Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to hear that I have only 10 minutes. I was led to believe that I was going to speak for 20 minutes. I do not know if I can raise all the issues that I really wanted to raise in 10 minutes, but I will do my best. If we allow each other just a little leeway, we can probably get through this in a very healthy fashion.
It is very important to talk about this issue of liability. I have some background on the issue of liability in terms of megaprojects. I will speak to that in a moment.
The issue here is that we have to address the problem we are dealing with, which is of course whether we need to move toward a much larger nuclear strategy, along with the mega tar sands development. It is the problem of how to address energy. Once we start to address a megaproject, we of course have to deal with the liability. We have to look at what is driving this.
We get this strange schizophrenic response from the government party all the time. It tells us that we always oppose things that it brings forward. We normally do, because it seems to be a party, as G.K. Chesterton said, that is completely blinded by “the horrible mysticism of money” and pays no attention to community or the values of a balanced approach.
The government accuses us of opposing, but when we propose alternatives, it says we are speaking about things that are irrelevant. We are somehow boxed in. If we try to actually propose things and engage the government members in a dialogue, they often get upset and leave, or they try to raise points of order. So I will stay very focused.
Of course, as we know, the issue of liability with the nuclear industry is that the present liability is woefully inadequate. This is probably the one point that we will agree on with the government. We have a real problem with low liability in this country.
Where we begin to diverge almost immediately is that if the government is going to move toward the privatization of nukes, we know it needs to have some very large industrial partners that will step into the breach and assume this mercantile approach to nuclear energy.
The problem being faced is that there is a very low liability, so what the government does is peg a new standard for liability. What is that standard? It is the minimum norm of the international average, which is $650 million. If we agree with this new norm, we suddenly would be in a position whereby U.S. investors would now start to take interest in privatized Canadian nukes, whereas before they would not because of their own liability problems and their inability to protect victims from lawsuits.
We have already begun to diverge from the Conservative track. The Conservatives are obviously interested in privatizing nukes. They are obviously interested in opening that door as quickly as possible. They need to be seen raising the liability issue just so they can actually get credibility with investors.
Yet from the democratic point of view, we are looking at how we ensure that a development is sustainable and how we ensure that development actually protects the interests of Canadian communities, Canadian individuals and the Canadian environment.
We look at the $650 million liability and the record of industrial nuclear accidents across the world and we recognize that $650 million is a pittance if something goes wrong. We look to other jurisdictions that actually have set serious standards for liability. In Germany, there is unlimited liability. In Japan, there is unlimited liability. The U.S. has a limit of $9.7 billion. That is a heck of a lot more than the $650 million being offered by our government.
Once again we see the government diving to the basement in terms of standards that would protect communities and then telling the investors not to worry. Do not worry, says the government to them, if something goes wrong, if someone pours a coke down the front of the machine and the whole thing goes ballistic, guess who will be on the hook for it? It will not be the plant, the investors or the corporation. It will be the Canadian public who will pick up the tab.
Of course that is a win-win if one lives in the world that these gentlemen--and some women--live in, which is the world of being there to privatize and support the complete interests of the big energy interests, whether it is the Athabasca tar sands or the nukes.
We are looking at pathetic minimal standards. We are also seeing that this is a very lax and very loosey-goosey bill. It would allow the government and the industry to get through the approvals process like a groupie with a backstage pass.
The New Democrats tried to bring forward a few clear amendments that would actually begin to address this imbalance. We brought forward 35 amendments to try to bring about balance. That is our job as opposition members. It is not our job to be toadies to the Conservative Party. Our job is to bring balance to a very unbalanced government approach, so we brought forward 35 amendments.
We wanted to work with the government and say that if there are going to be nukes, let us look at liability and let us look at how we can ensure that the public is protected. Of course the Conservatives were not interested in balance. They were looking at opening the door to the massive expansion of the nukes.
Of course, as has been suggested here and by many people in the media, this is an agenda that is really driven by the fact that whatever the Athabasca tar sands development needs, the Athabasca tar sands development will get. Therefore, we have a government that will suddenly bring in a bill on limiting the liability of the nukes so they can be privatized and we can move forward in that direction.
This is the problem we are dealing with: an unbalanced approach by the government. What is driving it, of course, is the fact that the Conservative Party has presented itself to the Canadian public as a front for big energy projects at any costs, without any scrutiny, for whatever there needs to be, whether it wants to dump the waste in a lake or approve massive expansions of projects that increase massive amounts of greenhouse gas without proper scrutiny.
Then, of course, we are expected to sign off on nuclear liability that does not have any of the real clear provisions that will protect the public.
We have the problem and we have what is driving it, but the real issue, as I have said, is that if we are going to oppose, we have to propose. The issue the New Democrats are very concerned about is the billions and billions of dollars that are spent on nukes. We consistently have seen massive overruns time and time again.
There has never been a nuclear project that has come in at even close to costs. Billions have been spent in Ontario, and now billions are going to be spent in Ontario under Dalton McGuinty's government, and that money would actually be better spent in limiting the energy environmental footprint from one massive project to many smaller projects.
My colleague had begun to speak about this earlier. He spoke about the need for retrofitting and for looking at alternatives. In the region I live in, we have mine shafts in the centre of town that go down 8,000 feet. This is a perfect climate. Any community that has had coal mining or hardrock mining is a perfect climate for creating geothermal energy. Geothermal is sustainable. It does not rely on the nuclear industry. This is the proposition that we are trying to raise and it is perfectly in line with this.
However, I want to get back to the issue of liability because it is very important. We had a megaproject boondoggle in the Abitibi-Temiskaming region in Ontario. It was the Adams Mine dump. It was created as this wonderful gift for investors, whereby the largest dump in North America would created using an abandoned iron ore mine on the heights of land above the farm belt of Temiskaming. Millions of tonnes of garbage would be dumped in there even though 350 million litres of groundwater flowed through every year and the risk of contamination was over a 2,000 year lifespan.
However, the reason this crazy crackpot scheme was allowed to get to first base was of course that it was under the government of Mike Harris. Many of his cronies are here now in the House. The other thing was that the government limited the environmental assessment. It refused to let the public have full disclosure, but two things eventually killed the project.
One was massive public protest by farmers, forestry workers and first nations people. I am very glad to say that I was one of those people involved in that, but when it came to city council, written in the very fine print of the contract, which was not supposed to be made public, was the issue of liability. Who was on the hook if something went wrong?
It was actually the New Democratic members of the Toronto city council who stood up and said, “Wait a minute”. They said it was the consumer who would be on the hook, the taxpayer. Then that whole chimera, the whole deck of cards, came tumbling down, and the mega boondoggle fell apart. Once the members of the public knew that they and the City of Toronto were on the hook for the unlimited liability if something went wrong, nobody wanted to touch it, and not an investor in North America or the world would pick up the project.
The issue of who is on the hook for the liability is always crucial. If we actually went to the kinds of liability provisions that are needed with any nuclear project, not one private investor in the world would be loony enough to get involved in such a project.
The NDP remains absolutely opposed to this bill. We remain absolutely appalled that the government is not interested in dealing with the amendments necessary to protect the public interest. We remain very vigilant against attempts by the government to fast track any privatization of the nuclear industry that limits liability.