Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North to speak to Bill C-22, an act respecting Canada's offshore oil and gas operations, enacting the Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act, repealing the Nuclear Liability Act and making consequential amendments to other acts.
Before I get to the main point of the bill, I want to talk about some of the things that happened in my constituency during the break week. It is important to bring the concerns of my constituents from Surrey North to Ottawa, rather than the other way around. I know that most of the Conservatives would rather take everything from Ottawa back to their constituencies.
I had an opportunity to knock on doors during the last two weeks. Some of this relates to the issues in this bill.
In one young family, which has been in Canada for the last five years, the spouse is a truck driver and the wife works in the health care industry. I want to bring to the attention of the House the lack of credentialling and recognition of the degrees they have from the country they came from. They like staying in Canada, but one of the issues they brought up was their inability to practise in the fields they are trained in.
They have a young child. The mother was a registered nurse in her home country. She has been trying to upgrade her skills here. She was very distraught that there is not enough help from the government. There are not enough pathways for her to take some schooling to upgrade and contribute in a meaningful way in a profession she worked in for 10 years. She was a supervisory nurse in emergency care at a very prestigious hospital in her country, and she is very distraught that her skills are not being translated to this country.
Her husband is a trained IT specialist with an engineering degree. He also pointed to the lack of ability to translate his credentials to Canadian standards so that he could work in an industry in which he has considerable expertise. He could contribute in a meaningful way to the Canadian economy as a new citizen. He drives a long-haul truck. It is difficult for the family.
It is important for me to bring forward those concerns. Those are the kind of issues we need to address when we are bringing in skilled workers or skilled labour from other countries. We should provide adequate training and adequate liaison into the fields they have practised in. That is woefully lacking across this country and is something the government needs to address in the House.
Another fellow I met was very unhappy with the unfair elections act. He let me and the government have it in regard to an institution that has been built over many years and is world renowned. Our ability to conduct fair and democratic elections is a role model for all countries. In fact, other countries use our model to bring in new laws to improve their democracies. He told me that the government's introduction of the unfair elections act was doing an inadequate job of consulting with citizens in regard to what changes need to be brought in.
This brings me to Bill C-22. He talked about the inability of the government to consult Canadian citizens to bring about change.
In particular, he was talking about the inability of the current government to consult Canadians when it brought forward the unfair elections act. We heard it throughout the day yesterday and throughout the discussions on the unfair elections act, and clearly, the government had not consulted Canadians when it brought forward the unfair elections act.
This leads me to Bill C-22. It has been two and a half years since the NDP has been the second party, and I have not seen a bill brought forward by the government on which it has consulted the very people who are going to be impacted. On this bill also, I do not think it has consulted communities, citizens, stakeholders, and Canadians on what needs to be in this liability bill with regard to nuclear and offshore gas and oil. That clearly shows some of the flaws in this bill.
Liberals talked about certain issues in the House today, and the Conservatives have asked certain questions of the NDP. Where have they been for 25 years? There has not been a change to this bill for the last 25 years. The Conservatives have had five tries at it and it is still not law. The Conservatives are very good at throwing mud at the NDP, with help from the Liberals today. It is beyond me, because the Conservatives have had the opportunity to bring in legislation that would improve the liability issues and the safety of nuclear power plants and offshore oil drilling.
Canadians will be astounded to hear that this is the fifth time this bill is being introduced. We on this side of the House are hoping that the fifth time will be the charm. It is time we acted to strengthen liability limits for nuclear operators and offshore gas operators. This change is long overdue. It has been 25 years and it is long overdue that we address this issue to bring it into the 21st century.
In fact, Canada's liability limit for nuclear operators has not changed for 38 years, and we are falling behind the actions other countries are taking to protect their citizens. Similarly, offshore oil and gas liability limits have not changed for over 25 years. The sentiment behind this bill is a good one and I am sure we can all agree to it in principle, but on the fifth go-round, it is time to get the bill right. This is the fifth try by Parliament in the last 25 years. We owe it to Canadians to get it right after the fifth time.
These are some of the things I am going to talk about in my speech. We need to expand liability and ensure that Canada falls in line with best global practices. Again, I go back to consultation. Not only should we be consulting Canadians, the very stakeholders who will be impacted by this particular bill, but we should be looking at what is happening in the United States and in Europe. We should be learning from best practices about what works to protect our pristine waters, whether they are in British Columbia or off the east coast, how to protect Canadians, and how to protect areas around major cities where there are nuclear plants. What are the best practices? What are the other countries doing to ensure that their citizens are protected? What is the level of safety that would reassure Canadians that they can live in those situations and that the environment off our coasts will be protected?
The pristine waters off British Columbia are an important resource to our economy. They generate hundreds and thousands of jobs, whether they are fishing, coastal logging, or tourism. Those are the kinds of jobs we need to protect.
We need to ensure that offshore oil and gas drilling and nuclear safety are intact, so we can grow the expanding tourism and agricultural industries off our coast. When it comes to protecting our beautiful country and our citizens in the event of a major environmental disaster, we need to take strong action.
This bill is based on the polluter pays principle. In its simplest terms, this means that polluters are held accountable for their actions. I am sure this is a principle that all Canadians can get behind. It makes sense to all Canadians that a polluter should pay for the costs from polluting. Every Canadian would agree. The Conservatives often talk about it, but they do not really practise it when it comes to the oil, gas, and nuclear industries. It is a fundamental principle that we should ensure that those costs are not passed on to the next generation.
I will give members an example of how the polluter pays principle works. I know that the Conservatives would love to hear it. I will talk about my own family. I have two young children, a son and a daughter. My son often makes a mess, and his toys are often all over the place. His mom usually tells him to pick up his toys. He runs around, picks a few of them up, and takes them aside, but he leaves the rest floating around. He then dares to ask his sister to clean up the mess. Guess what my daughter says? She says no. She says it is his mess and he should clean it.
That is the basic principle. My seven-year-old understands this. I am astounded that the Conservatives do not understand the polluter pays principle. If people make a mess, they clean it up. In my example, the mess is not my daughter's fault. She gets up and tells her brother that he made the mess and he has to clean it up. It is a basic principle.
The member across is pointing to himself. I know he has his family business, too. We have heard the pizza analogies, and now I am bringing my own family into this.
A seven-year-old understands it. He is okay with cleaning up his mess once his sister tells him that, no, it is his mess and he needs to clean it up. My daughter is clearly for the polluter pays principle. Children understand this polluter pays business, where whoever makes the mess cleans it up. The Conservative government, however, does not seem to want to address that particular issue. It is such a simple concept that whoever makes the mess cleans it up.
Let us extrapolate this example further. The liability limits proposed in this legislation are a step in the right direction, but they do not go far enough. It is just as it is with my son. He cannot get away with just cleaning a little bit of the mess. He needs to clean the entire mess. It is his responsibility. It is his mess.
Based on what is proposed right now, if a nuclear accident were to happen, the operator would be liable for $1 billion. That seems like a lot, but it is actually not a lot. Compared to the disasters we have seen, it is very little, and I will give some examples in my speech. If we look at the disaster that happened in the Gulf of Mexico with BP, there was about $42 billion of assessed damage. The limit of $1 billion would be less than a couple of percentage points. It is not very much at all.
It might sound like a lot of money, but on the grand scale of nuclear accidents, we have seen enough examples to know that it would only cover a fraction of the cost. Who would be on the hook for the rest? It would be the Canadian taxpayers. They would be on the hook for the rest of the money.
On one hand, we understand the polluter pays principle. If people make a mess, they clean it up. Why would Canadian taxpayers be held accountable for pollution they did not contribute to in the first place? This is the Conservative logic of cleaning up the mess.
The Conservatives talk about profits. Whenever there is a profit, they privatize. Whenever there is cost or expenses, they socialize those. Guess who gets to pay those costs? It is the taxpayers.
Using the example of my house where my son gets to clean up his mess, it is time we hold people accountable who make those messes or cause a disaster. It is the polluter pay principle. We need to ensure there are adequate resources available to clean up a mess, God forbid. It has been fairly good in this country. Again, we want to ensure the principle of fairness is upheld. We want to make sure the taxpayers are not being left holding the bag at the end of the day.
It would be as if my son cleaned up a few of his toys and then expected his sister to come and finish the rest of the job. It is not the greatest way to enforce “his mess, his responsibility”. If the government truly believes in the polluter pay principle, the taxpayers should not hold the risk of these energy projects.
The nuclear industry in this country has strong roots. We are not talking about a new industry or providing subsidies to a new industry entering in the economy. This is a mature industry, and mature industries should be able to factor in those costs and ensure that Canadians are not responsible for any liabilities.
The current liability limit for the nuclear operators is about $75 million, which is so low that international courts would not even recognize it. This bill proposes to increase the absolute liability limit for nuclear operators from $75 million to $1 billion.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a step in the right direction but this does not go far enough to protect Canadian taxpayers. Using the example of my son, parents set rules such as, if my son makes a mess, he cleans it up, and if my daughter makes a mess, she cleans it up. As parliamentarians, I think we have a responsibility to taxpayers to set some rules to ensure that those who are liable for pollution, whether it is nuclear, oil, or gas, are held accountable.
We have a joint responsibility to protect all Canadians, all taxpayers, not just the big corporations, letting them have a free hand at liability.
Here is another example. If I had $100 and went to a casino, and I knew that my risk was only that $100, I would be betting as much as possible and taking as much risk as possible to gain more profit. If my liability were only $100, I would be taking major risks.
If the liability is higher, risk-takers or any business would ensure safety in the facilities whether they are nuclear, oil, or gas. Having that additional responsibility to ensure the provision of safeguards for those industries is important, and Canadians clearly expect that.
I also want to illustrate just how arbitrary this number is in light of nuclear costs. Let us look at the costs of Japan's 2011 nuclear disaster. The estimated costs of that disaster are at about $250 billion, and yet we have set the liability limit at $1 billion, which would only cover a fraction of that.
Many other countries have already deemed that their citizens deserve much higher protection in the event of a nuclear accident. Germany has unlimited, absolutely clear liability, fault or no fault. We can learn from these other countries that have actually set very good examples.
I urge my colleagues to defeat the bill. We will gain some insight during committee and we look forward to providing some additional amendments to the bill.