

October 10th, 2002 / 12:05 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the remarks made by my colleague from Sherbrooke and those made by my colleague from South Shore have prompted me to take part in this debate not only as a member of Parliament, but also as a new grandfather. Two months ago today, my granddaughter, Audrey, was born.

This morning, we are debating a bill that deals with the responsibilities of those who finance the production of radioactive materials. What I want to do this morning is to reflect on the fact that we are working with radioactive materials and to remind my colleagues of that. We all remember Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

I think that we are putting the cart before the horse. Before starting to talk about the financing of nuclear generating stations, radioactive materials and radioactive waste, we should consider having a serious debate. That debate has never taken place. Should we use radioactive materials to generate power?

Considering the fact that the member for South Shore told us, at the end of his speech, that his party would support the government's position on this bill but that he had great difficulty understanding and accepting how this is done, should he not support us and agree that Bill C-4 should be scrapped and the door opened to a real debate on the use of radioactive materials?

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, before I make any comment or answer my colleague's question I want to congratulate him on becoming a grand-père. Hopefully the rest of us will get there at some stage in the process. One of the great privileges of standing in the House is that we do represent ourselves, our children and our children's children. The things we debate and discuss and the bills we pass should reflect that.

I would like my colleague to know that I am not forgetting Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or the dangers that are inherent in the nuclear sector. I am also not ignoring the very real fact that nuclear energy will continue to be part of our electricity supply in North America and indeed the world. In order to react to that fact we need to have, especially in Canada, legislation that reflects that.

There is another part of the legislation that is as problematic as how the legislation and the current clause 46(3) affect the lending institutions and the nuclear reactors. It also affects our research and development, our laboratories and our hospitals. Certainly no financial institution should be held responsible for nuclear waste or nuclear cleanup, if it is required, that it did not cause. I think that is the reason we would support the bill. However we also support open, full and complete debate on the legislation and intend to ensure that it is debated.

I appreciate my colleague's comments and the comments of the member for Sherbrooke who debated Bill C-27, the nuclear waste disposal act. We had unanimity among the opposition parties that it was a poorly crafted, poorly worded, typical, I might add, piece of Liberal legislation. Everyone in the House was against that legislation.

I separate this particular bill out differently. I think it affects the industry differently, and I certainly encourage and support debate on it, but at the end of the day we will support this particular clause.

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12:10 p.m.


Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here to talk about such an important issue. Like my colleague I am concerned as well with the process this act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act is taking.

I am reminded of what happened earlier this week with regard to softwood lumber. A situation developed where debate in the House on softwood lumber actually went back to 1996 in terms of the government not really planning, processing and getting the information out to the public. An announcement was finally issued at 2:30 in the afternoon out on the west coast, as far away from the members of the House as the announcement could be taken, concerning an important package affecting Canadian families and businesses that have been moving out of our communities. We were not able to debate the announcement in the House in the way that it should have been.

I would also add that during that particular day I asked for an emergency debate on softwood, believing that it would be important to talk about it as it developed and, more important, to at least have an opportunity to address the government's package in an intelligent manner. Sadly, the NDP was chastized for making public comments about the actual proposal the government was launching to the media. We had to rely on actual leaks to get the details to ask the important questions.

The act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act is very important to the Canadian public. We are concerned about this process because it will not receive the full and proper debate that it should. As my colleague from the Bloc mentioned earlier, it is about a larger issue. It is about where we want to go as a country in terms of energy products, how we actually create them, what they do to our environment and, more important, how we go about planning a nation.

The bill would cause a number of different problems. In my opinion the liability and the environment are very important issues that would be weakened.

There have been incidents that have occurred in the world. We have witnessed Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Hopefully these events will never happen again but the reality is that when we use a product like nuclear power there will be risks and problems. We must be careful before we get into a process to expand those products, especially on an industry that is unique. The devastation in terms of an accident is one that is far reaching, not only in terms of immediate health problems but death, from an incident in the geographic area where the plant is located. This type of accident could affect the whole planet. The long lasting effects are certainly there.

We know that in Chernobyl many different problems have emerged with regard to the health of the citizens who are still suffering from an industry that did not have the proper planning and support.

I feel we are going in that direction. I do not feel that we are actually deciding to go on a course of action with regard to the environment and energy, as opposed to allowing this to happen because we are desperate for funds. We are desperate for funds for an industry that has been poorly planned in Canada. In Ontario we have had a couple of cases where we have seen the effects happen right away. I think the bill will weaken the industry.

I cannot understand the scope of the liability that will be narrowed. If the government is going to invest in a product and provide some resources to it and recoup some benefit, then it should stand by it. The government should be liable. This is done in many different business practises. Normally one does not basically get the opportunity to invest and then have that guaranteed.

Nuclear energy is a product that has a high degree of risk. It also comes with a great deal of potential for profits. We have seen the increase in energy use in our communities. Large sums of funds can be recouped from the industry and the household users.

I think that narrowing the scope of liability and allowing the banks to get away with this is not the way to go about deciding on the course of actions that we are going to take.

With regard to the process I want to note that this is not a housekeeping matter. This is truly about deciding where a nation wants to go with regard to an energy source. It is important for a country to stand for something.

From coast to coast to coast we should have certain things in common. With regard to energy, its use and how we are going to build a society and be able to compete with the world, I think energy products and use should happen that way. This should not be done in a piecemeal way. We have seen that specifically with Bruce Power. This is going to potentially address its shortage of cash in the meantime, but at the same time it opens up a whole Pandora's box with regard to privatization. That is a really big concern for me and for many other people in my constituency and, I believe, across this country.

I have seen privatization affect consumers quite profoundly. In Windsor, Ontario, we were one of the municipalities that had to deal with the deregulation passed on to us from the provincial government. Feeling the burden of the poor management and the poor regulations of that industry, it passed this down to the municipalities. It was really quite sad. The government told municipalities that they had a choice on deregulation, that they had to get themselves ready but they had the choice of two options. Municipalities could either sell their local utilities or run the utilities themselves. So at that point in time the municipalities had the choice to allow the private sector to take over.

That was a real problem in Windsor. We have been able to attract investment to our area. Windsor and Essex County contribute $26 billion annually to the gross domestic product of Canada, which would make us the fifth largest contributor if we were actually a province, compared to the provincial figures. We have been able to track that by having a solid system, a public utility, decent prices and decent resources in order to be able to address and get that investment, such as the auto industry and the tourism industry through the casino. We have seen a whole development of agriculture in our community. Actually we have used other plants that are more renewable. We have actually been able to get into some more environmentally friendly energy products, but not to the degree we want to.

We have been able to use that stability to our advantage to create the environment to attract business and industry, but here is what has happened with the province moving toward privatization. We saw deregulation, and if we sell, then there we go, we allow it to go into the great unknown. On top of that, it was ironic that we had a kind of drop-dead date for the privatization, whereby the province would have taxed us a third on the asset. If we had decided to sell it, we actually would have paid back a third of the asset to the provincial government. It was another way for the province to be able to scrape its interest off the backs of the municipal ratepayers.

We looked at the process for privatization and decided as a municipal government that we could not do it. It was not to our advantage. It was not in the business interest or in the public interest. We decided to maintain it. What we had to do with that decision was prepare for deregulation. The provincial government gave us a whole kit in terms of things we would have to do for deregulation, but deregulation was not just about what it provided us with in terms of some minor direction. There were all the other things that started to evolve that the province never calculated for. We created boards. We had to get people ready on committees. We had to hire staff. We had to do a whole series of things for deregulation that cost our municipality around $13 million to $15 million to get it ready so the private sector could sell energy.

Here is the irony in all of this: The fact is that the Windsor taxpayers in that area had to pay for getting it ready for the private sector. It was shameful. It was absolutely shameful. They had to pay for it through higher rates and I can tell the House that there are many people on fixed incomes whom the government has not supported properly or enough for them to be able to pay for the rising costs of energy. There are persons with disabilities, seniors, and just other citizens in general who are working two or three jobs to be able to maintain employment and the standards and the quality of life necessary for their families. They could not continue to absorb that, so we had to do it. We had to absorb all those energy costs. I believe that this amendment is going to increase that insidious movement toward privatization and its effects.

With regard to the banks and this bill, I do not think that they are necessarily going to be able to open up in terms of providing the resources. Although this will provide some type of flexibility for them, will it get them the cash cow? What if it does not? What do we do then? We are back to square one if they decide not to. If they do not come in for the rescue, if they do not ride in with the cash, so to speak, where do we go from there? We are back to square one. We have not addressed the problem and that is energy use in our community and how we want to go about it in the future.

The Nuclear Liability Act from 1976 has a clause for only $75 million for those who would be responsible if there is an accident. That is not sufficient. I would like to see work done in this aspect. I would not want to see a narrowing scope of liability. I want to see it expanded. We do not want our children and future generations to have to deal with contaminated sites. We already have had a problem with that. We actually have had to introduce legislation for contaminated sites through brownfield projects. We have had to give tax relief and subsidies because poor decision making has allowed businesses to do the damage they have done to different environmental spots and different types of land in our communities. Again we have had to pick that up through taxpayers to clean it up. That is what will happen if we do not look at the greater expansion of the $75 million. If we narrow that scope, it will just be passed on to somebody else. That is why we need to have an intelligent debate about where we want to go with this industry.

With regard to the environment and the environmental protection in the bill, Canada now falls far behind other industrial nations in the promotion and use of renewable energy sources. That is what my hon. colleague from the Bloc mentioned earlier. Where do we want to go with this industry and where do we want to go in terms of Canada? We must have a larger debate. Instead of trying to open up a process for an industry that certainly does not have a future in terms of the renewable aspects we would like to see, we are having to deal with all the byproducts of this industry.

I know for a fact that Canada is one of the biggest developers of the byproducts from nuclear waste. We have to deal with that. It is something that is an ongoing liability as opposed to renewable energy, which is an asset. Especially with Kyoto there is an opportunity for us to debate this issue, to look at the larger picture of renewable energy and to go forward. We have that opportunity with Kyoto. We have to address it. We cannot get into the whole aspect of putting it off. We cannot wait for somebody else to do it because we do not have the courage or the intestinal fortitude to move forward. We have to champion that. That will not happen with this type of growth industry. We know that nuclear power energy is not sustainable, not environmentally friendly, and it will not be the one that we want to create as the industry for Canadians.

We in the NDP think that the government should embrace the proposal put forward by the Canadian Wind Energy Association to achieve the goals of installing more than 10,000 megawatts of wind power capacity and providing 5% of our electricity from wind power by 2010. Other nations have moved forward on that. Many European nations have been able to break into this and have used this ingenuity to develop the capacities in their communities for innovation, for different employment as well and for export across the world.

It is interesting, too, because we right now we are going through a whole innovation strategy. The minister of trade has been pushing forward an innovation strategy. We have had a summit and we have talked about these things, about where we are going with the use of the automobile, for example, with the use of power, and with regard to creating the intellectual capacity to be able to create products and services that will serve us well into the future, make us a competitor and make us a champion for the world with regard to innovation. Energy is one of those things.

This bill would bring us back to point of the same old, same old, to prop up a bad idea and make it worse. That is wrong. The government has the innovation strategy going on, so it has some tools and some initiatives available to it. I give it credit for at least trying. I do not think that it has done enough with them. The government has not put in the resources. It has not committed to that because it does not have the complete political will to push far enough just yet, but at least, and I give it credit, the government has started something. There is a spark there, potentially, but it takes more than just going around and talking to people and not doing anything. The government gets reports, puts them on the shelf and does not do anything with them.

After being in those meetings, I can tell members that people did talk about renewable energy, about wind power for one thing. It is something that will certainly be able to provide us with some target emissions for Kyoto. I believe that it will be able to provide us with ingenuity and as well it will provide us with a safer environment.

I want to touch on what I think the bill means to Canadian citizens, the final users. I also want to reinforce my concerns about what will happen to the actual users and the prices afterwards. The bill will do nothing to create security. It will do nothing to create at least a sense of stability with regard to energy use. We have seen a number of vivid examples that have caused a traumatic and very painful discourse in our communities with regard to Union Gas and other products. We have seen prices increase. We have seen people being gone after retroactively. People cannot come up with these funds. That is wrong in terms of the way we have been moving toward energy. We are still going down this same path and we will see how it works out. Hopefully somebody else will ride in, be able to provide it cheaper and competition will lower prices. That will not necessarily happen in a monopoly industry like this.

We have seen a lot of weaknesses in some of the agreements we have in terms of energy provision. There is a new plant being developed in Windsor but we still do not know if any of the energy it produces will stay in Windsor or Ontario or Canada. It will be exported to the United States. It is great that this new plant will create a few jobs but it will also create environmental issues such as pollution and a number of different things. We will not derive any benefit from it and we may not even get any of that power. If we do, we may have to pay a premium for it because we will have to buy it back from the U.S. It does not make any sense.

Consumers, the general public, want legislation that will protect the viability and, more important, the reliability of prices in their energy use. We can do that by looking at a long term strategy with regard to the environment, by looking at how we want to move forward with producing power that is more sustainable, power with a vision, power that is multifaceted. Narrowing the scope of liability and allowing people to derive a lot of profit out of this while not being at risk for anything is the wrong way to go.

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.



Joe Jordan Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the NDP member and point out that through his mannerisms he does not seem to be as sore as I am after playing soccer last night against the EU diplomats. Perhaps he is younger.

The member did make a very interesting point. In the early stages of Parliament it is sometimes tough to be as informed on these issues as possible, so I will stick to the concepts because he has hit on a few things that I have to agree with. I will preface this with a very short story.

A number of years ago I bought a commercial property in a small town in Ontario. On the day the deal was supposed to close, I got an emergency call from my banker who said that because there was a gas station six properties away from mine, which might leak gas, the liability originally assessed on my property and which set the interest rate would change. I looked at my watch, thinking that the deal would close in an hour and all of a sudden the bank was concerned about potential liability, as it should have been.

One of the things that we have to ensure we work toward incorporating into our free market is the assumption of the full cost. The price of things should take into consideration the cost of things, and one of those costs is waste streams. If we look at the problems we have with pollution, that is because pollution pays. It is good business to pollute because in most cases people get away with it. They do not incur any cost. Companies that take on these responsibilities because they have a higher moral standard find they are getting the crap kicked out of them with the price of their goods and services. So good regulation is important.

On the surface this bill concerns me. As the member rightly pointed out, solar power, investments in research and development, and wind power should benefit from the fact that they do not have this potential liability.

If we remove the risk for the lenders, let us not kid ourselves: If there is a problem we know who will pay. It will be the people we represent. I am interested in the member's comments on how the notion of full costing might be impaired, if I am interpreting correctly the changes to the legislation being proposed here today.

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12:30 p.m.


Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I say to the member that I am sore as well from playing soccer yesterday. I had to stretch out several times this morning.

It is an important issue with regard to the costing of the whole process. It is unfortunate and a good example in terms of legislation and the lack of communication is that you could actually purchase and make a financial investment on a very important piece of property for yourself and your family's future and within an hour before it was finalized, your lawyer notified you of that. The lawyer did not catch it, or whatever happened. That is a very serious problem. We have run into this in our municipality a number of times and it has caused a lot of problems.

We have to look at the larger picture with regard to costing, with regard to opening up the window for the lenders. I still believe that you are investing in something and you are responsible for those investments. This bill weakens that. I really believe that you should have to have some type of connection to that. It is a very high risk business. It potentially comes with unlimited profits.

We do not know how much energy will cost in 10 years or 20 years. We know there are going to be shortages. We know there is going to be development in terms of world population. We are involved in exporting more energy resources to the United States and we actually have agreements that bind us to that.

We do not know what the potential profit will be. Hopefully we will have decent pricing, a decent environment and a fairer system at the end of the day that people can afford, but there is a great potential for huge profits to be made out of that. That is why I believe there still should be a connection there and it should be reinforced and not eroded.

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before I direct the next question to the hon. member for Fraser Valley, let me just take a moment to remind the hon. member for Windsor West that all interventions must be made through the Chair. In other words, in speaking to an hon. member, it is not “you” or “your” but rather “the member”. It can be useful and save a lot of fireworks or whatever else occurs from time to time.

Nuclear Safety and Control Act
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12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is an interesting debate. Perhaps it is of more interest to the people in Ontario than it is to the people in B.C. at this time because there are nuclear power plants here and there are none in British Columbia where they have been banned by the provincial government. It does not look like there will be any in the near future.

I would like the member to comment on what I see as a potential conflict that his party could run into by supporting the Kyoto agreement. He mentioned the Kyoto agreement several times.

The Kyoto agreement does not mention pollution other than greenhouse gases. My fear with the Kyoto agreement being approved is that people will try to meet Kyoto targets on greenhouse gas emissions and in doing that, one of the things they will do is they will use more nuclear power. It is Kyoto friendly.

We could replace everything in the country with nuclear power and it would meet the Kyoto goals by doing that. The problem is that by supporting Kyoto and not being concerned about the greater pollution issue, including the waste products from nuclear power plants, we end up with a contradiction. We end up supporting any kind of a project that will reduce greenhouse gases but in doing so, we end up perhaps with more nuclear waste, more nuclear power plants which are another kind of problem, and more cogeneration plants situated along the 49th parallel.

I can speak from experience in my riding because the SE2 plant is one of several dozen cogeneration plants that are to be situated along the 49th parallel, the pollution of which will end up in Canada, but there is no bilateral agreement with the Americans about air pollution, about particulate matter. Everybody is so focused on Kyoto that we end up with people making corporate decisions, and government decisions like we are discussing here today, not based on what is good for the country pollution-wise but based on what is good in order to meet Kyoto targets.

I would like the member to consider that. I am quite concerned that by heading down this path, in essence we will be saying that more nuclear power is great because it is Kyoto friendly. I have a concern, as do the people in British Columbia. Frankly I am more concerned about the nuclear waste and the problems that entails than I am about some of the other possible energy producers.

I am afraid that approving Kyoto may result in reduced greenhouse gases but may actually cause other pollutants to rise. I would like the member to think about this.