House of Commons Hansard #101 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.


Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the third time and passed, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to some of the issues that my hon. colleague brought up. We were concerned with many of them. We put forward amendments, both at committee and in the House, over the time we dealt with the bill, which is a considerable length of time. One of them is the reinsurance provisions.

The hon. member alluded to the reinsurance provisions within the bill and said that the insurance companies could reach out to other insurance companies. If they felt they could not take this risk on themselves, they could reinsure with other insurance companies.

However, in the bill the federal government is empowered to be the reinsurer of the nuclear facilities. If they are unable to accomplish the insurance with the insurance company, the government can step in and become the reinsurer. In other words, it can take over the liability of the insurance for the particular facility. We had a lot of trouble with this clause. We did not see this as setting up the nuclear industry as separate, distinct and on its own two feet. We saw this as the government would be brought into insuring high-risk nuclear facilities.

How does this match up to understanding that the industry will work in an unsubsidized, unsupported manner from the government? How will this phase, which we tried to eliminate, prevent government from holding the liability for the nuclear plants that are not up to the standards that regular insurers would cover?

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member, either on his own or with his party, was not comfortable with the Government of Canada stepping in, or I suppose a provincial government could as well, as a reinsurer or a guarantor. I take it he is referring to the guarantee piece for a government. My understanding of the bill is a government could become a guarantor of a insurance contract or be a surety for a reinsurance contract.

The member is correct in suggesting that having the government do it is a non-market mechanism in many respects will appear to be a benefit or a subsidy to the nuclear industry. However, it is also a fact that it is highly unlikely we would have any nuclear capability in our country if it were not for a government infrastructure that regulated it in the first place. Most people will recognize that the essential component of the nuclear industry carries a lot of risk with it. It is simply not something we can carry around in our back pocket. Therefore, the presence of the government should not be a surprise.

I know the bill offers the potential, with government approval, of normal insurance-reinsurance mechanisms so the risk is spread around and the costs of the insurance are kept within reason.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to refer to subclause 26(1) in the bill. It states:

The Minister may enter into an agreement with an approved insurer under which Her Majesty in right of Canada reinsures some or all of the risk assumed by the insurer under insurance referred to in subsection 24(1).

Subclause 26(2) states:

The risks that may be reinsured are those that, in the Minister’s opinion, would not be assumed by an approved insurer without the agreement or those that are prescribed by regulation.

Subclause 26(3) states:

The reinsurance agreement may provide for the payment of premiums to Her Majesty in right of Canada.

Quite clearly, we see that the government then becomes the reinsurer. It is collecting the premiums. It is assuming the risk. This is not a question of a guarantee. This is a question of the government actually providing the services of the private sector in insurance.

We tried to remove this from the bill so we would have a more level playing field for nuclear energy, where nuclear energy had to stand on its own two feet. Does the member not think this should be excised from the bill?

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

No, Mr. Speaker, the government role is there. The member has read the sections. The government is capable of reinsuring. The government, by that same wording, is apparently capable of seeking other reinsurance itself to reinsure its own reinsurance.

The insurance risk is therefore spread around. It is done partly in the market and partly with government. To the extent that government alone takes on the risk, I accept that there is a potential saving to the nuclear operator or a potential risk placed on the taxpayer account.

Is it a subsidy? It does not have to be called a subsidy, but it certainly is government participation in assuming a part of the risk of a nuclear operation and potential liability.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. friend and high school colleague a very important question. We have just had information that the MAPLE reactor, which was going to enable us to diversify our ability to produce radioactive isotopes for medical purposes, is now not going to be opened. In fact, it is going to be closed after many millions of dollars of the taxpayers' money have been used to make sure that this reactor was going to be up and running to take the pressure off our 50-year-old NRU reactor at Chalk River.

What does my hon. colleague think about the fact that the government has decided not to open this reactor at all? Does he believe that the government should forthwith try to enable Canadians to have access to a more diversified supply of radioactive isotopes that can be used for the medical procedures that so many people rely on?

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague and I are high school mates from many years ago.

I would regret it if something the Government of Canada did or did not do would not facilitate the orderly and reasonably market-oriented production of isotopes for health care and other purposes. Canada has been a leader in this field for many years.

That area of industry would not be here if government had not enabled it, facilitated it and got it running in the first place. We have a lot of skills in it. I would regret it if the government feels it is not able to foster increased production, because the population of the world is growing and medical use of isotopes is growing. I would regret that.

I would call upon the government to look at it again. In my view, the government should not have cold feet. I only have to mention the Avro Arrow and I do not have to go into any other adjectives, but this is a field where Canadian leadership has been strong. Our skills are strong. I would really strongly encourage the government to ensure that we continue to be strong and productive in exporting to the world these very valuable isotope commodities.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, many people may not be aware that Canada is the largest producer of uranium. I know that in his province the Speaker knows this very well.

Does my colleague feel this is an opportunity for Canada to do a better job not only of marketing our uranium production but also of marrying that with our fine ability to produce CANDU reactors? Does my colleague feel that the production of CANDU reactors and nuclear power can be one element, just one, in the array of solutions that we have to move us away from greenhouse gas emissions and the burning of fossil fuels from which those come?

I personally feel that in order for us to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming we will require an array of solutions. There is no one magic bullet, but nuclear power certainly has its place, and Canadians have, quite excitingly, an area of excellence in the nuclear field.

Does my colleague feel that the Government of Canada, through the Department of International Trade and the Minister of International Trade, could do a better job of being able to export this capability of our CANDU nuclear reactors and our ability to marry that up with the sale of uranium to reduce the burning of fossil fuels internationally?

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague knows, the marketplace has caught up with Canada's wealth of uranium. That commodity now has been substantially bid up on world markets, to the point where we can hardly recognize the pricing any more, but the same thing has happened with oil, nickel, copper and many other commodities.

Clearly, our wealth in this particular commodity, as well as our world recognized expertise in medical radioactive isotopes, are pluses for this country in the 21st century. These are 21st century jobs.

As the member points out, the challenge of greenhouse gases is a huge one. As a globe, we are looking down the gun barrel at a huge greenhouse gas problem.

Although the nuclear power generation envelope is expensive and complex and carries risks with it, on the question of greenhouse gases it is a no-brainer. Very low greenhouse gas is associated with the whole stream of production of nuclear energy. There are certainly some greenhouse gases, because the uranium has to be mined.

I would just caution the government to take note that in the field of nuclear fission and the production of nuclear energy using uranium, whether it is the Candu system using heavy water or the other systems in use around the world, these ought to be promoted for use responsibly. It is not every country that can take on the challenge of producing energy using uranium, but many countries can and I think many countries should.

Canada has an expertise. It has an export. The same holds--

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I cannot get hon. members to wind up when they will not look at me.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-5, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.

The bill would replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act and would establish a clear regime in the event of a nuclear accident. The bill establishes a compensation and civil liability regime to address damages resulting from radiation in the event of a radioactive release.

I want to speak a little about the nuclear industry, how it relates to the bill and Canadians, and how it relates to our energy consumption and industry.

Before I go into that, I want to speak about Canada being a world leader in uranium, uranium being the substrate utilized in our reactors. Canada, as I said during questions, is the world's leading producer of uranium. We produce 22% of the world's uranium, which is quite exciting for us.

What is very interesting is that the electricity generated from our Canadian uranium worldwide avoids more than 650 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. It is really quite amazing that the utilization of uranium actually reduces that much carbon dioxide, which, as we know, is one of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Uranium is a metal and is found in abundance in certain parts of the world. We are lucky that we have it in our country. It is able to generate very large amounts of energy. We know about the possible costs of nuclear utilization. We know what happened in Chernobyl. Perhaps a little later on I will get to how that disaster happened.

However, nuclear energy does not pollute the air and neither does it produce smog or rain. It does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide. Nuclear energy in Canada avoids the emission of about 90 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.

What does that mean in terms of cars, for example? Essentially it is equivalent of taking 18 million cars or trucks off the road. That is a staggering amount when we apply it to the real world. The amount of uranium we produce through our reactors in our country is the equivalent of taking 18 million cars off the road every single year, which is about 12% of our greenhouse gas emissions. It also reduces by 10% the amount of smog that would be produced if those cars were allowed to continue on our roads.

Much is made of the factor of radiation emissions from nuclear power plants. It is very interesting that a lot of mythology surrounds it, but I think it is wise for us to put it in context. We know there is a natural supply of radiation in the world. Radon is ubiquitous in nature, and the amount of radiation that we receive from travelling in a plane, for example, is quite extraordinary.

Many of us travel by plane to come to work in these hallowed halls. For those of us who travel from the west coast of Canada to Ottawa, we receive, from a one-way flight, the equivalent of 15 to 20 times the amount of radiation a person would receive if he or she lived on the perimeter of a nuclear power plant. On one trip from Vancouver to Toronto, the amount of radiation we pick up during that one flight, and not a return flight, would be 15 to 20 times the amount of radiation we would pick up if we lived on the perimeter of a nuclear power plant for a period of one year. If we were to travel once across the country one-way, it would be the equivalent of living next to a nuclear power plant for 15 to 20 years. It is quite phenomenal.

It is also important to know that in Canada we have quite a good nuclear safety regulation process. We have not had any substantial accidents in our country, unlike others. The big problem most of us have and are concerned about is the disposition of the spent nuclear rods.

These materials are still of danger. They are buried in the Cambrian Shield, for example, deep within the earth's core. It is done quite safely. There are concerns of course as to the transportation of those materials, but we have very good procedures in our country.

The same cannot be said for other parts of the world, and one of the challenges that I think everybody has, and that I might say is receiving short shrift in terms of the ability of our government to address it in its foreign policy perspective, is the loss of fissile material.

We know, for example, that one of the objectives of terrorist groups is to acquire fissile material, not necessarily to build a bomb, but in essence to use what is called a dirty bomb where they actually take the nuclear material, pad C4 or dynamite around it and blow it up. The effect is that this nuclear material is spread in an isolated area, affecting people in the immediate vicinity of the blast zone, and also there are long term effects of being exposed to nuclear material which can be an array of cancers and other health problems.

The challenge therefore is how we can secure that material, and I will give one anecdote. The Russians had backpack nuclear devices, small nuclear devices that were on backpacks, and when asked where these backpacks were, a key general in the Russian army, a very senior general, said, “I do not know”. Russia cannot account for the backpack nukes that they built during the cold war. That has to be very worrisome to most of us.

Therefore, when the government actually gets around to appointing a foreign minister on a permanent basis, one of the goals of the minister should be to work with his or her counterparts in the United States. I know for a fact that Congress is very concerned about lost nukes and lost fissile material from other parts of the world, particularly Russia and Eastern Europe where it is much easier to acquire this material and the controls on this material are more difficult.

I mentioned Chernobyl. Many people like to equate the fact that because Chernobyl occurred, somehow we are going to have a Chernobyl in Canada. What happened in Chernobyl was that the actual workers in the institute were playing a game. They had turned off all the fail-safe mechanisms, turned off all the redundancies to stop an event from occurring to see how high the temperature would go within the reactor core, with catastrophic results.

However, that was a human failure that occurred, not a failure of the system itself. We know that we can always pervert a system if there is enough determination to do that.

The amount of waste that we have within our own reactors is relatively small and the amount is quite well controlled. The benefits, as I mentioned before, in terms of the production of energy and electricity is vast. The benefits to our environment are quite considerable and it is very important to actually be aware of this.

If we are going to be able to meet our greenhouse gas emission targets through Kyoto or beyond Kyoto, then nuclear power will be a part of that. What is also interesting to know is that the cost to actually manufacture power and through the life span of a nuclear reactor, the costs are equivalent to other alternative forms of energy, such as wind, solar and hydro power. That is important to be aware of because those who choose to demonize nuclear power need to be aware of this.

The other aspect of excellence that we have in our country is in the production of nuclear isotopes that are used in the medical field, and I think it is important for us to know that we as a country produce more than 50% of the medical isotopes in the world.

When the situation occurred not so long ago, with the minister making some grave errors at the end of last year in dealing with the nuclear isotope catastrophe that we had and the shutdown of our nuclear reactor in Chalk River, it bespoke of the fact that we lacked a redundancy in the system. As a physician, I frankly did not know that we did not have a redundancy in our system, so in that time of crisis we were trying to get isotopes from places like South Africa, which produces them too.

In the face of this, we had the production of the MAPLE reactor, but we have learned in the last 24 to 48 hours that the MAPLE reactor is now not going to open up.

What this means for Canadian patients and for those doctors who work in the care and in the diagnosis of patients who are ill is that we do not have the redundancy we need in acquiring the isotopes that are absolutely essential for the more than 60,000 procedures that occur every single day in the care of those who are ill in our country.

I would submit to the government that it has to come to the House and tell the House and the Canadian public what it is doing to ensure that we have redundancy in the production of radioactive isotopes in our country. If it does not do that, and if we have another problem with this 50 year old reactor at Chalk River, I might add, then Canadian patients will be left out on a limb.

Few things are more frightening for patients than to have to get these tests but more frightening to them is to be let down at the last minute that they cannot have the tests because they do not have access to these nuclear materials. It is heartbreaking for the patient. It is heartbreaking for the person's caregiver.

We know MDS Nordion supplies over half of the world's isotopes for the diagnostics and treatment of some very serious illnesses including numerous cancers. It is also used in the diagnosis of a number of diseases both malignancies and non-malignancies. We are also a leader in the development of gamma technology that is used for the elimination of food borne pathogens such as E. coli which can cause an array of problems.

I would only submit that it behooves the government to get on this right away. The Minister of Natural Resources must come to the House and tell the House and tell the Canadian public what he is doing to deal with this problem as quickly as possible.

On the energy security issue, I know that we will have to deal with a number of alternate forms of power including tidal power, wind power and hydro power. I want to draw to the attention of the government a really critical problem that is occurring right now in my province of British Columbia. It is going to wipe out the Similkameen Valley.

The Similkameen River that runs through the Similkameen Valley comes from south of the border. The United States has an option to build a high level dam on the river. That is going to back up the water and cause the destruction of the Similkameen Valley, destroy aboriginal lands owned by them, and destroy a park that is in the middle of that territory. In effect, the flooding of this area is going to wipe out the ability of a new park to occur in southern British Columbia.

What we have heard from the government on this is nothing. The people of the Similkameen Valley are deeply concerned about this, yet there are options. There are in fact three options. Option one is a high level dam that will result in the destruction of the valley, the destruction of aboriginal territories, the severing of a potential national park in half, the destruction of critical habitat, and the destruction of a number of species, flora and fauna that are significant and that are endangered and specific to the valley. The second option is to build a mid-level dam. The mid-level dam can be an option because it will not result in flooding. The third option is a low level dam that would be a run of the river dam.

The last two options, the mid-level dam and the small dam, are options that the government can negotiate with the United States to ensure that it has its power needs met, whereas we ensure that the integrity of the Similkameen Valley is going to continue. However, what is not an option is for the government to remain silent and not to bring this up with the U.S. government.

This requires the urgent attention of the Government of Canada. We have heard nothing on this whatsoever. I would like, as a British Columbia member of Parliament, to ask the government to come to the House as quickly as possible to inform the House and the Canadian public what the minister is going to do to address this particular problem.

It is grave, it is critical, and it requires the minister's and the government's utmost urgency, otherwise we are going to have a very big problem in British Columbia. It will be an environmental disaster, it will be a political disaster, and it will be an economic disaster.

The next issue concerns the oil sands. I know many of the members in the government come from the beautiful province of Alberta. The oil sands are in an area of some potential. They are in an area that is fraught with a lot of difficulty and could produce an environmental catastrophe.

The water issue alone is enough to make Albertans deeply concerned about this particular issue. That perhaps is why Alberta is looking toward the development of a nuclear reactor so it can get some of its energy needs from the reactor.

If the tar sands continue to go the way they are going the water security of the people of Alberta will be deeply damaged. Their ability to actually engage in farming and agriculture production that they have done so ably for so long will be compromised, and the beauty and environmental integrity of what I consider one of the most beautiful parts of the world will be damaged. This does not have to happen, but what it requires is a government that is willing to get off its backside and engage the private sector that wants the government to do it, to address the challenges within the tar sands.

If the government does not do that then the development of the tar sands without any consideration whatsoever for the environmental and larger economic concerns of other industries in Alberta will be a catastrophe for the people and province of Alberta as well as the people of Canada and for the world. The environmental damage that would be inflicted on the world and our country by that particular project would be so profound that it would damage the ability for us to get a hold of our greenhouse gas emissions in the future for a very long time to come.

This is not a given but it does require leadership and it does require the government working with the private sector. I want to emphasize that the oil producers in Alberta are smart people. They know the problems that they face and they would like to work with the government to resolve those problems. The people of Alberta know that and they want this to happen, too, but what they have received from some of their elected officials and from the government is dead silence. That is not an option.

Lastly, I want to address two other options. One is the issue of tidal power. Our country actually, interestingly enough, is a leader in this field. Many of the phenomenal scientists who have been involved in tidal power have actually exported their talents to other parts of the world such as Great Britain. Great Britain has overcome some of the initial scientific problems and obstructions that existed with tidal power. There were rusting problems, problems in terms of tidal movements being translated into the energy that is produced and also some security and consistency in the way that it is done. But those interestingly enough have actually been overcome, overcome I might add by Canadian scientists.

Now, our job is to bring those scientists and technologies back to Canada and to utilize tidal power. My riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is on Vancouver Island. When I am back home on the island, all I see is potential energy that is going to waste and I ask myself, would it not be remarkable if we were able to harness the energy and utilize it, particularly in coastal areas?

It would be clean without any production of greenhouse gases. This could be one of the major exports that we could have, one of the things we could use within our own country to reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuels, but also it could be a phenomenal export potential for our country because many of the people of the world actually live in coastal areas.

One can imagine the potential that exists if we were able to capitalize and become world leaders in the area of tidal power. We are doing some of that in fact in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. We have an area near Race Rocks but that kind of superb cutting edge science and research needs the attention of the federal government to ensure that we are able to maximize that potential, and utilize and export it to other countries.

The Liberal Party will be conditionally supporting the bill as it moves forward. Our critics will keep an eagle eye on it to make sure that it meets our demands in the interests of Canadians. If it continues to be a good bill, and answers our questions and those of our citizens, then we will support it through to the end.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Catherine Bell NDP Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca talked quite a bit about the Alberta tar sands and how much greenhouse gases were being produced by the production there. He also mentioned how this was having a devastating impact on our climate and our greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the things we know is that the National Energy Board recently approved two more pipelines, the Alberta Clipper and the Southern Lights pipelines, that will take raw bitumen directly to refineries in the U.S.

Does the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca think that is a good idea for Canada? Once those pipelines are built they will increase production of the tar sands probably 10 or 20-fold, which will have an even more devastating impact on the climate.

The other thing we know is that the production there is having a serious effect on the climate and the water. We know that first nations in that area are very concerned about their health. Strange cancers are showing up in the first nations of that area and it is having a devastating impact on their communities. It is also the issue of jobs and the environment that are at risk.

I am curious to know if the member thinks that we should continue to increase production in the tar sands to this extent.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think this is an either/or situation. I think we have an option.

As I said in my speech, the unrestrained development of the tar sands does not suit the people of Alberta, the people of Canada nor the world on a number of levels, not only from an environmental perspective, such as the release of greenhouse gas emissions, damage to water supplies, pollution of water supplies and the diminution of water supplies, but it also releases cancer causing and teratogenic materials that are having an effect on people who live in the area.

What we need to do is ensure that if the tar sands go forward we address those concerns. We need to look at ways to pursue carbon dioxide sequestration. We need look at ways to ensure that carcinogenic and teratogenic materials that are produced as byproducts of the industrial production of the tar sands will not be released. We also need to ensure that the health and safety concerns of not only the people who live in the region but also the workers are addressed.

An exciting thing about it is that we do have options. An exciting thing is that the private sector, the companies that are involved in this, want the federal government to work with them. The people of Alberta want the federal government to work with them. What I think is so heartbreaking for the people of Alberta is that they are not seeing the leadership within their own province that would enable them to do that.

Albertans have a Prime Minister from their province but he has a tin ear to this particular issue. That is utterly irresponsible.

There are solutions and perhaps we can join with the member to implore the government and the Prime Minister to get on with it and deal with this issue because time is running out.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, last night we listened to four or five hours of overblown rhetoric by the Minister of Finance, apparently exercised about a carbon tax. He seemed to know more about the Liberal plan for greenhouse gas emissions than any other Liberal in the chamber, neglecting, of course, the fact that he already imposes a carbon tax of 10¢ a litre on every litre of gas that the people of Canada buy.

The inconsistencies of the finance minister were made obvious after about four hours when he did not realize that his own finance department had already priced carbon at $65 a tonne. Even he, however, admitted, after about four hours of rhetoric, that carbon had to be priced.

Regardless of the finance minister's reluctance to deal with reality, I would ask the hon. member whether he sees a role for nuclear in the whole exercise of trying to come to grips with the pricing of carbon and the issue of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not tell the public that the member's private member's bill on poverty reduction just received royal assent. That was a cooperative effort on both sides of the House, but the member was the lead because it is his bill and he deserves a lot of credit for completing that extraordinary effort.

One of the things I find really sad is how science and fact do not guide public policy very often. Canada has world-class scientists with extraordinary minds and I believe we need to tap into their ideas and solutions. I believe our role as members of Parliament is to tap into those great minds and study their ideas for the benefit of the public we serve. Extraordinary people living in our country have amazing ideas that should be brought to life, if even on a pilot project, that could benefit Canadians in many ways. I would implore the government to do a better job of utilizing our scientists.

It was a sad thing when the government closed the office of the science advisor and let Dr. Carty go. Why on earth would the government close the office of the science advisor to the Prime Minister, one of the stellar scientists in our country? It is unfathomable to me but the Prime Minister chose in his wisdom to do that.

Nuclear power can be a very potent tool. It is one of an array of non-greenhouse gas emitting tools that allows us to meet our energy needs, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve our environment and reduce our smog factor. It also affects the price of carbon. If we are going to be using carbon credits, the utilization of nuclear power, as with hydro, tidal and wind power, would enable us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, acquire a lot of carbon credits and keep the price of carbon down.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's speech. He is not on the natural resources committee but his interest is keen and his base of knowledge is obviously very extensive.

I would like to ask him about solar energy. He talked about tidal power and unused or underutilized energy sources. Gleusdorf, Austria, with a population of 35,000, has as much installed solar energy capacity as all of Canada with our 33 million people.

I would like to ask the member if he shares my disappointment that to date the Conservative government has not yet seen fit to even incrementally wean us off our reliance on oil and gas and move toward renewables like solar, wind and tidal?

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has been a leader on this issue, not only for his constituents but here in the House. I thank him for mentioning one area that I was remiss in not mentioning and that is the issue of solar power.

The member is absolutely right. We did a lot of things to enable people to acquire other alternative options in terms of energy. He is absolutely right in terms of the use of solar. A very large chunk of Japan's energy source comes from solar. It is interesting to note that in Germany and in Japan they are constructing buildings that use 70% less energy than the equivalent buildings that we build in North America.

There are a lot of options and ideas out there. We just need to get on with it and employ those ideas for our country and our citizens.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, once again I rise to speak to Bill C-5, the nuclear liability act. It is an act that has been rattling around the House of Commons for the better part of a year and, in that year, our position has not really altered all that much on the bill.

Yes, we recognize the need to increase the liability limits for nuclear power, very much so. We know that the liability limit that was in place before is simply not enough. However, the $650 million is a number that we have not been able to accept as a limit to the liability within the system and we have talked about that to a great degree.

I will not get into that right now because it is only part of the bill. We put forward many amendments on numerous other subjects, which I will get into as I go along, but they show that this bill, in reality, limits liability in more than one way. It limits liability and continues a Canadian practice of ignoring the impacts of nuclear accidents in the country, the impacts on workers in the uranium mining industry over many years and the impacts on our soldiers when they were put in harm's way in the face of nuclear explosions in the 1950s and 1960s.

There has been a consistent pattern over many years of downplaying the impacts of nuclear problems in the country. At the same time, contrary to what many of my colleagues have said, the nuclear industry is one that has never really made its way. In the half century that it has been a big part of the energy system in Canada, it has relied consistently on subsidies from government. It is an industry that has been plagued with overruns. We see this once again with the cancellation of the MAPLE reactor, a simple, small nuclear reactor going in place way over budget, to the point where we have now given up on it.

In the nuclear industry we have in place right now, we are looking at massive retrofits to existing plants at huge costs that are continuing to escalate as we move along. When we think of the nuclear industry, we are not thinking of an industry that has a great track record of performance in providing cheap energy for people across this country, and that is a reality. Therefore, when we talk about setting up a nuclear liability act to put things on a level playing field, we should take that seriously and we should look at how we are doing it.

At the same time, we should look at our record of dealing with people who have been exposed to nuclear radiation in this country in the past and ask if we are doing enough in this bill to protect them. To that end, I will go through some of the amendments that we proposed within the bill, taking away from the liability amount and speaking to some other items.

We proposed a number of amendments, such as to clause 24 which talks about alternate financial security that companies can put up in place of insurance under this bill. Up to 50% can be provided in alternative financial security. Once again, it is in the hands of the minister to deem correct the conditions by which the security is put up. Therefore, the minister has a great deal of latitude to choose what the financial security is for the nuclear plant. It does not all have to be insurance. Fifty per cent can be alternative security.

What is wrong with that? If there is an accident, the victims need to wait for the liquidation of the financial security in order to get compensation. The government, which puts up 20% of the funds for compensation, is on the hook at the very beginning with the money that it puts forward to the people who are seeking compensation out of the system.

We have problems with that because it clearly takes away from the notion that we would get away from government supporting the industry and the industry would stand on its own two feet through the insurance companies.

Then we could go to subclause 30(1), which states:

An action or claim must be brought

(a) in the case of an action or a claim for loss of life,

(i) within three years after the day on which the person died...

It does not talk about the survivors. The wage earner dies in an industrial accident at a nuclear site and the survivors have three years to effect that claim. Is that fair to the survivors? Perhaps the industrial worker simply gets cancer 10 years after exposure to the accident in the plant and dies. Does that mean his survivors do not get compensation?

Subclause 30(2) states:

No action or claim may be brought

(a) in relation to bodily injury, after 30 years from the day on which occurred the nuclear incident to which the action or claim relates...

Thirty years is not enough. We see that with the soldiers who were exposed to the nuclear weapons in the fifties. They are coming back now today with claims, long after 30 years, because it has shown up in their system. Once again, this is limiting the liability and it is limiting the ability for compensation to be paid.

In any other case, it is after 10 years from the day on which the nuclear accident occurred. If it is not bodily injury, if it is contamination of a site, if it is the fact that someone uses contaminated material from a site to perhaps build another site somewhere, or to use it in the building of residences, which has been a very common occurrence right across the country, and I can point to Uranium City where that happened, the liability and the ability to be compensated for mistakes that have been made is gone after 10 years. Once again, it is the limitations.

Then we could go to clause 32. A person who started off suing the operator, but after a certain period of time had not seen action, would have to start all over again. People who are suffering from things which are very difficult to determine or may take years to determine, such as cancer or radiation sickness, will have great difficulty going through multiple processes to get fair compensation.

This clause would allow a nuclear operator to delay having to pay compensation by throwing legal roadblocks in place. Wait long enough and working Canadians will suffer and compensation for the people who look for it will be unavailable.

Once again, the bill creates a situation where the claimants are at a greater risk than the company.

Clause 34 states that the maximum amount paid may not exceed 20% of the difference between the totals set out and total amounts paid by the operators. Therefore, interim compensation for people who are previously ill can only amount perhaps to 20% of what they require to cover their compensated loss. Once again, this speaks to favouring the company over the people who may be involved in the claims.

We also had a lot of trouble with clause 47. The tribunal, which has been set up to review these things, may refuse to hear any claim referred to it if it considers them to be frivolous or vexatious. This is patently unfair under the rules of our courts. Federal courts can only reject an action if a person has persistently instituted vexatious proceedings or has conducted a proceeding in a vexatious manner and only with the consent of the Attorney General of Canada. A tribunal will simply be able to say to a victim looking for compensation that the claim is vexatious, that it does not have deal with it. Where is this serving Canadians when it comes to establishing compensation?

Once again, this is the part of the bill with which we have a great deal of difficulty. I guess my colleagues in the other parties seem to be quite comfortable with it.

Subsection 50(2) states:

The Tribunal may, in order to process claims expeditiously, establish classes of claims that may be determined by a claims officer without an oral hearing and designate as a claims officer anyone it considers qualified.

A claims officers circumvents accountability, creating an easy opportunity for the system to be corrupted. A claims officer is used when small amounts are contemplated. When a tribunal is created, it means the damage from a nuclear incident is massive on a scale that we could tie with Three Mile Island, or Windscale or something of that nature. Therefore, where does this sit for claims officers?

Subclause 63(1) states:

If a regulation made under paragraph 68(b) respecting pro rata payments or establishing maximum limits is amended, the Tribunal shall inform the Minister of any change to applicable reductions that is to the advantage of any claimant who was not fully compensated in accordance with the previous regulation.

These are simply weasel words. This is something that we could not support because it opens up too many opportunities for the situation to be misused.

Clause 65 talks about the fines that could be levied on somebody who did not achieve the proper liability insurance. Subclause 65(2) states:

No operator is to be found guilty of the offence if it is established that the operator exercised due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.

In other words, if somebody tried to get insurance and did not get it, that would be okay. If a company were unable to get insurance, if the previous insurance company, which had agreed to the risks, determined those risks were getting greater and chose not to reinsure with that company, it would be okay because it had tried.

That is not the kind of legislation we like to see. We want companies to have insurance, no exceptions. If they want to run their plant, they need to have all the paperwork in place. What is wrong with that, in a Canadian context?

I see we are pretty well finished now, so I will leave the rest for later. I am sure the debate will continue.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. member for Western Arctic. When we return to the study of Bill C-5, there will be seven minutes left for the hon. member.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Pursuant to Standing Order 45(7), there is an agreement among the whips of the recognized parties to further defer the recorded division on concurrence in the third report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 3.

Nuclear Liability Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 12 consideration of Bill C-377, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on Bill C-377, An Act to ensure Canada assumes its responsibilities in preventing dangerous climate change. It is bill brought forward by the leader of the NDP, as a private member's bill. I congratulate the leader for his work and thank him for his continuing contribution to the debate about carbon pricing.

I especially want to thank him for keeping an open mind. I know he came out strongly against the notion of a carbon tax shift at first, but yesterday he came some way back in recognizing that a carbon tax shift would be considered an invaluable tool as we took on the challenge of bringing greenhouse gas emissions back down our country.

Why is a bill like this even necessary? We looked at some questions just last night in the committee of the whole that were directly related to this issue.

I asked the Minister of Finance directly, as did my colleague, the hon. member for Mississauga—Erindale, about the effects of energy prices on the forthcoming government cap and trade plan, its regulatory plan due for October. The minister appeared confused by the question, as he did for that matter for much of the evening. He could not give us an indication that he even knew he had a cap and trade plan. He did not know it would cost Canadians more at the pumps, more for natural gas, more for home heating and more every time they made a purchase, but this is indisputable.

Let me quote directly from the government's “Turning the Corner” plan. At page 14 of the so-called detailed report of the government, which let me assure Canadians is no detail, it says, “Our modelling suggests that Canadians can expect to bear real costs” under the government's plan. It goes on to say, “these costs will be most evident in the form of higher energy prices, particularly with respect to electricity and natural gas”. I am not saying that. That is the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Finance and the government in their plan.

Here is the real irony. Today we had the Prime Minister in London flogging his plan in Europe. Last night the finance minister could not even answer basic questions about the design of the cap and trade system, for which he is responsible, about the economic analysis that underpins the price of carbon, for which he is responsible. Yet the Prime Minister is out vaunting to the world, in Europe, in London, Rome and Paris, that he has a plan that will take Canada so far in the future. It is quite remarkable. The minister could not even tell us the price of carbon today, much less what he anticipates it to be in the fall.

How can we have 2008-09 budget estimates and projections if the minister does not know what the price of carbon will be and what the distributive effects will be on energy prices in the Canadian economy? The minister could not answer that question. He was not asked once, not twice but four times by two separate members of Parliament.

We have the minister so busy pursuing the politics of fear, racing down around carbon pricing, that he has not bothered to do even his own homework about the plan for which he is responsible for delivering in six short months from now. He even had more difficulty explaining his ecotrust scheme. This is really rich. It is $1.5 billion put into a trust with no strings, no conditions, no verification and no accountability at all.

When we were in government, there was the partnership fund. Under ecotrust, there is no agreement with the provinces. There is no verification. I asked if he could tell how he expected the $1.5 billion to reduce a single tonne of greenhouse gases. Not only was he flustered, he did not even know what I was talking about. He is administering the $1.5 billion fund, not his colleague, the Minister of the Environment. It is really unbelievable that we are trying to reconcile all of this and the Minister of Finance simply does not know what he is doing.

Let us turn back to the provisions of Bill C-377 and the amendments.

Motion No. 1 is simple. It identifies the GHGs we are talking about, as listed in the list of toxins under CEPA. Listing these greenhouse gases was a Liberal government achievement in the last Parliament. Other amendments deal with the roles of the round table on the environment economy and the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development.

I continue to manifest grave concern about the government's unilateral decision to change the reporting structure of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy out of the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's office and seriously weakening its reach and impact by putting it under the Minister of the Environment, particularly the current Minister of the Environment, but certainly the Department of the Environment.

I hesitate to support the mandate that is being called for by the leader of the NDP in his bill because the round table has been so seriously weakened. How did the Conservatives do this? They did it by subterfuge. They did it with the stroke of a pen. They cut the legs out from underneath the agency. The government does not even understand what Brian Mulroney understood when he set up the agency to report directly to his office.

It is about PMO control. It speaks volumes about the fact that the Conservatives really want to control the Ministry of the Environment. They want to weaken what happens with civil society actors who come together in a place like the national round table. What really happens is that the advice gets buried and marginalized.

It is very interesting, because last night we also asked the Minister of Finance to explain to us just what is happening with the cap and trade system that he is talking about and how, for example, it might connect with other trading systems. Wow. That was really quite remarkable, because the government has no idea how its own cap and trade system will affect energy prices. It has prepared nothing in this fiscal year for the distributive economic effects, increases in costs for home heating fuel, natural gas, oil, and increases in gas prices at the pump. Let the Conservatives stand and deny it.

On the one hand the Minister of the Environment says, “We are in favour of pricing carbon”. On the other hand the Minister of Finance says, “I do not know what you are talking about. I cannot even tell you what the price of carbon will be. I have no idea what the price of carbon is today in the marketplace”.

It is unbelievable that we are four months away from the Conservatives' so-called cap and trade plan, but it is worse again, because they do not know how it will connect with the emerging provincial regimes. Whether they are carbon taxes in B.C. or whether they are trading systems in Quebec, they do not know. This is worse, because they do not even know how their national cap and trade program will connect to the international cap and trade program coming from Europe and elsewhere for those countries that were still signatories to Kyoto, Canada having abandoned it.

Yet again, there is no evidence from the government that it knows what it is doing on cap and trade when it comes to an emerging potential American system under a president McCain, or a president Obama, or a president Clinton.

It is really quite remarkable that the Conservatives do not know what they are doing; the left hand, the right hand. The irony cannot be lost on Canadians as the Prime Minister is over in London giving a grandiose speech about his climate change vision for Canada, and the plan, which nine independent groups in Canada, including such left leaning institutions as the C. D. Howe Institute, Deutsche Bank, CIBC World Markets and others have looked at and said, “It is not believable. There is no analysis. They will never achieve the greenhouse gas cuts they claim they will achieve”.

How can they, when the Minister of Finance does not even know what the price of carbon will be in four months when he is going to set up the economics of a trading regime for this country? It is unbelievable for Canadians when they see that kind of incompetence, in fact, negligence. The minister was scrambling, looking for documents, turning to the deputy minister and the ADMs, who apparently knew even less. Yet we are four months away from the government claiming it is announcing a major regulatory system.

Worse, the politics of fear compels the government to try to deliberately mislead Canadians about the fact that when it brings out its plan, it will have a massive impact on energy costs: “Do not tell the people this. No, do not tip your hat. We are the tax fighters”, the Conservatives say, “We are the tax cutters”.

There is no surprise there again, because we now have in government the arrival of the Harris quintuplets: the prospective chief of staff to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of the Environment, and now the House leader; the five man wrecking crew who just about ruined the province of Ontario, leaving it with a $28 billion increase in provincial debt and a $5.6 billion deficit.

Canadians should be very concerned indeed about the fact that the government does not have a climate change plan.

Climate Change Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-377, which relates to climate change. As you know, my party, the Bloc Québécois, has been one of the strongest proponents of the Kyoto protocol since it was signed in 1997. It is the only party that has consistently called on the federal government to come up with a plan that meets the climate change targets.

I come from a region of wide open spaces, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, where the environmental problems of air pollution are less visible than smog is in a densely populated city. However, I wanted to take part in this debate, because environmental problems are not always visible in our everyday lives, even though they have serious consequences.

The specific consequences of global warming are becoming increasingly tangible, and we must take urgent action before we reach the point of no return. Every day brings more information about the serious long-term risks and the implications for future generations. People in my riding, Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, and throughout Quebec and Canada are concerned about the effects of global warming.

The long-term implications are so obvious that paragraph 5(a) of the bill sets out a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level 80% below the 1990 level. This reduction of greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity in Quebec and Canada would have to be made by 2050. By 2020, one quarter of emissions would have to be literally eliminated.

These targets, which were included in Bill C-377 in accordance with the opinion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, finally give weight to Canada's commitment. The government, which in recent years has unfortunately abandoned its role as an environmental leader, will be able to restore its image.

This bill also proposes that a report be made to the House of Commons on progress in the fight against climate change. Bill C-377 provides for five-year interim plans and annual reports. These requirements, set out in clauses 6 and 10, create accountability for targets and results. Moreover, they provide a way of clearly informing the public about developments.

That is the way to make a serious plan for public policy implementation. Neither the previous government nor the current one had these elements in place to bring in concrete actions in response to the commitments made. When we sign a protocol, we must honour our word.

The government must learn from its mistakes in failing to adhere to phase I of the Kyoto protocol. The two target-oriented measures make this bill a credible plan. The Bloc Québécois has supported the member for Toronto—Danforth's initiative since first reading. Now, following debates in committee and the resulting proposed amendments, we support Bill C-377.

It goes without saying that the Bloc Québécois played a positive, active role in the committee in order to improve certain provisions in the bill. The main issues were the measurements and the application of the plan. I shall explain.

The concept of equity is integral to the Kyoto protocol: equity between developing and industrialized countries, as well as equity between Quebec and the other provinces.

In the past, Quebeckers invested in hydroelectric resources and the results of that are clear: lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Here is an example that speaks volumes: my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, is a major aluminum producer. Aluminum is a primary metal, and the industry is an economic engine that has undergone restructuring several times in the past 20 years. Companies have invested a lot in research and development. They doubled their aluminum production between 1990 and 2005: 1.3 million tonnes in 1990 and twice that in 2005. One might think that emissions doubled as well. But they did not. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 500,000 tonnes. As a result, in 2006, emissions were 15% lower.

Aluminum producers in Quebec did not stop there. In June 2007, together with the Government of Quebec, they committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 150,000 tonnes between 2008 and 2011.

The Bloc Québécois has consistently asked that a territorial approach be included in any plan to address global warming. This has been an important objective for the Bloc Québécois and it is now included the amendments proposed in clause 7:

—each province may take any measure that it considers appropriate to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Thus, every effort will be based on specific targets with the objective of:

—limiting the amount of greenhouse gases that may be released in each province by applying to each province the commitment made under section 5 and the interim Canadian greenhouse gas emission targets referred to in section 6—

In short, each province will be able to enforce measures appropriate to its industries. We believe that all the amendments fit perfectly into the spirit of Bill C-377 while also taking the international context into account. It will be possible to adjust targets, based on future negotiations carried out in the context of the United Nations convention on climate change.

The Bloc Québécois' position has always been clear: rather than continuing its efforts to undermine the Kyoto protocol, the Conservative government must take immediate political action—and this is the only responsible action—and adopt a plan with specific targets.

Quebec is already on board with the Kyoto protocol and has implemented measures. The Quebec government's plan has been commended repeatedly around the globe. Of course, there is still room for improvement, but Quebeckers should not have to pay the price for the Conservative government's ideologies.

In closing, I would remind the House that this issue goes beyond partisan politics. It is of great concern to the citizens of my riding and my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, and is bringing them together. It is gathering support from people of all ages, since it will be at the very heart of the lives of future generations.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-377 in principle and it will be our pleasure to support it.