Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity today to speak on third reading of Bill C-22. Third reading, of course, is the opportunity to debate the bill after the committee has, we hope, improved it during committee hearings by listening to experts from all sides, accepting recommendations from experts as to how the bill can be improved, and, in most Parliaments, accepting amendments from the opposition seeking to make the legislation better.
Unfortunately, in this Parliament we do not see much of that. In fact, it is very rare for amendments from the opposition to be accepted by the government, even when it agrees with them. In an incident during the debate on a justice bill, 88 amendments were made in committee; the government rejected them all, only to try to make them itself at third reading, and they were ruled out of order. That is how obstinate the government can be.
I spoke as well on second reading, and my colleagues in the NDP, the official opposition, as you may know, Mr. Speaker, supported this bill at second reading. We saw it as an improvement over the existing regime and we supported it in the collegial hope that when evidence was heard from experts in committee, their expertise, knowledge, and understanding would be taken into account and there would be a better bill at third reading. Unfortunately, the 13 amendments that were presented by the official opposition were all rejected by the government. Not only that, it limited the debate. There was a request for an additional week to deal with some of the debates and discussions that needed to take place, and that was refused.
I can say that there are some things New Democrats like about this bill, and I will repeat them because I think we are responsible for some of them.
This bill, in one form or another, without the oil and gas part of it, the nuclear side, has been before Parliament previously. This is, I think, the fifth time. At one time, the NDP was the only party that opposed the bill when the cap was raised from $75 million to $650 million. It is now up to $1 billion, so that is an improvement over what would have existed if the bill had gone through a couple of years ago, and New Democrats take credit for arguing that the $650 million limit was inadequate. There has been an improvement in that way, so we are pleased to say that we have had some effect on this aspect.
The real problem, of course, was that for some 38 years Canada's nuclear industry has had a cap of $75 million of liability. This is an industry that can cause enormous amounts of damage not only to the environment but also to the health of individuals for many years to come. We noticed that with the Fukushima situation in Japan, the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, and, of course, with Three Mile Island a number of years ago in the U.S. These were very serious accidents, and to say that we are going to have an absolute total liability of $75 million is clearly a direct subsidy to an industry—a licence, in fact, to not only pollute but also to cause extraordinary harm to the citizens of a country.
That is what we are talking about here. Some people might call it a subsidy to the industry, but it is also a licence to pollute, to destroy the environment, and to take risks.
One of the things about liability is the obligation to look after the damages that are caused. That is what the polluter pays principle is. If people pollute the environment and make a mess, they need to clean it up. If someone says they do not have to clean it up, there is going to be a bigger mess. Anybody who has teenagers in their homes knows that. If teenagers are told they do not have to clean up after themselves, that they can leave their dishes wherever they want and throw their clothes on the floor because someone else will look after that, then there are going to be a lot of messy dishes and a lot of clothes on the floor. Saying that people have liability and responsibility makes the operators, whether of offshore oil and gas or of a nuclear facility, care more about safety. Obviously there is going to be a safety regime, but it makes them take responsibility in a way that they might not otherwise and it gives safety a bigger priority.
The $1 billion sounds like a lot, but not when it is put into perspective. I heard the member for Wetaskiwin. I think he was trying to be reasonable. He said that the $1 billion liability is going to cost and that it will be the consumers who will have to pay for it. He said it would add $2 or maybe $3 a year to each consumer's electricity bill. I will take him at his word; I do not know the numbers. He must have some reference for those numbers.
However, if it was $5 billion liability, it would cost consumers $10 or $15 per year. We are talking about $1 a month. For the protection that we are talking about here, maybe that is reasonable. Maybe people opposite think it is unreasonable. I do not think it is unreasonable if we are talking about having protection versus not having protection and about having an incentive for a nuclear operator to pay greater attention to avoid accidents.
It is a little bit a question of degree, but it is also a question of principle. We have asked to see the polluter pay principle in both aspects of this bill. In the oil and gas section there is a $1 billion absolute liability, whether the operator is at fault or not, and in the case of fault on the part of an operator in the oil and gas industry, there is an unlimited liability. They have to find the resources or insure against the resources up to whatever the cost of the damage is.
It can be argued, and we would argue, that the $1 billion is enough in terms of absolute liability if we are looking at an accident in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or in the Arctic. Absolute liability means that it starts getting cleaned up right away, regardless of who ultimately has to pay.
That is what fault is all about. Lawyers will fight over who is responsible or what percentage of the fault lies with this party or that party. That is fair. I am not opposed to lawyers, as some people in this House seem to be. Lawyers have a role to play; I played one myself. The Speaker probably did a fair bit over his career as well. In the meantime, absolute liability is designed to make sure that the job gets done.
This is a question that has to be dealt with. Although the liability may be spread in fault after it is all over, and we are still seeing that in the Gulf of Mexico case with Deep Horizon, absolute liability means that it gets started right away. The work is done to clean up the damage that has been done because they are going to be responsible regardless of what the fault is, and we have that.
I am going to just end here. The reason we are not supporting the bill now is that it does not include the polluter pay principle on the nuclear liability side and it does not include the principle of sustainability. Even with the $1 billion absolute cap, it gives the minister the right to waive it or lower it at his discretion. That is the wrong thing to do, because it opens up the door to all sorts of lobbying and favouritism.
Everybody would lobby, presumably, because if it is available to them, why should they not? Why should they not seek an exemption? Why should they not seek to lower their liability because of the consequences it might have for shareholders of the company or for some other aspect of their operation?
Based on those problems, the failure to accept reasonable amendments to this bill, and the failure to recognize these principles in the bill, we cannot support this bill at third reading.