Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I enter the debate today. I have listened to a number of my colleagues from all sides of the House, and it is with growing concern rather than reassurance that I rise today to address the bill, simply because of my concern about the depth of knowledge of my colleagues and about whether some colleagues who have spoken to the bill have read the piece of legislation or considered its implications.
In the nuclear energy context, I think there are two central facts around which people pivot their concerns. One probably gets an undue amount of attention, and I think there is a need for greater balance, and it is around the environmental component and the fact that the off-products of nuclear are serious, long-lasting and immensely damaging not only to human health but to the planet in general. The second is financial, as to whether the nuclear industry, if left to its own devices, would be able to compete with the other forms of energy that exist within our energy mix in the country. It is a subsidized industry at various points along the process, and now we are entering the debate very specifically about the limited liability that the government is putting forward.
Allow me to say two things first before I get into the details of each of those aspects. One is that the review of this act is long overdue. The world has moved on significantly from when the act was first put together. Its application is no longer connected with any reality in regard to what is happening in the world and in the state of the nuclear industry.
Second, let me just comment that I think the Minister of Natural Resources, who spoke earlier today, did himself and the issue a disservice by not coming forward completely and transparently with what the implications are. There were several direct questions that we in my party put to him, just to simply lay the facts on the table, not one way or the other, but simply to put them on the table so that we can have a fair and honest debate in this place. At every opportunity, the minister chose to avoid answering the questions directly.
This pertains specifically to the liability question and the fact that within the bill the movement is from a $75 million cap to a $650 million cap on limited liability. The minister pretended, and in a sense stretched the point to nearly misleading the House, to say that the cap was a floor and that liability would start from $650 million and then go up.
I then took the bill itself to the minister to show him that in fact this is not a floor. As written in the bill, it is a ceiling. If he wishes to change that, then we look forward to the amendments, but presenting it as a floor as opposed to a ceiling changes the whole context. The $650 million that is noted in the bill as limited liability for the industry suggests to us and to many others who study these issues that beyond $650 million there is another question that arises: who picks up the tab in the event of a nuclear disaster or accident if the claims go beyond $650 million?
To some Canadians who are watching and following this debate, a little over half a billion dollars might seem like quite a bit, but we have to localize and contextualize the discussion. These nuclear plants do not tend to be located in far-flung places. They tend to be located in densely populated parts of our country. They tend to be located right next to much of the most significant drinking water supplies for our country and also for our neighbours to the south.
As for the implications of an accident, we certainly do not wish it and we encourage the government to take every mean and measure possible to prevent it, but an accident by its very nature is not predictable. An accident is an unknown, but it can happen, and if it never did we certainly would not need the insurance industry at all. However, the implications are extraordinary.
Of course when we get into debates on energy use and the profile of this country, the words and specific attributes of every energy source are important. The nuclear industry has gone to great lengths and measures to present itself as clear and clean. It uses a very well polled and well versed terminology to assure Canadians that it is an okay source of energy with few implications.
We do not have to be rocket scientists to understand that nuclear waste is extraordinarily dangerous. It lasts far beyond our lives and may last far beyond the existence of countries as we know them today. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of years.
There are implications for us as parliamentarians, as decision makers and leaders of this country, when dealing with issues that have implications that last many generations. There are implications that are more serious than we have seen in the debate to this point. We have a responsibility and an obligation to dig through the bill, to dig through the issue itself with the greatest scrutiny available to us, with all the information and the power we can muster, simply because the ramifications of what happens as a result of our decisions will not in all likelihood be borne by us but by generations to come.
We all care for our children, our grandchildren and our families. It is most important when dealing with issues like this one that we take the time as the parliamentarians to scrutinize those issues to the fullest extent.
So when the nuclear industry comes forward and says it is clear and clean, with all the rest of the jargon and spin it hires very competent marketing agencies to do, it flies in the face of what is actually in the bill. That is simply because to say there is no risk or no element of risk within the nuclear industry is a bit specious considering that under the list of compensatory damage are listed: “Bodily injury or damage to property; Psychological trauma; Close personal relationship; Liability for economic loss; Costs and wages; Power failure”; and “Environmental damage”. These are all conditions under which, in this piece of legislation, the supplier of nuclear energy can be taken to court and sued.
Let us take a look at that list. What is the limit for psychological trauma as a result of a nuclear accident? What is the limit on psychological trauma suffered by anyone in a close personal relationship with a person who has suffered bodily injury as a result of a nuclear accident? What about liability for economic loss? What about economic loss due to power failure or economic loss due directly to the incident itself? As for costs and wages, again, is it for those people directly affected or for anybody in an ancillary position who has been affected as well?
These are extraordinarily extensive realms and parameters in which someone could apply for compensation from the courts. As for suggesting, then, that we are going to limit the liability for this to provide what is essentially investor certainty for anyone looking to make a dollar through the nuclear industry, and then suggesting that this Parliament will then convene a special committee to pick up the tab for the rest of any damages that are forthcoming, let us be honest about the debate, folks.
Let us simply name it as it is and say that this is the ceiling. That is what is described in this bill as we have read it. The minister has said otherwise. In that case, I am not sure that he has read the legislation or if he is choosing to interpret it in a way opposite to how it is written.
There is obviously special treatment for the nuclear industry. This has been an industry that Canada has fostered for many decades. It has attempted to export it to other countries, with some success and some failure in bringing our technology to other countries. There are negotiations going on right now with some countries in the developing world to further export this technology, again with long term and serious implications in regard to the decision.
One wonders if the same application, the same treatment, is given to other industries, other industries with major investment, which the nuclear industry has had, other industries that have incurred liability. When an airline is begun in Canada or when someone brings an airline to Canada, does the government offer a limited liability insurance guarantee through the Parliament of Canada? When the auto industry got its start in Canada, was there an implication of the limited liability applied to the auto sector to say that if it had a major malfunction in any of its products, any of its cars, that the government would pick up the tab beyond a certain point?
We are aware of none. Perhaps some of my colleagues from the government can offer some points and suggest that in fact the nuclear industry is not treated as a special circumstance. That would be enlightening for us.
The nuclear debate is an extraordinarily sensitive hot topic. There is a lot of to-and-fro. There are extremes on both sides. Over the years we have seen various politicians go to the lengths of actually taking effluent from a nuclear plant and drinking it to show just how incredibly safe that effluent is. Those folks are no longer with us.
It is lamentable, but it shows that in the face of serious concern and evidence, in order to play politics, in order to assure Canadians that everything is okay despite overwhelming evidence, some politicians have gone to the extreme and have threatened and ended their own lives.
There is also the other extreme, with people presenting the case of nuclear energy in such tones of conflict as to suggest that it is the devil incarnate and brings forward all sorts of destruction by its very existence.
We think the balance point is in between. We think there is a place where we can achieve a serious and honest debate about the use of nuclear energy in our energy mix in this country. It is necessary to do that and we need to have representatives of the government come forward to present the facts as they are written in the legislation and not try to pretend they are otherwise.
There is indeed a lesson of unintended consequences when looking through legislation like this. It is very difficult for parliamentarians to imagine the various trajectories that can be taken with an issue like this. It is difficult to imagine what the energy mix, profile and demands will be in 50 or 100 years.
That brings me to the second point, which is about the environment. The financial circumstances of the nuclear industry, at least within this province in which we are debating, Ontario, have been mixed at best. There have been cost overruns. There have been liability claims. Ontario taxpayers, and through them the federal coffers as well, have picked up an enormous debt. It is for the Ontario voters to decide what they will do. Let us not kid ourselves. There have been rampant issues with and difficulties faced by the nuclear industry in making ends meet in simply operating cost-efficient electricity production.
On the environmental side, there are obviously the two main components of this. In this particular bill we are dealing with accidents. We are dealing with those times when things go wrong in a serious and significant way with implications that are far-reaching.
My colleague spoke earlier of the nature of a nuclear accident and its ability to produce a variety of contamination effects that can spread out over many thousands of hectares. The cleanup of such effects is extraordinarily expensive, never mind the cost to human health and insurance as dealt with under the bill.
The other component of the environment, of course, is the legacy of the waste. What do we do with the waste? The minister did speak truthfully earlier. It was a unique and enlightening moment when he talked about the creation of a committee that has gone around the country to talk about the issue of nuclear waste.
When those committee members came before the environment committee some time ago, the only real question I had for them about the 200 or so community visits they conducted across the country was to find out in how many communities, as I suggested at the end of their presentation, a nuclear waste facility was welcome in the municipality. Most of these presentations were done at the municipal level. If we want to talk for a moment about a legacy, the question is being put to these small regional districts and small communities in a presentation of facts by this nuclear waste committee in regard to making a decision that would last for generations to come.
It is a fascinating thing to look at the structure of municipal politics within this country, because most people enter politics for a three year term. They enter for a variety of reasons, such as making the sidewalks better or changing the tax base within their community, but rarely have I heard a municipal politician running for office say, “Vote for me because I want to make decisions about nuclear waste for our community”. Rarely have I heard municipal politicians say they want to make decisions that will have implications and effects that will last for generations to come. It is just not within the general context of what happens within municipal affairs.
I asked the committee members how many communities, mayors, councillors and presidents of chambers of commerce approached them during, afterward or before the presentation and said, “Please come and be a part of our community and form your industry here”. After four attempts at getting an answer, one was finally delivered. “None” was the response. There were no communities that said this. Of course the government has since gone ahead and is pushing the debate further in trying to find a place to put the waste. It is a serious implication.
Earlier a number of my colleagues raised the issue of climate change. We have to keep in mind that globally in the nuclear industry the amount of power provided by it is smaller than that provided by what we now call the alternatives: wind, solar, wave and tidal. There is often a perception out there that the nuclear industry and nuclear power provide this source of energy that is just absolutely irreplaceable.
This is so often trotted out as an excuse for why the energy mix is the way it is and why it will be so forevermore. Governments will come forward with self-fulfilling prophecies and say that currently we produce 13% of our energy through coal or nuclear, or whatever the case may be, and if we were to strip that out tomorrow, this is what the implications would be; therefore, they say, we need to continue with the source of energy that we find worrisome, whether it is with respect to climate change or other environmental concerns.
If we continue to point ourselves in that direction, that is the place we will end up. That has been the legacy of energy policy in Canada for the last 40 years. It is a continuance of more of the same.
Now we have questions and concerns coming out of the U.S. The energy agency is now looking at the tar sands as one of its major focuses, not simply to take energy from them but concerns around the climate change impact of what that energy delivers. This is a classic example of a government getting on a track and enjoying the gravy train so much that it cannot consider pulling in the implications of what the true cost of doing business is.
Looking at the nuclear front, we must include the true cost of doing business. If we put false ceilings on liability, if we continue to subsidize various parts of the chain, we present a false debate and a false option to Canadians. We pretend that the cost of production is only so much per kilowatt when actually it is much more because the subsidies are built in all along the way and not accounted for, as are the externalities, in this case the externality of liability, the externality that is put forward as waste management.
We can no longer consider this term “externality” as a viable economic argument. It is specious, it is wrong and it will continue to lead us in the wrong direction when it comes to caring for the planet and the implications of climate change.
If business is what the government claims to be all about, then it should allow business to do what it does, which is to find economic solutions to the problems posed by society. Subsidies are no way to solve an energy mix. Subsidies are no way to look at what it is we want our future generations to be left with. Clearly, the forces of the market can allow themselves to work and find a happier compromise.
If levelling the playing field is what the government is truly interested in doing, then I can assure it, and many Canadians will join me, that in given options, time and again Canadians will pursue the option that has the least implications and impact for the environment. We clearly see this on a number of fronts that are happening in the commercial sector and in its products.
Time and again, industries realize where the benefits may be. One of the greatest challenges the auto sector has been faced with is the continuance of the making of models that it believes Canadians want while, on the other hand, the price of gas at the pump goes up week on week and Canadians are seeking lower emission cars, higher efficiency cars and yet we stay in a rut that takes us in a different direction and then lament the fact and look for help from government, which the previous government and the current government consider somehow to be a viable economic strategy.
The truth presented in this bill is that there are serious and significant implications when dealing with a nuclear accident. If it were not so, then the government would not need to, under the advice of its lawyers and insurance consultants, list bodily injury, psychological trauma, close personal relationship and trauma to somebody affected, liability for economic loss, costs of wages, power failure and environmental damage.
If there were not strong and significant implications, we would not need to list any of those. If there were not strong and serious implications for human health, we would not list them. Of course we need to list them because they need to be considered. The consideration back to government is: Why would one limit liability within the industry? Why would one then share the liability across the entire country?
I represent people from British Columbia. They will rightly ask me, as they will ask any member from British Columbia or the other provinces that do not currently use nuclear energy, “If there is an accident and if the accident exceeds the government's cap, why is the cost then spread across all provinces and all taxpayers?” It is a reasonable question. It is a question that the government needs to answer. If the government has a viable and ready answer for us, then we are prepared to discuss it. It is only in the interests of truthfulness and looking for full disclosure as to what this debate is really about.
The final point I would like to make, which has been raised by some of my colleagues, is that in the United States no similar cap can be identified that limits the nuclear energy producers to this liability limit. Does this start to create a scenario in which there is an enhancement for creating nuclear facilities north of the border rather than south? One of the greatest costs is the cost of insurance when dealing with the nuclear industry. If one of those costs is considered more favourable in another country, it starts to distort the market forces that we think deserve their time to work.