Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the debate at third reading of Bill C-5.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the committee for their excellent work. Knock wood, all the members in the Standing Committee on Natural Resources work earnestly, professionally and even passionately. We have just concluded a study on forestry during which we discovered the talents, passions and especially the skills of the members of our committee, which enriched our debates.
Unfortunately, in the debate on Bill C-5, we did not have any specialists in insurance or nuclear liability. We truly had to listen very carefully together to all the witnesses and all the legislative staff who advised us and explained certain things.
We also heard from mayors. Those were the testimonies that touched me the most. There is an association that consists of the mayors of all cities that have nuclear power plants, who have joined together to be represented. We heard from one mayor who told us she was truly pleased with the bill, but that she was surprised and even disappointed that the bill allowed for just $650 million in compensation.
Perhaps we should remind those watching us on television that the purpose of Bill C-5 is to modernize an existing law that has been obsolete and neglected for over 30 years. The bill is intended to meet international standards on nuclear liability. This bill explains the responsibility of operators regarding nuclear liability, sets compensation at a maximum of $650 million, and creates a tribunal to hear claims in the event of a nuclear incident.
After much debate, everyone agrees that $650 million is a clear improvement over the current provisions. With the resurgence of nuclear power, we all agree that $75 million was not enough. Nonetheless, some concerns remain. We are reassured by the fact that the minister or the government will be able, every five years, to increase the amount of compensation.
It was pure negligence. For 30 years and from government to government, whether Liberal or Conservative, this legislation and the compensation should have been updated but were completely neglected. It was only recently that they started paying attention on the heels of a recommendation from the Environmental Commissioner who told us in his 2005 report that we had a real problem in Canada because our nuclear liability was not up to the international standards and that it was really starting to be problematic. It was certainly a problem for our citizens and communities, as well as our companies and operators.
We will support Bill C-5 in order to ensure that our communities have better coverage and better tools to defend themselves in case of nuclear incidents.
We heard some pretty impressive witnesses and got sound advice from all the partners and expert stakeholders. A bill dealing with insurance is necessarily very technical and legalistic and we needed to hear some especially good witnesses.
The only nuclear power plant in Quebec is located near the town of Gentilly and there was an incident here recently that could have been serious, but fortunately was not. That leads me once again to say that if this incident had actually had repercussions, we would have had to rely on this old legislation providing the citizens of Gentilly with only $75 million in compensation.
We must understand that if there had been a very serious incident, there would have been consequences not just for Gentilly but the entire area, the cities and suburbs all around.
I want to emphasize that we in the Bloc Québécois are not satisfied with the $650 million amount, especially as the bill provides that the amounts will rise from $75 million to $650 million over four years. This will not happen at once and will take four years. To us and our citizens and communities, this may seem a long time, and quite rightly so. The operators also have some fears about the increase in their premiums over such a short time.
We worked very hard on this bill in committee and discussed the issues using all the procedures that the House provides us to really get a handle on it. We can be proud of what we accomplished. We worked in an atmosphere in which we all focused on the task at hand and the positive effects rather than partisan politics. There is still no doubt, though, that there are problems with the entire nuclear issue in Canada.
I made a short list of nuclear-related events that occurred in the past year and were of concern not only to the government but to all parliamentarians in this House. You may be surprised by this list.
First, as you know—and I believe the opposition members pointed it out—the isotope shortage and the mismanagement of this crisis by Atomic Energy Canada caused many problems and raised many questions. Although the government may not have said so outright, by initiating a study on what happened between Atomic Energy Canada and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission it has, in fact, acknowledged that there were serious management and communication problems at play in this crisis.
What we learn from bad experiences helps us to avoid the next crisis. However, when looking at the chronology, it is surprising to note the extent to which Atomic Energy Canada was disorganized. There are questions to be asked.
During this crisis, Ms. Keen, the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, was fired. There was also the matter of the current study of Atomic Energy Canada. When he appeared before our committee, the Minister of Natural Resources did not hesitate to say that the partial or full privatization of Atomic Energy Canada is among the solutions and recommendations that will very likely be retained. We had our suspicions. He was quite forthcoming, if I remember correctly, when he last appeared.
Furthermore, costs always increase by millions of dollars. As members and party critics for a given file, when analyzing the budgets of each department, we talk in terms of millions of dollars. I have been a member of Parliament for two and a half years. What I have seen, every time, is that millions of dollars are added to the nuclear file, for security, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or Atomic Energy Canada.
This year, we are talking about $300 million: $80 million to make Chalk River safer and $100 million to further develop the ACR-1000 reactor. We can certainly ask questions, because that is a lot of money. Furthermore, they say nuclear energy is clean energy—I do not agree—but very costly energy.
The Minister of Natural Resources often tells me that nuclear energy is a provincial option. He knows that I am an MP who keeps a close eye on federal and provincial areas of jurisdiction. There we agree. But nuclear safety and waste management are federal responsibilities. For a year, there has been a lot of spending and a lot of studies, but it is not very clear where the government is headed.
I am not a strong proponent of nuclear energy, and as a taxpayer, I find it very disturbing to see these millions of dollars going to institutions such as Atomic Energy Canada, even though we do not really know what direction the government wants to take, nor how much money will be needed to achieve the objectives of making Chalk River safer and developing the ACR-1000 reactor. It would be especially important to find out how much we need to invest to upgrade the reactor that produces medical isotopes in Chalk River. As an aside, this reactor is 50 years old and is at the end of its life span. We can modernize it and make all the upgrades we want, but it still has a finite life span.
What solution and plan does the government propose? We recently learned that the government was terminating the MAPLE reactor project. That in itself is not actually news, since it had already been announced on May 16.
We know that taxpayers provided an initial investment of $146 million in this project. Apart from that initial amount, no one really knows how much taxpayers have invested since 1996 in the MAPLE reactor research and development project. We do not know how much it all cost, in the end. We do know, however, that the project was abandoned because it was considered a money pit and it was believed that it could never be completed. We learned this officially on May 16, 2008.
I am personally involved in activities that often bring together major players in nuclear energy. Behind the scenes, everyone knew that MAPLE was doomed to fail and that, clearly, the government failed to realize this fact quickly and in a transparent manner. We are especially concerned about what will replace the reactor that has now reached the end of its existence.
To top it off, we learned from the front page of today's La Presse that, through access to information, a journalist was able to get a document produced by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. That document reveals that the commission is worried that it does not have sufficient financial and human resources to fulfill its role and ensure the security of Quebeckers and Canadians, in short, to carry out the mission that is its raison d'être.
This is somewhat surprising, while the current government touts nuclear energy as the solution to environmental problems and greenhouse gas emissions across Canada. In any case, we have a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission that admits that it does not have sufficient financial and human resources to carry out its mission and guarantee Quebeckers and Canadians that all operators and facilities comply with and meet international safety standards.
The document reveals one quite impressive fact, namely, that the commission has had to quadruple its security budget. Indeed, since the events of September 2001, security measures intended to protect the facilities against terrorist attacks—