Madam Speaker, on March 2, I asked the Minister of Natural Resources whether the government had a plan to ensure a secure supply of medical radioisotopes. This was in the wake of another report coming out of the Chalk River Nuclear Facility, saying that there would be another medical radioisotope shortage. This report came just after the minister had assured the House that Canada's supply of medical radioisotopes was secure.
It is clear that the government has failed to act upon the recommendations of the lessons learned panel to ensure that there is a plan to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Instead, since the beginning of the Chalk River fiasco, the government has sought to cover up its own incompetence. It has interfered with the work of the independent tribunal, which was seeking to get to the bottom of the issue and make recommendations on how to prevent a similar crisis in the future, to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to invest in the research necessary for a truly made in Canada solution.
Unfortunately the world has lost confidence in Canada's supply. Other countries are now making plans for their other sources. We clearly have no plan.
The dichotomy between the government and the Obama administration is striking. While President Obama has guaranteed scientific integrity in federal policy-making and made huge investments to science and technology research as a part of the stimulus package, the Conservative government picks its scientific advisers on the basis of ideology rather than evidence, fails to fund innovation and threatens our competitive advantage in the field of cutting edge research.
Rather than examining how lax regulatory regimes lead to a crisis, as we have seen in the debates regarding the banking sector south of the border, the government prefers to dismantle the regulations intended to protect Canadians. Rather than offering whistleblower protection to employees who expose the misuse or suppression of scientific information, the government has threatened the reputation and integrity of scientists and regulators who are simply doing their jobs in seeking to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
As President Obama stated earlier this month, medical miracles do not happen simply by accident. Rather they result from years of painstaking and costly research, from years of lonely trial and error and from a government willing to support its work. By the same token, medical fiascos do not happen by accident either. They result from governments that refuse to support research, refuse to create contingency plans to prepare for and prevent crisis and governments that do not see a role for science, innovation and research in federal policy-making. Therefore, there is no plan for a long-term Canadian innovation solution.
I draw to the attention of the government an article in the Ottawa Citizen, on November 17, 2008, by Margaret Munro, which said:
Scientists believe they have hit on a “uniquely Canadian solution” to the world's medical isotope woes.
They say intense beams of light should be able to generate isotopes for nuclear medicine, and eliminate the security risks associated with making the medicines with weapons-grade uranium at the aging nuclear reactor in Chalk River.
They lament that the 58-page report that was released that day recommended the federal government back a “strong and focused” research program to “support proof-of-principle demonstrations” for this exciting photofission solution. It says that half a dozen accelerators would cost “upwards of $50 million each” to supply isotopes across North America. The 51-year-old Chalk River reactor produces almost half the isotopes in the world and we know it will not last.
The article goes on to say:
It was a short-term fix, say the scientists and nuclear medical specialists, who see photo-fission as a possible long-term solution.
I urge the government to look at this and to spend some money on the research.