Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-57, an act to amend the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. We have many concerns about the bill. Some of them have been enunciated by our environment critic, the member for Windsor--St. Clair. I would like to elaborate on those comments and indicate to members present our grave concerns about the bill.
First, let us be clear about what this bill would do. Although it may be short in length, the bill very clearly would limit the current liability provisions related to the cost of a cleanup stemming from an incident impacting the environment. It is very much a serious issue in terms of the environment, nuclear energy and the whole area of privatization.
I forgot to mention, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore.
As currently defined in subsection 46(3) of the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, any person with an interest in the affected land or facility is potentially liable for the cost of cleaning up any contamination resulting from an incident. This point is relevant to the debate at hand because the provision includes not only the owners and operators but also a mortgage lender or holder of a security interest in the land. That is the way the act now reads.
The amendment before us today, through Bill C-57, would actually narrow the scope of potential liability to include only the owners and operators. It seems to me that we are dealing with a fairly significant issue, something that is worthy of considerable debate in the House. Yet the Liberal government would actually have us believe that this is simply a housekeeping bill to correct a flaw in existing legislation and would like it fast tracked with little debate and no study by committee.
It seems to me that this is becoming the preferred modus operandi of the Liberal government of the day: fast track legislation, keep the public out of the process, limit debate and keep study of important issues to a bare minimum. It is certainly a pattern we have seen repeated over and over again in the House and one which we hope will come to an end. Perhaps with this bill the government may see the wisdom of allowing for some debate and thorough consideration.
I will focus on part of the concerns we have with this bill. As I mentioned, my colleague from Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore will pursue our further concerns.
Is it not interesting that just days before we know the parliamentary session will end, the government brings forward a bill, last Friday to be exact, asking the House to give support for its swift passage because suddenly time is of the essence. We do not believe this matter can be treated lightly.
We have some serious concerns and it will be very difficult for us to accommodate the government agenda and to accommodate a request caused of its own doing by waiting until the last minute to bring this forward and ask for our consent. It is not possible for us to facilitate this unilateral, arbitrary attempt by the government to bypass the committee process and to silence debate.
We are dealing with a rather significant issue. We are talking about the loosening of regulations in the nuclear industry and lending our support to a bill that facilitates the privatization process. These issues are far too important to be dealt with in such a cavalier fashion and we will certainly try to send a clear message to the government in this debate.
I would like to focus on the privatization issue because it is clear that the bill is intended to facilitate that process. We are talking about privatization in Canada's nuclear industry. That fact is absolutely clear. The matter is plain and simple.
Let me go through some of the points that embellish this fact.
In the short term the bill is targeted to assist Bruce A and B nuclear generating plants in Ontario. We all know that Bruce Power is Ontario's largest independent generator of electricity. It is in effect foreign owned, with the predominant manager being British Energy, the United Kingdom's largest electricity generator. As was pointed out earlier, as a private operator, Bruce Power must raise capital by borrowing from the banks. However because of the current wording in the Nuclear Safety and Control Act, banks are unwilling to lend to Bruce Power because of potential liability.
We also know that Bruce Power has been investing in its operations. It has opened up four of the nuclear reactors and wants to open up the remaining four. It is projecting its investment to reach close to $2 billion over the next four years. Through the government, it is seeking a way to facilitate its accomplishment of the project. It is seeking, through Bill C-57, to allow Bruce Power to maintain its investment and provide capital for expansion.
It is very unlikely that banks would lend money even with the proposed changes, as the property would not likely be seen as viable collateral in any event. We must also consider that this sector is unlikely to ever turn a profit in any case. However we have to be very vigilant on this issue and very concerned about the ramifications of an amendment that would actually narrow the scope of liability for those involved in the nuclear power industry.
As it now stands, liability is already limited to only $75 million under the Nuclear Liability Act. Many would certainly argue that the industry is already unduly protected by legislation and needs tougher liability laws not weaker ones.
The federal government clearly seems intent on supporting the privatization of the nuclear industry. In fact the Minister of Environment has already stated publicly that he is not concerned about the privatization of Ontario Hydro. Clearly Bill C-57 would facilitate the expansion or greater participation of private utilities, particularly with regard to nuclear power generators.
In conclusion, and before I turn it over to my colleague, on behalf of members of our caucus we are very concerned about the bill. We will be monitoring the process very carefully because we absolutely oppose any attempt to deregulate and privatize our public power utilities and any measures that contribute to that.