Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-5. I spoke in the debate at second reading and now I have the opportunity to speak at report stage.
Fundamentally, the bill is an administrative one. It does a lot of housecleaning on the Nuclear Liability Act. The last time that was done was over two decades ago. There has been a need for reforms, upgrades and updates. For several years the Department of Natural Resources did extensive work in preparing the bill and Bill C-5 was the outcome. We had the opportunity in committee to conduct a comprehensive study on the bill.
First, I will outline what the bill does. Initially it raises from $75 million to $650 million the limit of liability that any nuclear operator has to carry in case of an unlikely accident. Initially it was $75 million, a very small figure. Obviously there was a need to raise that amount and this bill raises it to $650 million. It also tightens up the definitions of liability and all associated legal terms that come with that liability.
The bill establishes clear criteria for operators to hold financial instruments or security to ensure that liability. Any operator must carry some type of financial security to ensure that the operator is viable and is able to comply with that liability. As well, the bill offers some flexibility on what type of financial instrument the operator can carry.
The minister is required to review the limit every five years. The bill allows for the liability to be increased through regulations; it is no longer required through legislation. Also, the minister has to review it every five years and perhaps amend it.
The bill establishes a nuclear claims tribunal, which did not exist before. If there is a claim and there is a dispute, rather than settling it through the courts, an independent quasi-judicial tribunal will be able to adjudicate on those things.
The bill does a lot of excellent housecleaning work. It establishes criteria, tightens up definitions and expands on certain areas. It is the product of a lot of work and consultation.
The natural resources committee has done a great job in talking to all stakeholders and experts about the bill, its ramifications and its implications. We heard from nuclear operators, from insurers, host communities and municipalities that have nuclear power plants in their vicinities. We heard from experts, from NGOs. We heard from organizations that are anti-nuclear.
We had an opportunity to ask questions. As committee members we had an opportunity to engage with the experts and stakeholders. We had some amendments. Eventually we kept the bill as it stands.
There was an issue whether $650 million was the right limit. There are other countries that have greater limits and there are other countries that have equivalent or smaller limits. The question is a legitimate one, not that other questions are not legitimate, but that question is the one we struggled with the most. What should the right limit be? Given that the royal recommendation of the bill set that figure as part of the core substance of the bill, it was very difficult logistically and procedurally to even contemplate an addition.
We are hoping that over the next few years the minister will look at this bill, conduct further studies, and consult with more groups. But, realistically speaking, the new figure of $650 million seems reasonable and in parallel with a lot of the international standards, the Europe standards, and those of many countries around the world. It is a big jump from $75 million, which is the current figure, and the bill is hoping to make it $650 million.
The committee, to its credit, did a great job examining all the evidence. The bill actually passed in committee last December. Therefore, the question I have now is: Why did it take the minister six months to bring this bill back?
Many nuclear operators and groups have been waiting for this bill because they need stability in the industry but the minister has chosen to wait for six months. Once the bill is passed at report stage, we want to pressure the minister to bring it back as quickly as possible. Operators are waiting for this bill to become law. It is essential for their business and the future of this industry.
There are a lot of remaining questions about the Conservative government's ability to manage the nuclear industry and their vision of the role of nuclear in the future energy mix of our country. We saw how the Conservatives bungled the situation with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. We saw how they took unprecedented action by firing a quasi-judicial, independent nuclear commissioner just for doing her job.
The Auditor General's report criticized the government's handling of AECL, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. We heard from AECL about its need for finance support and some direction about the future. We know now Ontario is looking to buy a nuclear reactor and AECL is in the bid for that proposal. The problem is that Ontario needs to know what the Conservatives' plans are with AECL. They have yet to tell us about their plans. We know they hired a consultant in February. We have yet to hear what the mandate of that consultant is, when to expect a report or anything about their vision.
We also know that they promised to conduct a review of the fiasco that happened in Chalk River. We have yet to hear anything from that examination. Canadians are really uneasy about how the Conservative government has been handling and managing the nuclear file. We all know that nuclear has a bright future.