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40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 063

CONTENTS

Thursday, May 28, 2009





CANADA

House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 144 
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NUMBER 063 
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2nd SESSION 
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40th PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Speaker: The Honourable Peter Milliken

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayers



ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1005)  

[English]

Committees of the House

Procedure and House Affairs 

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 104 and 114, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 16th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of the committees of the House.
    If the House gives its consent, I intend to move concurrence in the 16th report later today.

Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in relation to the main estimates 2009-10, vote 45 under Justice.
    The committee has considered the vote and reports the same, less the amounts granted in interim supply.

Justice and Human Rights  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
    In accordance with the order of reference of Friday, March 27, your committee has considered Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, and agreed on Wednesday, May 27, to report it with amendments.

Procedure and House Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, if the House gives its consent, I move that the 16th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House earlier today be concurred in.
    Does the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    (Motion agreed to)

    Mr. Speaker, if the House gives its consent, I also move that the 12th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented on Friday, May 15, be concurred in.
    That report concerns two changes to the Standing Orders.
    Does the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    An hon. member: No.

Petitions

Sri Lanka  

    Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions from constituents who are deeply concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka.
    During the writing of these petitions, the conflict in Sri Lanka was an open conflict and now it has ceased to be an open conflict and, in some respects, it is almost a more intractable problem.
    The petitioners are calling upon the government to call upon the United Nations to negotiate a permanent ceasefire of hostilities, to provide humanitarian relief and to provide full and free access to the conflict zone for NGOs and the international media.
    Mr. Speaker, I think you would join with me in hoping, for the people of Sri Lanka, that this conflict is resolved in a way that is satisfactory to all parties.

Employment Insurance  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table a petition today on behalf of the 32,400 Hamiltonians who were unemployed as of April.
    The petitioners point out that they have paid into EI all of their working lives but now that they need the safety net that they themselves built it is no longer there for them.
    The petitioners are, therefore, calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the employment insurance system. Specifically, the petitioners are calling for a standardized 360 hours to qualify, an increased benefit period of at least 50 weeks, the elimination of the two-week waiting period, benefits of 60% of normal earnings based on the best 12 weeks, and a bigger investment in training and retraining.
    To that end, they are calling upon the government to respect the will of Parliament and act immediately on the comprehensive NDP motion that was passed in the House of Commons to restore the integrity of the employment insurance system.
    These petitioners are keenly aware that successive Liberal and Conservative governments diverted $54 billion of worker and employer contributions to EI and used that money to pay down the debt and deficit, instead of using it to provide help for the involuntary unemployed during economic downturns. That misappropriation only heightens the moral obligation for the government to restore the integrity of the EI system.

[Translation]

Sri Lanka  

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I wish to present a petition signed by people from my riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard and the surrounding area concerning the violence that is plaguing Sri Lanka and the peace process. The petitioners are calling on the Parliament of Canada to use every diplomatic means at its disposal to put an end to the atrocities and ensure that the rights of the civilian population are being respected, among other things.

[English]

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns

    Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 130 and 133 could be made orders for return, these returns would be tabled immediately.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

[Text]

Question No. 130--
Mr. Claude Gravelle:
     With respect to the Minister of Industry’s and the government's activities prior to Xstrata’s February 9, 2009 announcement regarding the layoff of 686 employees in their Sudbury Operations: (a) was the Minister contacted by representatives from Xstrata prior to February 9, 2009 and, if so, (i) when did Xstrata contact the Minister, (ii) by what method was the Minister contacted by Xstrata, (iii) who from Xstrata contacted the Minister, (iv) were there emails sent or received by the Minister or Industry Canada from or to representatives from Xstrata concerning the layoff announcement, (v) was there any other forms of written correspondence to the Minister or Industry Canada from Xstrata; (b) did the Minister or anyone from Industry Canada meet with any representatives from Xstrata, either in person, by phone or in any other form and, if so, (i) who were the representatives from Xstrata that the Minister or his representative met with, (ii) was there more than one meeting, (iii) when did the meetings take place, (iv) who participated or observed the meetings, (v) was there an agenda for the meetings, (vi) who developed the agenda for the meetings, (vii) did anyone from Industry Canada take notes during these meetings, (viii) who specifically took notes, (ix) where are these notes currently being stored; (c) was Xstrata’s acquisition agreement over Falconbridge reviewed by the Minister or a representative from Industry Canada between February 5 and February 16, 2009 and, if so, (i) who reviewed the agreement, (ii) what date was the agreement reviewed (iii) were any documents created based on the review and, if so, (iv) what are they, (v) where are the documents being stored currently; (d) was the clause concerning no layoffs for three years discussed with representatives from Xstrata; (e) was the clause concerning no layoffs for three years discussed with any other federal or provincial ministry; (f) why did Industry Canada decide not to bring in consequences against Xstrata for laying off workers prior to the conclusion of the three year agreement; (g) how did the government make the decision not to enforce the agreement and who was consulted in this decision; (h) was the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) ever contacted concerning the Xstrata layoffs by representatives from Xstrata, the Minister or Industry Canada or one of his representatives and, if so, (i) when was the PMO contacted, (ii) by whom; and (i) did the Minister or anyone from Industry Canada make contact or attempt to make contact with representatives from Mine Mill 598 CAW and, if not, (i) why not, (ii) how was the decision made, (iii) who made that decision?
    (Return tabled)
Question No. 133--
Hon. Larry Bagnell:
     With respect to the April 9, 2009 release of the Environment Canada Scientific Review for the Identification of Critical Habitat for Woodland Caribou, Boreal Population in Canada: (a) who wrote the preface for the review; (b) under who’s direction was this preface inserted; (c) what is the author’s background; (d) what additional studies were conducted to supplement the information for the preface; (e) when will the report for the western science study, referenced in the preface, be released; (f) what are (i) the plans for the regional workshops associated with this study, (ii) their timeframes, (iii) their budgets, (iv) their participants, (v) their goals; (g) what is the actual recovery planning and implementation for the herds; (h) what consultations, if any, are anticipated with other key stakeholders such as land management regimes, industry, provinces, territories, wildlife management boards, environmental non-government organizations, industry associations and the public; and (i) why was this report released ten months after its completion by the research team?
    (Return tabled)

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

Customs Act

  (1010)  

[English]

    The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
    There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed, without debate, to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.
Hon. Gordon O'Connor (for the Minister of Public Safety)  
     moved that the bill be concurred in.

    (Motion agreed to)

[Translation]

Hon. Gordon O'Connor (for the Minister of Public Safety)  
     moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
    Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Agreed? There is no debate?

[English]

    Is the hon. member for Mississauga South rising to speak at third reading?
    Mr. Speaker, I am sorry. I did not hear a call for debate but rather the putting of the question at third reading immediately and I believe there are speakers who want to address Bill S-2.
     The hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence is rising on debate at third reading.
    Mr. Speaker, I am glad you held up the discussions that were beginning to develop here so that I could offer a measured opinion on behalf of all of my constituents and all Canadians on the bill. It restores my confidence in the fact that this place can actually work when there are men and women of goodwill who take the public interest at heart. It is the public interest that I want to discuss for a moment.
    One might think some of this strange, given the events of the last few days in the House of Commons with respect to confidence and trust in the way that we manage and adhere to the common interest through budgetary measures and through legislation that is designed to ensure that the public good and the public interest is safeguarded through the way that governments spend money and in the way they regulate the generation of wealth, the redistribution of wealth and the incursions of other entities and other corporations in the Canadian marketplace.
    I do not want to be partisan because this should not be a place where partisanship dominates, but we need to keep in mind that we have, through our electoral process, given the House and, through it, one party at least, the authority to present a budget to meet the needs of all Canadians.
    Through all of that, there is a particular underlying ideology that Canadians have expressed through the electoral process that says that we need a government that can take a measured approach to establishing a regulatory system that provides for the appropriate structures of market development and the protection of Canadian entrepreneurialship in that marketplace that we have come to define as geopolitically Canada.
    I will be speaking at some length to this but I think my colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood, an eminent member of Parliament and an eminent member of the finance committee, would also like to speak on this. I, therefore, want to share my time with him and I hope the House will allow me to do that.
    As this is the first round of debate, the member will need to get the unanimous consent of the House. Is there unanimous consent to allow the member for Eglinton—Lawrence to share his time?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

  (1015)  

    I will take that as a positive indication that people also want to hear my colleague as opposed to subjecting themselves completely to me.

[Translation]

    Of course, people want to hear comments from other members, instead of hearing only the member for Eglinton—Lawrence speak. However, I would like to come back to today's theme, that is, how this government is addressing the interests of Canadians across this country with respect to the regulations that will govern or affect the management of Canada's national interests.
    Like all Canadians, we were somewhat surprised—horrified even, to overstate it a bit and really emphasize the point—to learn the other day that the national deficit inflicted on Canadians will reach $50 billion this year.

[English]

    The Minister of Finance said there would be $50 billion and more of deficit this year, over a five month period, the expression of at least three different and long estimates about where this country is headed under the leadership of the current government, a Conservative government. One needs only to take a look at what that statement reflects.
    First of all, it says that the whole 10 preceding years of balanced budgets, surplus budgets, that reflected a thriving economy, that reflected a mixed economy with an appropriate balance of government intervention and private entrepreneurialship has now been completely abandoned. That is what it means. It does not simply mean that the Minister of Finance does not have an understanding of the way that the marketplace operates, rather, it reflects that he has a perverse view of the way that it should operate.
    Imagine, $50 billion and more. For all those Canadians who are watching, and those of us in the House who debate bills such as Bill S-2, what we are looking at is an imposition of an additional almost $2,000 per capita on the debt of every Canadian. That is $2,000.
    Mr. Speaker, you are the parent of three children. That means that in your own household, those three children, who have had nothing to do with the creation of the mess that the government is trying to impose on all Canadians, have just earned themselves $2,000 of debt apiece, forever.
    There is only one way that the government is going to be able to relieve them of something for which they had absolutely no responsibility. It is going to tax them for the rest of their lives until that debt is paid off, and as that accumulates, additional debt. Each one of those children has just attracted $2,000 of debt, thanks to the Minister of Finance who says he did not know.
    This is a concerted conspiracy worldwide. It is a global debt. It is a global crisis. Apparently, we are well equipped to weather the storm, as are your children, Mr. Speaker, every single one of them. There is an additional $6,000 of debt visiting your place because of the minister's inability to handle the economy. That is $6,000 just for the children. For you and your spouse, obviously there is an additional $4,000, so that is $10,000.
    That is great, Mr. Speaker. That is $10,000 of after-tax dollars of debt that the Minister of Finance just visited upon your household, and he did that for every single Canadian. All Canadians went to work diligently over the course of the last 10 years under a Liberal government, that had a handle on the economy, that in fact reduced the debt by over $100 billion, and reduced the deficit from $42 billion to zero. All that is out the window. Thanks to the Minister of Finance from Whitby. Thanks to the Conservative government for so badly handling our finances and our economic forecast.
    There is no amount of tinkering here and there, such as with Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act, coming out of the Senate, that will have an impact. Can we imagine this place, with a government that has been, until recently, an adamant enemy of the other place, using that other place to generate tinkering legislation, so that we can pretend that we have an impact on the economy? At the same time, he sits around the cabinet table and makes assessments. Six months ago we were in a surplus situation. He said, “Everything is fine. No problem. Do not worry about a thing. You are in good hands”.
    Two months after that, four months ago, he said, “We are going to have a deficit because we are going to spend money. We are not going to get any of it out the door but we are going to spend money and it is going to be over $34 billion”. That is $34 billion of deficit that is going to be converted to debt.

  (1020)  

    Here we are three and a half months later and he says we are going to have more than $50 billion of deficit, more than $50 billion of taxation, direct and indirect, on each and every Canadian in this country. That is what he has done. That is what his gross incompetence has visited upon Canadians.
    I said this was not going to be a partisan place, but we have to take a look at how the administration of the economy has to develop. Those who want the authority to establish their control over the administration of a mixed economy like ours, which was thriving until this party came to power, is what we have to judge. We have to take a look at what is the competence level and it is not there, regrettably, I am sorry to say.
    Mr. Speaker, the member discussed at length many issues unrelated completely to the bill we are discussing this morning. Because he did not have the opportunity to speak to that during his lengthy discussion and ramblings, I would like to ask him this question. What is the Liberal position or maybe his own position as to what technical changes within Bill S-2 he would like to see modified or changed? Is he specifically supporting the changes and provisions within this bill and does his party intend to support this bill?
    Mr. Speaker, I am almost aghast at the type of question that is being raised by a government member. The bill is about imposing additional requirements in customs controlled areas. I do not know how that is going to help in stimulating trade and developing growth.
    Remember, and I am referring to all government members, that we now have to create an economic environment that is going to generate enough wealth in order to ensure that the government can derive from that wealth an additional $50 billion of revenues, $50 billion that has now been visited upon the children of every single member of Parliament in this place, no matter what party, with a burden of an additional $2,000.
    He is going to tell me that the imposition of certain requirements, including the harmonization of language, is going to increase the wealth of this country by that much money. He should give his head a shake. Let us start talking about the economy and proper figures.
    Mr. Speaker, the member is on the right track to the extent that the government seems to not have a clue about the fiscal state of the economy. We all remember during the election only a few months ago, in October, when the Prime Minister was campaigning in his sweater saying the land is strong. It took me back to 1972 with Pierre Trudeau's campaign, when he said everything was okay and deriding the other parties for even suggesting that things were going south. Then a few months later it is a different story. The government keeps going back and forth, clearly out of touch with what is really happening in the economy. The member is on the right track and I would like to ask him to put some further comments on the record.

  (1025)  

     Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the NDP has a good handle on what the economy requires. He comes from Winnipeg and understands that in the northern half of North America there is a particular approach that one takes to government.

[Translation]

    My Bloc Québécois colleagues share the same position. A certain ideology must be adopted in order to achieve results that will benefit all Canadians throughout the entire country.

[English]

    My colleague raised a very important question, which is this. If there was in place the appropriate regulatory system prior to the emergence of the Conservative government, would that have taken care of all of the challenges to the economy and to governments? The answer to that is yes. At no time in history was there an unemployment rate so low as there was up to and including 2006 before the election.
    Under a Liberal administration, unemployment was below 6%, when 5.5% unemployment is deemed by all economists, and I imagine including the Prime Minister who fancies himself one, as having full employment. Under a Liberal administration, there was just under 6% unemployment. Imagine that. That meant that everybody who wanted a job, or almost everybody, could have been working.
    Second, Canada had the highest participation rate of the OECD countries. The highest participation rate in employment terms means that the number of people between the ages 15 and 64 who wanted to work could work. About 68% of people who wanted to work in that age group were participating. That is higher than any other country in the world.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill S-2.
    The concern about S-2 is that this may well just be one more layer of protectionism. It has gone through all stages in the Senate and has gone through all stages in the House. It is here in the final stage of the House, but it imposes additional requirements in customs. It expands the research powers of customs officers and provides for regulations of passengers.
    This is an interesting coincidence of time but as of June 1 there will be something in the order of 30% of Americans who can come to Canada and that means of course 70% will not be able to come to Canada because they do not have valid travel documents. It means that 53% of Canadians will not be able to travel to the United States.
    I do not think that is very good for either of our countries. In the name of the security business, such that common sense seems to get trumped by security and the economy seems to get trumped by security, all in the name of security, we continue to thicken the border. Regrettably, Bill S-2 seems to add to that trend.
    We recently had a visit from Secretary Napolitano and she spent a lot of time apologizing for remarks that she had made. I am prepared to accept her apology at face value. I wish also Senator McCain would do the same thing in recognizing that the 9/11 terrorists did not come from Canada.
    Unfortunately, this reflects a mentality that is in America, particularly in homeland security. I note that homeland security is subject to the effectively buy American policy. I want to point out that the buy American policy is really like loading a revolver and pointing it at one's head. There are something in the order of 17 million jobs in the United States which would be directly affected by this buy American policy.
    It so happens that I was at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. It was really a very impressive event. I happened to sit beside a gentleman who has two factories in Scarborough and a head office in Mississauga. It was his company that supplied the piping and fitting to the American military installation in California.
    This company has been in business since 1949. It has literally supplied piping that would circumvent the globe 150 times. It has been in business since 1949, never had a lick of problems shipping its product across the border and yet at this military installation they put the piping in the ground but because it has a made in Canada label on it they ripped it out. That is homeland security. That is the U.S. military. That is the recovery policy of the United States.
    That seems to me to fly in the face of President Obama's words when he was here in this country. He said, “We affirm the commitment made in Washington: to refrain from raising new barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services, imposing new export restrictions, or implementing World Trade Organization inconsistent measures to stimulate exports. In addition we will rectify promptly any such measures. We extend this pledge to the end of 2010”.
    His secretary, Tim Geithner said, “The G7 remains committed to avoiding protectionist measures, which would only exacerbate the downturn”. He repeated on April 24, “The United States of America will refrain from raising new barriers to trade in goods and services”.

  (1030)  

    One would have a great deal of difficulty convincing the person with whom I had breakfast this morning that these fine and brave words of free trade are anything other than fine and brave words.
     It is time that we actually stand up for Canada. It is time that the government stand up for Canada. It is time that the Conservative Party lives up to its slogan from the last election to stand up for Canada. The only person who can reverse these protectionist measures in the United States is by the Prime Minister of Canada picking up the telephone and talking to President Obama. I have yet to know, at least in a public way, that the Prime Minister has made that telephone call.
    When we sign an agreement with the United States such as the secretary of state signed with her counterpart here this week that enhances security for both of our countries, surely to goodness we can expect to be treated in the same manner as a most favoured nation. Surely to goodness when a trade is so voluminous that it is the largest trading relationship in the world, we can expect to be treated in that fashion. And surely to goodness we can expect that President Obama or Congress or whomever will say to state and municipal counterparts that there is no protectionism within the United States with respect to its stimulus package. Surely we can expect that, and surely we can expect the Prime Minister and his ministers to raise that issue at each and every opportunity, because what it leads to is something that none of us wants to contemplate.
    My colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence went on at great length this morning about the difficulties facing our nation with respect to this apparently unanticipated deficit. If we end up in a protectionist spiral, we haven't seen anything yet. Indeed, both of our economies will be tragically affected if the things that my friend at breakfast described to me go across the board, that anything with a label such as made in Canada will ultimately be rejected by American states, American military, American municipalities or other American entities that are doing stimulus infrastructure projects.
    On November 15, the G20 issued a statement in Washington, D.C.:
    We underscore the critical importance of rejecting protectionism and not turning inward in times of financial uncertainty. In this regard, within the next 12 months, we will refrain from raising new barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services...
    Yet the Recovery Act also creates an entirely new domestic content requirement for Department of Homeland Security acquisitions by prohibiting the DHS from using any appropriated funds, not just recovery funds, but appropriated funds, to acquire clothing, individual equipment, a long list of textile products, unless they are made in the United States. It is noteworthy that DHS procurement is not subject to NAFTA.
    So there we have it. The Department of Homeland Security is in a league by itself; it is in a law by itself. Not only does it thicken the border unilaterally by all kinds of measures, but it does so to the detriment of both of our economies. If this trend continues, this double trend of homeland security, thickening the border and this protectionism, both direct and indirect, will destroy both of our economies.

  (1035)  

    While we are supporting Bill S-2 and we think there is some good in here, we are very, very concerned with these additional requirements, which are in fact non-tariff barriers.
    Mr. Speaker, I think we all share the concerns about the largest two-way trade between any two countries in the world, Canada-U.S., and the entire just-in-time industries that depend on free flowing border traffic.
     All those things are a concern. Putting any of that in jeopardy not only puts the Canadian economy in jeopardy but the 30-some states of the United States of America that have Canada as their number one trading partner. Of course they should be equally concerned that we do not cause problems for one another. While we are in a worldwide recession, certainly Canada and the United States are in this somewhat together.
    I also met with a gentleman, who had a piece of pipe with him that had been taken out of the ground in the United States. This particular law says it must be made in America pipe and equipment. I asked him what he thought we should do, because this is a real concern. It is not just a national problem or a national concern in the United States. State by state, and sometimes company by company, there are policies like that. I asked him what he would have us do, as a government or as a Parliament. He did not have any suggestions. He just said it is a big worry.
    We can agree with that. I agree with the hon. member that it is a worry. Obviously the Prime Minister has spoken to President Obama, as I assume his leader did as well when he was here. What measures would the member take other than our obvious promise to take this to the WTO and the NAFTA panel? What would the member suggest we do in a legislative or policy way that would change that?
    Mr. Speaker, I guess we should all be going to these prayer breakfasts; we have some interesting conversations.
    I want to compliment the hon. minister on his presentation last night. He and his colleagues presented very well at the national prayer breakfast dinner. We are all encouraging them to take their act on the road, sooner rather than later, and with or without their day jobs.
    The gentleman actually had two very specific recommendations. He said that the United States must comply with its written commitment of April 2 to promptly rectify protectionist measures. The inclusion of buy American clauses in U.S. legislation is a protectionist measure.
    I will take the hon. minister at his word. I would hope that the Prime Minister, at his meeting with the president, actually did raise this measure with him and that he asked President Obama to intervene, not only to use his authority to repeal those offensive sections but to also grant Canada the most favoured nation status.

  (1040)  

    Mr. Speaker, I did not attend the prayer breakfast, so my views are not laced with any religious forbearance but with specific interest.
    I can appreciate that my two colleagues are trying to be collegial, and it is important for this place, but I am going to ask my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, to address the following. When the minister opposite asks what he would you do, that is an unfair question. He is not in government. He does not have to address that. The government has an obligation itself to address that question.
    Keeping this in mind, the Department of Defense in the United States has an annual budget that exceeds the total Canadian government's budget by more than 100%. In other words, every year they spend more than twice as much as the entire Canadian government does. Its procurement policies are shutting out Canadian industries.
    I would like to ask the member for Scarborough—Guildwood to raise that issue with the minister and the government opposite about what they are doing to ensure that Canadian providers are not shut out of that kind of market.
    Mr. Speaker, we certainly still have space available at the national prayer breakfast. I am sure my colleague will be more than happy to be there next year. We will save a special place for him.
    Under the Trade Agreements Act of 1979, the President may waive, in whole or in part, with respect to eligible products of any foreign country, the application of law, procedure or practice regarding government procurement. The Prime Minister, the Minister of International Trade, any minister on the front bench can raise that with the president and should do so immediately.
    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act. Now at third reading, this legislation has made its way through both Houses and their respective committees. At each stage the bill has received broad-based support, and this is because it speaks to some universal priorities. Canadians want to be safe in communities; they want the Canada Border Services Agency to have the resources and flexibility to address risk on any scale, in any form; and, finally, they want to have the opportunity to travel and do business freely and securely.
    I want to emphasize for the House that the amendments contained in Bill S-2 address these priorities directly. In the simplest terms, the amendments would improve the ability of the CBSA to carry out proactive risk management, which is a key component of modern border management. Effective border administration requires a comprehensive array of programs and policies that combine in response to multiple challenges. These include contraband, illegal migration, health and safety, organized crime and terrorism. They change over time, and our defence against them must also evolve in kind.
    The amendments in Bill S-2 acknowledge the new face of border security and equip our border services officers to contend with it.
    At the same time the bill is designed to allow an equally rigorous approach to facilitating cross-border trade and commerce. Responsibility for maintaining this balance is the foundation of the CBSA. The agency provides integrated border services that support national security and public safety priorities as well as facilitating the free flow of legitimate persons and goods.
    The reason for bringing this bill forward is to give the CBSA greater scope and flexibility as it discharges that dual mandate. The more information the agency has concerning potential threats, the better equipped it is to deal with them in advance of their arrival on Canada's doorstep.
     Bill S-2 contains several amendments to the Customs Act. I am going to focus on two in particular. These amendments would fully implement two programs, both of which have been approved and funded by the Government of Canada: the advance commercial information initiative, known as eManifest; and customs controlled areas.
    First, the need for fully operational customs controlled areas comes in response to the threats of internal conspiracy and organized crime that can arise in the busy atmosphere of a port. Our border services officers need to have the flexibility to perform stop, search and seizure functions at any point during the transit of goods and people through a port.
    The passage of Bill S-2 would give border services officers the ability to question, search or detain anyone suspected of an offence, not only as that person exits the designated area but anywhere inside as well. This would improve the agency's ability to intercept contraband and other illegal items before they enter the country and to combat internal conspiracies at points of entry.
    The e-manifest is the second program that would reach full implementation with the passage of this bill. This is a substantial project premised on the idea that CBSA ought to be receiving electronic information on cargo destined for Canada in advance of its actual arrival. This would permit the agency to make more incisive risk assessments prior to arrival.
     The e-manifest is the third stage of the advanced commercial information initiative. It would extend requirements already in place in marine and air to the highway and rail modes of transportation. This concluding phase would enable comprehensive assessment of all cargo prior to arrival at our border. In turn, this would mean that less processing would be required upon arrival and legitimate commercial goods would enter Canada more swiftly and with fewer disruptions.
    The eManifest is a substantial project, designed to improve the flow of goods and to secure and streamline the process by which legitimate goods are cleared. It would have major consequences for the agency's partners in the trade chain. With eManifest, industrial stakeholders would be facing a new compliance paradigm in which information is requested well in advance of arrival, which would allow for a more thorough risk assessment by CBSA.
    It is critical that the agency be in tune with the concern of stakeholders as this project approaches implementation. The best way for CBSA to ensure that its commercial partners comply with changing requirements at the border is to build trust with them. For that reason, the agency has consulted thoroughly throughout the initial stages of eManifest, and these consultations are ongoing.

  (1045)  

    This government is committed to preserving Canada's reputation as a welcoming and free-trading nation. At the same time, we are cognizant of the scope and evolution of border threats. The Canada Border Services Agency does an excellent job of ensuring the integrity of this balance, and it is up to us as parliamentarians to support it in that role.
    I am going to conclude my remarks with a call to all members of the House to see Bill S-2 through third reading. The legislation addresses fundamental concerns. Do the people who manage the vast movement of people and goods into Canada have the right tools at their disposal? What do they need to do their job better? These are questions we must ask repeatedly because international border management is a field that is constantly evolving.
    This legislation acknowledges the challenges faced by the Canada Border Services Agency, and I believe it would be instrumental in giving the agency what it needs to do its job.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for giving us a briefing about the Canada Border Services Agency.
    Bill S-2 is a tidy-up bill which provides some amendments. I wonder if the member could shed some light on one clause that caught my attention. It is the very last item that has been added. New Section 164.1(1) states:
    A regulation made under this Act may incorporate by reference any material regardless of its source and either as it exists on a particular date or as amended from time to time.
    I am a little concerned because I have not seen this type of language before in all the years that I have been here. I am wondering whether the member is aware of why this has been put in the bill. It basically says that any document can be referred to in any regulation, which can be made by order in council at any time and in any document whether or not it is relevant.
     My concern is from the standpoint of bringing in or by incorporating by reference intent or basis for the Canada Border Services Agency to do or not do certain things which may not be enabled in the legislation itself. It is a very sweeping undertaking whereby any document can be incorporated by reference. It is, in my view, far too broad and not generally prevalent in bills having regulations.

  (1050)  

    Mr. Speaker, my understanding is that particular section received a great deal of scrutiny as it went through the other house. If I am correct in my understanding, it was, in the simplest of terms, placed into the legislation so that as world trading evolves, as different things occur, not in a major way but in a minor way, the regulations could be adopted as opposed to bringing the bill back to make amendments to it. I do not believe it goes beyond that scope.
    I believe that issue was widely addressed in the other place and I believe amendments were made at that point.
    Mr. Speaker, last June the Chief Peguis Junior High School in Winnipeg bused a track and field team to the Hershey's Track and Field Games in North Dakota. The required manifest was given to customs 48 hours in advance, and yet when they showed up at the border, one of the athletes, a 14 year old, was taken off the bus, fingerprinted and sent back to Canada.
     I took this up at the Midwestern Legislative Conference last July in Rapid City, South Dakota. For the second time ever in our membership, we were able to pass a resolution asking Canada and the United States to come up with a more consistent program which would be easier on seniors' bus tours and children's athletic tours such as that one.
     Letters were sent off last July to the Prime Minister and to the president. I never heard another thing about it. I am just wondering whether some of those thoughts were reflected in this legislation.
    I would ask the member about the success of the NEXUS program. I have heard different things and I understand it really has not developed in the way it was supposed to and there is not a huge uptake in the program. If the member has any new information about that, I would certainly like to hear it.
    Mr. Speaker, the issue the member raised is the exact opposite of what this bill is about.
    Bill S-2 is about people coming to Canada, not people going to the United States. The issue that he raised, although it is a significant issue and is of concern, is a situation of going into the United States where the bus was stopped and the individuals were checked, and it would have been the information that they had.
    I have no real information on the NEXUS program other than to say that we do know that it is being taken up. As the member may be aware, some folks are comparing the NEXUS program with the passport, and are deciding that the passport may be the choice for them, but it is certainly one of personal interest.

  (1055)  

    Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague opposite tries to give us a good impression about what this legislation attempts to do and I applaud him for that, but it is tinkering. We will support that tinkering because there is always an opportunity to improve things, and as long as we are improving things, that is fine.
    However, the parliamentary secretary knows quite well that the Department of Homeland Security in the United States had an initial budget in excess of $70 billion. It is now closer to $100 billion. Its tactics can be interpreted as being designed in part to stem the flow of trade in order to meet the needs of protectionist elements in the 30 states that the minister opposite also indicated are dependent upon the two-way trade.
    Perhaps he could tell us whether his minister or his government has made determined efforts to get across to the authorities, such as Ms. Napolitano who was here just a few days ago, the firm impression that we need to have bilateral observance and adherence to the NAFTA that was signed by our two countries, and that the articles under that agreement, if they are worth signing onto, are worth obeying.
    I am wondering whether he thinks that legislation such as this will reverse some of the negative impacts of a $100 billion budget to stem the tide of north-south free trade.
    Mr. Speaker, first, I would not want to trash our best neighbour and biggest trading partner on its efforts at security.
    Bill S-2 is about making trading simpler, easier and faster, and at the same time safer within our country. The whole premise of Bill S-2 is to make Canadians safer and more secure.
    It is not only about trading directly north and south. It is also about trading east and west at our ports and our railways. We should not look at Bill S-2 as something that is intended only to speed the flow north and south. It is to make Canadians safer and to speed the flow east, west, north and south. It does that in a way that is appropriate and also makes an area within our country safer and more secure by giving those tools to the CBSA officials to carry out their task in a more efficient way.
    Mr. Speaker, I wanted to ask the parliamentary secretary if he could reiterate how this legislation is going to help with the flow of illegal handguns and illegal arms into Canada.
    We know that that is the main security issue of the Canada-U.S. border for many Canadians. Certainly people in my riding are most concerned about that. This is an important issue. Hopefully this legislation will go some way to improving our record on preventing that flow of illegal weapons into Canada from the United States.
    Mr. Speaker, it is an appropriate question and part of this is in the custom controlled areas, which gives the CBSA officers far more opportunity do their jobs appropriately in a broader context within the areas where goods are being brought into Canada.
    As Canadians we are always concerned about the illegal flow of illegal weapons. By supporting this bill, it goes at least some way to doing just that.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. The summary of the bill reads as follows:
    This enactment amends the Customs Act to clarify certain provisions and to make technical amendments to others. It also imposes additional requirements in customs controlled areas, amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty, and modifies the advance commercial reporting requirements. Finally, it provides that regulations may incorporate material by reference.
    This bill is not very long. It has seven pages excluding the summary. I would like to start by saying that the Bloc will be supporting Bill S-2. This bill is designed to provide Canada Border Services Agency officers with the information, tools and flexibility they need to identify threats and prevent criminal activity, while ensuring that legitimate goods and travellers can cross the border efficiently.
     Under the amendments that have been announced, all businesses that are part of the import chain are required to provide the Canada Border Services Agency with electronic data on their shipments before the goods reach Canada. With this advance electronic information, the CBSA will be able to make better decisions about admitting goods and analyzing the risks they pose to Canadians.
     Other changes will allow the CBSA to fully establish customs controlled areas. Officers will enjoy greater freedom to examine goods and question and search people, regardless of where they are in these areas, not just at exit points, as the current law states.
    Although Bill S-2 seems all right at first glance, it will be necessary to have ongoing follow-up and close questioning of representatives of the Canada Border Services Agency and the government.
    The Customs Act makes the connection between the customs provisions that impose duty and tariffs on importers and the security measures in various other laws.
     The bills' proposed amendments to the method of calculating the value of imported goods could reduce the number of disputed duty calculations. Moreover, revenue from duties could increase if the value of goods imported were more likely to be adjusted upward as a result of the proposed changes to the methods for determining customs value.
    The purpose of the provisions of the bill that require information to be provided in advance is to improve the risk assessment of goods at the border. Combined with the broadened search power for officers in customs controlled areas, this measure could reduce the number of dangerous counterfeit products entering Canada through customs controlled areas.
    At the present time, border services officers may search persons only when they leave controlled areas. If the bill is passed, in future, it will be possible to do that inside the controlled area itself.
    When the bill was being examined, the vice president of the CBSA said the following:
    Currently, an officer would question the person at an exit point, where the person must speak to a CBSA officer. The officer can ask questions and can search if it is deemed necessary. In this new scenario, the customs officers could ask similar questions within the customs controlled area, and if there are reasonable grounds to conduct a search, the officer would indeed proceed with a search. The officers would be trained appropriately, and individuals within the customs controlled areas would be advised of the possibility that a search could occur. There would be notification.
    It will therefore be necessary to ensure that this follow-up takes place. We are told that officers will be trained and that notice will be given. Therefore, care must be taken to respect individual rights and freedoms by ensuring that the officers will indeed be properly trained and will give the necessary notification.

  (1100)  

    The Minister of Public Safety has given assurance that officers conducting a search will be subject to the requirements of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to protection of the constitutional rights of the people being searched. The minister has said so, but care must be taken, once again, to ensure that the government will not take advantage of this to go beyond the limits of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for instance.
    It is all well and good to say that, but this bill also gives the government regulatory authority to establish and expand customs controlled areas. The controlled area could be expanded to cover the entire airport or port and even parking and drop-off areas. The authority granted to border services officers would be disproportionate. Consequently, it will be necessary to constantly monitor how the Canadian Border Services Agency and the government are implementing these provisions.
    The Conservative government is constantly introducing security-related bills and bills to amend the Criminal Code and including a little poison pill to try to push their right-wing agenda even further. We will have to watch this preoccupation with security. Under the bill as drafted, these controlled areas, in which border services officers could take action, could be expanded to cover an entire port or airport, including parking areas. Imagine the anarchy that could result if we do not exercise appropriate control and we let right-wing philosophies dominate security. It would be quite a worry for the people using these spaces.
     I would like to point out that the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Transport Canada support the changes to customs controlled areas. Airport authorities also consider the use of customs controlled areas to be a reasonable security measure, and port authorities acknowledge the need for customs controlled areas in proximity to commercial and cruise ships. Both the airport and port authorities want greater flexibility and new areas. But the port authorities were clear that the areas should be close to the ships. We are not talking about the entire port. It is therefore important to be careful.
    The men and women who are watching this debate need to understand that the Bloc Québécois will always defend security, of course, but will also protect the interests of individuals. People's rights should not be violated because they happen to be at an airport or port and someone has decided to conduct full searches because those in charge, specifically the government, have been allowed to go overboard on security. Obviously, once again, the Bloc Québécois will make sure people's rights are respected.
    I would like to summarize the bill's timeline. It was introduced by the Leader of the Government in the Senate on January 29, 2009, passed at third reading on April 23, 2009, and sent to the House. We have just received it. It is exactly the same as a bill with the same number and title introduced on December 2, 2008. Bill S-2 was introduced on December 2, 2008. It is also identical to Bill C-43, which was introduced on February 15, 2008, during the second session of the 39th Parliament. These last two bills died on the order paper when the government called an election.
    Once again, they say the matter is an important one, yet it was more important for the Prime Minister to break his promise about fixed election dates last time. He got himself a second minority government. Once again, it is clear that the Conservatives always think that they are the best. Now this is where they have ended up, and they are getting worse and worse day by day. That is a fact. We all knew it, and now everyone knows it, everyone in Quebec, at least.

  (1105)  

    It is becoming clearer day by day that the government is no longer able to govern. It is out of touch with what people want. Of course, when one has a right-wing philosophy, one always thinks that one is right and that everyone else is wrong. If the Conservatives carry on doing what they have been doing, they will be wiped off of the Quebec electoral map, and I, for one, will not mourn their fate. It is so disappointing every time government members from Quebec get brainwashed by the party's right-wing philosophy. They will get what is coming to them: a straightforward invitation to go back to where they came from.
    This bill imposes additional requirements with respect to customs controlled areas, grants the minister the power to authorize entry, and amends provisions respecting the determination of value for duty and advance commercial reporting. It gives customs officers the power to search people and their goods while those people are in or are leaving a customs controlled area.
    What I just said is important because customs officers in these specified areas will have more power. We are concerned that the government plans to expand that area to include entire airports and even parking lots.
    First of all, more customs officers will be required to ensure proper control. Will they be properly trained? Will they respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? We can see the Conservatives' right-wing philosophy lurking behind this. It must be curbed, and once again, the Bloc Québécois can be counted on to do so.
    The bill also states that regulations may be made stipulating when and how persons covered by the regulations may provide information on travellers.
     The current Customs Act is the result of the total revamping of the 1867 act, which was undertaken in 1986 to maintain the original act's three purposes and to allow for greater flexibility in light of developments in transportation, communication, trade and business practices. Since 1986, the Customs Act has been amended regularly in response to free trade and related international agreements and to fine-tune international trade measures.
    This is why the Bloc Québécois wants to cooperate. Yes, there are new international standards, yes we trade with other countries, such as the U.S. Yes, from time to time our customs legislation needs updating. On the other hand, we must not go too far. Once again, the Bloc Québécois can be counted on to do so.
    I will take a few of the clauses in Bill S-2 as introduced, and give some comments on each if I may.
    Clause 2 eliminates the requirement for the minister to make a regulation to grant access to a customs controlled area to any person.
    Once again, care will have to be taken to ensure a degree of transparency with respect to the minister's powers.
     Clause 3 eliminates the exemption that applies to persons leaving a customs controlled area to board a flight with a destination outside Canada. Now, these persons will be required to present themselves to an officer, identify themselves, report any goods acquired while in the customs controlled area, and answer questions.
    Obviously, greater monitoring is a good thing. That is the reason, among others, that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill.
     Clause 4 amends the power of the governor in council to make regulations respecting the persons or classes of persons who may be granted access to a customs controlled area, and regarding the manner in which a person in a customs controlled area, or a person leaving such area, must present himself or herself.
    Understandably, the size of this area is important. That is why we have said from the beginning that we will have to be extremely vigilant concerning how this government will enforce this clause and how the minister will decide to increase the size of this area. Clearly, port authorities want this area to be expanded to all locations near vessels, but they did not ask that this apply to the entire port area, included its parking areas. Thus, we must be vigilant about how clause 4 is applied.
     Clause 5 amends the requirement to report goods imported into Canada, so that a prescribed person, and not the person in charge of the conveyance, must report the goods at the nearest customs office. Accordingly, a regulation defining those prescribed persons will determine who must report the imported goods at the nearest customs office.

  (1110)  

    That is good. The purpose of this standard is to harmonize international trade practices and ensure that the individual who is transporting the goods is obliged to declare them, and not the person in charge of the conveyance, as was the case under the former legislation. This will shed an important new light on the matter.
     Clause 12 of the bill amends the act to allow the minister to set the prescribed time and manner in which he can require a prescribed person to provide information about any person on board a conveyance, under prescribed circumstances and conditions.
    Every time we talk about providing information on passengers, the Bloc Québécois is very concerned about privacy issues. We can never do enough to ensure that this information does not fall in the hands of people who will use it for nefarious purposes. It is therefore important to track it and ensure that the information on passengers provided to the agency will be properly protected.
     Clause 7 amends the methods available to adjust the transaction value of the goods being imported when the vendor receives a benefit from a subsequent sale. This may lead to higher valuations and therefore higher duties being paid by importers.
    We have seen that, in international trade, duties must be paid on the value of goods. So this clause proposes somewhat of an adjustment. Manufacturers in Quebec and Canada are sometimes under intense pressure from competitors in emerging countries and foreign competitors, which use pricing that is not in line with the actual value of the goods. This provision will make it possible to establish balanced tariffs, which can only promote international trade and, as a result, our businesses.
    Clause 10 amends the act to authorize a customs officer to search any person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area if the officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the person has secreted on or about their person anything in respect of which this Act or the regulations have been or might be contravened.
    Therefore, the bill expands the officer's powers and rights to search a person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area. Previously, the person did not have to deal with officers unless that individual had registered or gone through the service. In future, officers will be able to stop and search a person no matter where that person is in a designated area.
    Clause 11 amends the act so that a customs officer may, in accordance with the regulations, conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the custody or possession of a person who is in or is leaving a customs controlled area.
    The officer can not only search the person, but also conduct a non-intrusive examination of goods in the person's possession.
    The goal of the Bloc Québécois has always been to ensure the highest level of safety in areas under Canadian control or jurisdiction. That is the reason we wanted to make sure we discussed this bill. We understand that it is in our best interests to protect personal rights, and that is why we need to be extremely vigilant when it comes to expanding controlled areas, and ensure that the Canada Border Services Agency and the government do not make excessive demands.
    In conclusion, take the example of the port authorities. They told us what they needed, specifically, for the controlled area to be expanded to include areas near the vessel. But they never said that it would apply to the entire port, the connecting parking lot, and so on. When the controlled area is too large, we cannot ensure that the employees have the appropriate training or that individuals are informed of their rights.
    Again, we are interested in protecting the rights of individuals, passengers and those who administer the service.

  (1115)  

    

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his speech this morning because he has raised and highlighted some very important issues.
    I was most interested in his fairly detailed discussion of customs-controlled areas and the possibility of their expansion to include areas like as parking lots at airports, and the civil liberties implications of doing that and the requirement that we be vigilant about how that work is actually done.
    I wonder if he could tell me whether there was any attempt to change this bill to further qualify those customs-controlled areas. I do not think there were any amendments at report stage on the legislation.
     I also wonder if he could say whether there is any implication for folks who work in areas like parking lots or other areas outside of what we would normally see as a customs area at an airport or a port, whether there are any security clearance concerns for workers in these other areas that may impinge on their ability to get those kinds of clearances in order to work in those areas should they be expanded to cover areas outside the normal airport or port areas.

  (1120)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    The problem is that the minister is the one with the power to establish the area. What if we had challenged the minister's power? If we had, the bill would have included provisions defining the areas involved. It was complicated. We have to see how this plays out. In theory, it would have been very hard to pinpoint controlled areas in every port and airport. The minister needs to have some power.
    Many laws give the minister power. It is fine to give a minister power, but when that minister is a Conservative, with the Conservatives' right-wing outlook that sees evil lurking everywhere—that is pretty much their problem—well, that is when we need some safeguards. My colleague is right. That is why I mentioned port authorities that said they needed a larger area around vessels. We will have to be vigilant and make sure that the government does not go too far and include the entire port, as well as parking areas. Parking lot workers and people working anywhere within the area may not be put in harm's way, but they may fall under suspicion and be subjected to searches. Imagine the consequences of going too far with security.
    Our concern is based on the fact that responsibility for security will be given to a Conservative minister. As we have seen, the Conservatives tend to go too far and see evil everywhere. Perhaps they should look within their party instead.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to say something to the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel in response to his last comment on the governing party's natural tendency to lean towards the right, that is, the government is so concerned with the evil it sees everywhere that its bills no longer reflect a basic ideology. I think—and I do not know whether the member will agree—that we should apply the following ideology: bills such as this one should benefit the public, businesses and individual rights. So we could judge the entire bill using those three categories.
    Does the member think that this bill, which originated in the other chamber, not this one, respects these three categories? Or does the member think that the bill is simply an attempt to correct existing problems, or problems that simply do not exist because the other jurisdiction, that is, the U.S., requested it?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Eglinton—Lawrence for his question.
    Law is symbolized by the scales of justice, which, in their own right, symbolize balance. If I were asked whether the Conservative party is balanced, I would not be the only one to say no; all Canadians now see that it is not. When the Leader of the Government in the Senate, a Conservative, introduces a bill, we always have to be careful. In this case, we have to be careful in considering the size of the areas targeted by this bill, the control areas that could be expanded by the Conservative minister. We need to be careful because this expansion could affect the rights of workers, individuals, passengers and those who use all port and airport areas.
    I explained why putting forward such an amendment is so complicated. Amending a bill so that the members can define the boundaries of each port and airport would have been a monumental task. We now need a part of this bill in order to do business with other countries, and that part is valid. But we always have to watch for the poison pill that the Conservatives slip into a bill. They do it every time security or justice is involved. They do not keep the scales balanced.

  (1125)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for his speech, which was excellent as usual.
    Yesterday, I happened to be taking someone else's place on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I was totally amazed to learn in a report from the RCMP representatives who were present at the meeting, that there are 60 cases of people with criminal records or direct links with organized crime working in Canadian airports at this time.
    We also learned, in a CBC report two years ago, that customs officers were complaining about being pressured by questionable people to not inspect certain incoming planes. To our utter amazement, when we questioned the people responsible for airports testifying before the committee, we learned that they did not carry out any serious investigations when they hired airport staff. They do a minimal investigation but do not, for instance, go to the extent of asking for police checks. They were entitled to ask the RCMP for these but they cited protection of privacy.
    The people who work in airports are thinking at this time about finding a solution to this problem. They want to have job applicants sign a form authorizing the airports to carry out a check, or get one done by the RCMP, as a minimum. Even MPs have to sign an authorization for a background check when they decide to run as candidates, and this is a minimum.
    When my colleague calls for vigilance as far as the rights assigned to the minister to further increase the parameters of the law, ought we not also to be asking the minister to be a bit more vigilant about those who already have to enforce the law?
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. Vigilance, in keeping with principles of justice and equity, must be balanced.
    I am well aware of the situation my colleague has referred to with respect to controlled security areas in ports. There are discussions on this going on at the present time among the unions. It is not easy to authorize a security standard. We will have to see the preliminary versions tabled by the government in order to know what kind of investigation it subjected current port employees to. If it were a little less right-wing, this matter would have been settled a long time ago, and an agreement would have been reached. That is, however, not the case as yet.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today with pride to support the bill on behalf of our caucus and our leader.
    The bill before us is Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Customs Act. We are very pleased to support the movement forward of the bill, because we have examined its provisions carefully, and although we have some small concerns, which I will itemize later in my speech, fundamentally it is a sound bill that will do much to both preserve security at our borders and enhance the movement of goods and people through those borders.
    The bill really does a number of things. It provides legislative changes that are needed to provide a lawful basis for and allow the full implementation of previously approved key programs. These amendments will strengthen risk assessment, enforcement, trade facilitation and security.
    The bill also embraces a number of technical and housekeeping changes that are required to implement the programs that I mentioned earlier, which have been put in place in the past several years.
    The bill contains key amendments that provide a concrete response to a number of security concerns noted in the October 2007 report of the Auditor General.
    The Canada Border Services Agency employs three fundamental strategies for managing the border. One is pre-approval programs. These programs are to expedite the movement of low-risk goods and people and to allow for strategic focus of resources on people and goods of higher and unknown risk. By focusing on the latter, we can more easily, quickly and with less interruption expedite the flow of the former.
    The second strategy is advance information. The bill is intended to help stop threats before they reach our borders and to facilitate border processes for legitimate trade and travel.
    The third is to turn information into intelligence. Because the Border Services Agency relies on sophisticated risk assessment systems based primarily on modern technology and techniques and the expertise and experience of employees at home and abroad, we need to ensure that they have the tools and the legal framework to allow them to carry out this important task.
    The first major area where the bill improves Canada's border efficiency and security has to do with the new e-manifest system, which is really a commercial information system that will require carriers of goods and people coming into Canada to transmit that information in advance of coming into our country. That will provide our Canada Border Services Agency personnel with the ability to make more informed risk assessments, and conversely, allow through our borders the more free movement of people and goods that do not really present a risk to our country.
    The current program, which is being amended by the bill, requires the owner or person in charge of the conveyance of air and marine modes to provide commercial information electronically prior to entering Canada. The regulations that we are proposing address the time, manner and data requirements, to require all links in the import trade chain to provide CBSA with this advance information. In other words, not just the owner or person in charge of the conveyance, but all links in the import trade chain will be required to furnish information in advance.
    The rationale for this is that by providing advance electronic data, CBSA will be able to better target high-risk shipments while streamlining the entry of low-risk shipments. Without the amendment, compliance at present is on a voluntary basis.
    Electronic reporting would also remain streamlined and timely, reducing the dependency on paper filing, and this is demonstrative of the commitment to sustainable development.

  (1130)  

    Many of the commercial carriers in our country, customs brokers and importers, would be able to more efficiently move their goods through our country's borders. Because they will be able to file their information electronically, it will be quicker and better for our environment.
    I am happy to say that there have been external consultations. The source of focus in the committee's study of this bill was to ensure that the people who would be most affected by this change both understood the changes and that their views and ideas were taken into consideration. I am pleased to say that was done.
    Trade chain partners in marine, air, highway, rail, importing, freight associations and brokers involved in various stages of the import chain have all been informed and consulted about this bill. We in the New Democratic Party will work to continue to ensure that the trade community will be consulted throughout the design, development and implementation of this project.
    The second major area that this bill pays attention to has to do with the creation of what are called customs controlled areas. The current legislation designates customs controlled areas to be secure areas controlled by CBSA where international uncleared goods or persons may come into contact with domestic goods or persons, such as, for example, in airport lounges or areas on airport tarmacs.
    Border officers currently have the authority to only question and search individuals when they are at exit points. In other words, all persons leaving a customs controlled area must report to a border services officer. The proposed amendment in this bill would retain the customs controlled areas and would not expand the powers of the Canada Border Services agents whatsoever.
    What it would do is provide officers with the authority to stop, question and potentially search individuals within the customs controlled areas, not just at exit points. People would still be obligated to report to Border Services officers upon request but it would remove the onus on all persons to report upon exiting the area because now the officers would have the clear legal authority to stop people.
    The reason we believe this amendment is a positive step is in areas where there are domestic workers, domestic goods or even domestic citizens coming into contact with international passengers or goods, there is the potential for security breaches. If people are entering and exiting these areas many times a day, taking the example of workers going in and out of customs controlled areas, it is simply beyond the resources of CBSA to follow and question those people each and every time they exit the area. It is a more efficient use of resources to grant the power to CBSA officials to stop higher risk or suspicious activity within the area.
    This also would liberate people who go in and out of the area frequently from having to stop and report every time. It has a dual advantage, in my view. It both increases the efficiency and effectiveness of our CBSA officials and it is less of a burden on those who need to go into and out of customs controlled areas on a daily basis.
    We also think these changes would improve the security at these points because testimony in committee indicated that it was these areas where conspiracies may develop. This is where people can meet within the customs controlled areas and potentially make arrangements that may allow for dangerous goods, services or people to travel in and out of our country. We think this is an important part of our security.
    Once again, I want to make clear that there are no additional powers beyond what are currently given to the agents at our borders. It is simply a more effective means of delivering those powers.
    This bill also contains other technical and housekeeping amendments, which I will not go through, but I will highlight some of them. There are amendments to valuation provisions that would make the act consistent with the WTO customs valuation agreement that Canada ratified in 1991.

  (1135)  

    There is a technical amendment to the advance passenger information personal name record program that would help clarify and make existing mandatory obligations for commercial carriers to provide passenger information electronically within prescribed time limits. Currently, there is no time limit on it. Carriers are required to provide that information prior to entering Canada or within a reasonable time of landing. These amendments would require that all information be provided prior to arrival in Canada, which would assist our personnel in processing the information and speeding up the process.
    Language inconsistencies will be corrected, particularly with respect to ensuring that the French version of the legislation corresponds better with the English version.
     I want to mention some of the concerns with this bill because the bill is not without its areas of concern. First, this bill does not delineate what exactly a customs controlled area is, rather, that is left to the discretion of the minister, which is somewhat concerning. Parliamentarians will need to be vigilant to ensure that the way the minister designates these areas does not go beyond the purpose of the bill. There has been some suggestions that customs controlled areas may include duty-free shops and, as was raised some time ago by my hon. colleague from Burnaby—Douglas, may be extended to parking lots.
    We need to be vigilant to ensure that the areas are restricted to the bare minimum in order to attain the object of the bill, which is to control the areas where international and domestic persons and goods intersect at border and customs controlled areas.
    Second, another area that is left to the minister's discretion is the minister's ability to exempt certain persons from the requirements to be stopped within customs controlled areas. I asked a question on that at committee to ensure I understood the rationale for that. The answer was that this was for perhaps diplomatic personnel or emergency personnel, like ambulance or medical personnel who are rushing to an emergency, those kinds of things.
    However, that is another area where we must be vigilant to ensure is controlled. It does no good to say that people entering the customs controlled areas are subject to search and questioning and then to allow the minister to exempt classes of people. We need to be sure that list is small and carefully justified.
    There were other areas of concern that we on the committee and in our party were vigilant to ensure were taken into account in this bill. We received assurances that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would apply to people in these customs controlled areas so they would not be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures. We wanted to ensure privilege would be respected. Many times lawyers travel through these areas and many of them have material that relates to their clients' privileged legal interests. We wanted to ensure their privilege was respected and that their material would not be subject to search and seizure.
    We wanted to and did inquire into privacy concerns to ensure people's privacy interests were respected. I must say that is an area that is unclear at this point and, as parliamentarians, we must be vigilant to ensure the privacy interests of Canadians are respected in these areas, as they ought to be across our land.
    We asked questions and ensured there would be plans to have proper training for all the CBSA officials, who may need to implement these broadened powers, to ensure they would be respectful of the issues that I just mentioned and effectuate their powers in a manner that is responsible and lawful.
    We wanted to ensure, and did ask questions, that there would be adequate safeguards around the information or goods that are detained or seized. We wanted to ensure that the length of time the information or goods would be retained would be limited and that there would be restrictions on the disclosure of that information to third parties. We wanted to ensure the information would not be used for purposes beyond that for which it was garnered in the first place. We wanted to ensure information would be carefully controlled and, ultimately, disposed of, returned or destroyed so that it would not get out of the lawful possession of those who had an obligation to guard the privacy interests pertaining to that information.

  (1140)  

    Last, we wanted to ensure that the workers who had to work in customs controlled areas were informed of their rights and had their rights respected at all times in the implementation of this legislation.
    Having said all of that, I want to congratulate the government for bringing forward this bill. We think it is measured and administratively well drafted legislation which, I might add, passed through committee with the unanimous support of all four parties. It is a model of how this Parliament can work when all four parties put aside their partisan differences and work together to try to provide solid, reasonable legislation.
    I would like to congratulate all members of the committee from all parties who worked co-operatively and constructively to ensure the legislation was moved forward in an efficient, effective and logical manner.

  (1145)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for informing the House about some of the committee considerations.
    The points with regard to the charter and privacy issues are very relevant and I hope to make a few comments on those later this day.
    My concern, which I raised earlier, and perhaps the member could give his perspective on it, is with the new clause 164.1(1), which states:
    A regulation made under this Act may incorporate by reference any material regardless of its source and either as it exists on a particular date or as amended from time to time.
    It is a little concerning to me when a regulation incorporates by reference a document that can be changed from time to time. It would make it onerous for any legislator, never mind the public at large, to properly understand what the law says. For example, often the Income Tax Act is incorporated in legislation directly rather than by regulation simply because it is a document that provides substantive guidelines. However, to have matters incorporated by reference in a regulation, which is promulgated by cabinet and never seen by this place, because we do not see the regulations until after the bill has already passed, it leaves, in my view, a grey area in which the intent of the legislation may be stretched or even violated by a matter in a regulation that incorporates some other document, whatever it might be, by reference. It makes the legislation more cumbersome in my view.
    I am wondering if the member could share with us whether the committee had some concerns about this and whether he is aware of why matters, which are--
    The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.
    Mr. Speaker, that is an astute observation. Indeed, there was concern raised by the committee about incorporation by reference and we questioned that.
    Incorporation by reference is a legal drafting tool. This tool allows for a regulation to include material contained in another document, without the necessity of reproducing that document word for word within the text of the regulation itself. A specific example, when we questioned the need for that, came up in the customs context.
     Under section 13.2 of the reporting of imported goods regulations, the owner or person in charge of a vessel must send certain information to the CBSA by electronic means and it specifies that the information must be sent in accordance with the technical requirements, specifications and procedures for electronic data interchange sent out in the electronic commerce client requirements document. That document is internally produced by CBSA and it provides for technical requirements for electronic data exchange with the CBSA. It is published in both official languages and it is amended from time to time. That is an example where we do not want to have to reproduce that entire document in the text of the legislation.
    That was the example used as to why we would want to incorporate by reference and to have that regulatory power in the bill.
    We were assured that material which would be incorporated by reference would be reviewed by the Department of Justice in a manner similar to a draft regulation. It would be carefully reviewed for adherence to the law, generally, and, particularly, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
     I believe my friend is quite correct in saying that we must be vigilant to ensure and watch how that power is exercised. If it is exercised inappropriately or irresponsibly, we may have to revisit this and remove that power.

  (1150)  

    Mr. Speaker, I was heartened by the member's comments about how well the committee works together. This is a minority Parliament and that is exactly how these committees should work, unlike in the last Parliament, where there was a lot of acrimony. I think maybe we are moving forward when we can work together as a group and get things done for the people of Canada.
    I note that the Auditor General did a report on the Canada Border Service Agency and found that the border services officers did not a have a clear authority to search for or seize counterfeit goods, which is an emerging area and a very large area. She states:
    The Agency has established policies and procedures; however, at certain crossings, we noted poor control over the administration and handling of seized goods, such as alcohol and firearms.
    Bill S-2 includes requirements pertaining to advanced information and expanded search powers for officers. Would these requirements lead to decreased amounts of dangerous and illicit goods entering Canada through customs controlled areas?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona for the wonderful work he does on behalf of his constituents, in particular, he is always concerned about the rights of individuals and consumers in our country.
    In short, it appears the bill would not change the powers of CBSA officers to question and search people through these amendments. Their powers would remain exactly the same. The only change would be at what point they would exercise those powers.
    Again, at present, anybody exiting a customs controlled area is subject to questioned and searched. All this would do is allow the officers to apply that power within the customs controlled area, which would be a more intelligent and targeted use of that power.
    With respect to the very intelligent question about whether this would increase the ability to interdict substances or goods, that remains to be seen. However, it is our hope that these powers will be exercised in a manner that will result in more safety and in the interdiction of goods and people that ought not to be entering our country.
    Mr. Speaker, could the member advise the House what the actual definition of a customs-controlled area is in the Customs Act right now?
    Mr. Speaker, I do not know what the current definition is. I do know the current act, which incorporates and uses the term customs-controlled areas, does not have a definition. This is an area of concern.
    As I mentioned, it is one of the concerns raised by the committee because the definition of that designation is left to the discretion of the minister. It behooves all of us a parliamentarians to keep a close eye on how that designation is used. If it appears it is being expanded in a manner that is inappropriate or irresponsible, which is always a possibility with the government, then we have a parliamentary duty to rein that in and make changes to the legislation if that proves necessary.
    Mr. Speaker, I have a follow-up question for the hon. member. Clause 10 of the bill would allow an officer to search any person who would be in or would be leaving a customs-controlled area if the officer suspected, on reasonable grounds, that the person had secreted on or about his or her person anything in respect to which the Customs Act or the regulations would be or might be contravened, or anything that would provide evidence of a contravention of any federal law prohibiting, regulating or controlling importation or exportation.
    How does this provision differ from existing provisions in the Customs Act? How will officers determine when a search within a customs-controlled area is warranted? Will the customs officers require additional training or resources to effectively implement this provision?

  (1155)  

    Mr. Speaker, I will start with my hon. colleague's last question first. I think the answer is yes. CBSA officers will require additional training to ensure that they exercise their powers in a manner that is both effective and respectful of the rights of all people who are travelling through customs-controlled areas.
    In answer to his first question, the change proposed in the legislation, vis-à-vis the current Customs Act, is the addition of the power to question and search people in the area. This is the important distinction to be made and the important—
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Mississauga South.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to offer some thoughts on Bill S-2, which originated in the Senate.
    The bill would amend the Customs Act, clarify certain provisions and make technical amendments to others. It would also impose additional requirements in customs' controlled areas, amend provisions respecting the determination of value for duty and modify advanced commercial reporting requirements. The bill provides that regulations may incorporate materials by reference.
    It is interesting to see how the debate has gone on. It started off with a member of the official opposition spending a bit of time dealing with the potential implications of border areas on the economy of Canada and a little review of the current economic climate and the financial position of the country right now, which members are concerned about, whether it be with regard to the size of deficits, the level of unemployment, the international difficulties, bailouts and the like.
    Having allowed that discussion to take place for some 10 minutes provided a great opportunity to open up the entire debate to talk about the finances of the nation, but the bill is not about that. It is tangentially involved.
    There was also an intervention by the parliamentary secretary, who gave us a little lesson about the Canada Border Services Agency. It is helpful for the public to understand that this agency has some responsibilities and they are very serious and onerous.
    What caught my attention about the bill is the whole area of the regulatory environment and the expansion of the regulatory reach, which is being enabled by Bill S-2.
    I was curious at the outset as to why the bill, which was introduced in the House in the last Parliament, was this time put through the Senate. I will be the first to admit that Senate committees do better work than House of Commons committees for no other reason than their members do not have constituency responsibilities as well as some of the political responsibilities of members of Parliament. Senators are not spread as thin and they can look at bills carefully, and I noted a couple of items senators raised.
    The bill passed in the Senate on April 23, about a month ago. It received a quick second reading here and went to committee where it stayed for one day. To me, second reading of bills is an opportunity for a few members to participate in a debate and to talk about their views or about their knowledge, but without having the knowledge of any witnesses or experts to find out exactly what the stakeholders have to say about charter implications or privacy implications. Did the Privacy Commissioner appear? What do airport authorities have to say about this? How do they feel about the changes that are being proposed to the Customs Act?
    There is a major implication in Bill S-2 with respect to the way the Customs Act operates and the latitude that people will have. It touches very closely on charter rights, on personal information and electronic documents and on the facilitation of trade activity across our border. Bill S-2 touches on a lot of things, but committee had only one day to discuss it.

  (1200)  

    The committee met on May 26 and it reported today.
    That raises the question about why the committee did not look more carefully at some of the substantive questions that have come up. I do not know why there were not the kinds of witnesses that would be necessary to expose risk areas. The previous speaker was a member of the committee, and I asked him a simple question: What is the definition of a customs controlled area? He was not aware. That definition is in the current Customs Act. I do not happen to have it with me.
    There was a speech given earlier this day by a member who mused about whether or not a customs controlled area would include an airport parking lot, or certain other areas as opposed to what we would normally consider to be the customs area, where there are officers and people would be taken to be asked questions. Another question had to do with duty free shops which are customs controlled areas. Duty free shops are in the main part of an airport where the public is going.
    This is sloppy. I hate to say it, but this is a sloppy approach to a bill that may have some consequences. When I rose to ask a question earlier, I asked about an area that I spent a lot of time on. It has to do with regulations. I am still not aware of the discussions and I have not had an opportunity to look at the discussions at Senate committee. There is a new section being added to the Customs Act, new section 164.1(1), which states:
    A regulation made under this Act may incorporate by reference any material regardless of its source and either as it exists on a particular date or as amended from time to time.
    Leaving out the time element, it says very simply that the regulation may incorporate any material regardless of its source. I was astounded when I read that. There are no restrictions. A regulation can incorporate anything. Why would a document be incorporated by reference? Take the example of legislation regarding a tax credit for people who buy tools. There may be an incorporation of the Income Tax Act by reference so that if people wanted to see the kinds of tools that would qualify, they could refer to that document. There is more detail. It is for clarification.
    This new section that will go into the Customs Act says “any” document. From a lay perspective, I guess people would say that if there is a piece of legislation called the Customs Act, they can read it and see what the powers are. They can go to the regulations and see those. Members will know that we do not see the regulations on any act until after we have passed the legislation and it has received royal assent. Regulations are made by order-in-council.
    This new section goes on to say that those regulations that we do not see until after we have given royal assent to a bill can incorporate by reference any other material. How is a stakeholder or interested party to understand the substantive point of a clause of a bill or an act like the Customs Act without seeing the regulations if they need some clarification? Now it has this other element of incorporation by reference of any other material.
    If people are wondering whether or not they are going to be in compliance with the law, they are now almost forced to go to the regulation to see what documents or materials are incorporated by reference and then they are going to have to find those materials to see whether it is in context.

  (1205)  

    This is a very strange addition. I understand that the matter came up at the Senate committee. There were concerns raised. Here we are at third reading and I have heard a couple of speakers also raise some concerns. There are still outstanding questions about what constitutes a customs controlled area. This problem of the incorporation of any other materials that they want is still a concern. Are there still concerns about privacy? Are there still concerns about charter rights of individuals? Are there concerns about the impact of the authority that is going to be expanded and passed on to customs officers that may have some impact on the flow not only of goods and materials, but also of people? This is part of the economic equation.
    Here we are at third reading. We still have questions. The House is not quite sure whether or not a customs controlled area includes the parking lot of an airport. The Greater Toronto Airport Authority has opined on this. It supports the bill. The GTAA supports the bill and feels that it will provide border services officers with the flexibility, and I stress flexibility, to examine goods and question and search people anywhere within customs controlled areas. Under the current Customs Act, the Canada Border Services Agency is only able to exercise this authority at exit points.
    It is kind of broad. The Canadian Airports Council also is supportive and indicates that when it was first introduced, trade lawyers expressed concern with parts of the Bill S-2 that it might allow the government to pass regulations regarding what information or advanced data elements would need to be provided by exporters prior to the arrival of goods into Canada without much consultation. The council is concerned also with the extent of the information that will be required and how the requirements to gather and provide the information will affect exporters' trade with Canada.
    This is very, very significant. The response of the GTAA and of the Canadian Airports Council about how this is going to impact the flow of people, the flow of goods. The bureaucratic requirement now is almost open-ended. It is almost as if all of a sudden those who have goods or services or other trade matters which come through border areas, or people, may now be exposed to a whole bunch of onerous requirements.
    It raises the spectre I have asked businesses on many occasions. What can we do so that they can do more business and be more successful? Time and time again, they want us to reduce the bureaucratic involvement, the paper requirements, the disclosure requirements, the forms, the reporting. All of these things are very important, but the bill opens it wide where advance reporting requirements may bog the system down. It is going to have some implications.
    This morning I was at the meeting of the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations. It is one of the least known committees in Parliament, but it has an important responsibility.

  (1210)  

    As I indicated earlier, when a bill comes before us, the House deals with it at second reading. It goes to committee. It comes back, perhaps with report stage amendments. We have third reading debate and a vote. When it passes here, it goes to the Senate and basically goes through the same process.
    If a bill indicates that the minister may make regulations in certain areas, and this bill does, members of both houses have debated and discussed all their concerns without seeing the regulations. There is legislation that was given royal assent four years ago which still has not got the regulations in place. Many of the clauses in that particular bill are still not enforced because it is waiting for regulations.
    It is so bad that a Senate private member's bill actually passed in this place which says that if a bill does not get royal assent or items are not proclaimed and enacted within 10 years, they will sunset. They will die. It happens; that is the reality.
    Now we have a situation in this bill where the regulations are expanding the horizons by permitting incorporation of materials, any material, by reference. It will make it more difficult for people to understand what the law really says. It is the responsibility of the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations to be vigilant and to look at the regulations as they are gazetted to make sure that those regulations clarify or provide the additional information so that people understand what the clauses in the bill say.
    There can be no regulations that are not enabled by the legislation. The legislation itself must have clauses that say that the minister can make a regulation to amplify or clarify the details. For instance, if there is a tax credit for tools, in the regulations there might be a list of the kinds of tools that would be eligible for a tax credit. That would be an example of a regulation doing what it should.
    What has been happening for a long time is something called backdoor legislation. It is in fact putting into regulations intent or activities which have not been specifically enabled in the legislation. It means that the House of Commons and the Senate can do all their work, but once the bill passes and it gets royal assent, it then goes into the hands of cabinet. It is cabinet that does the regulations. Those regulations start to creep and have a broader implication to the bill. If we look at the regulations, our understanding of what the clause in the bill actually says may be different. It should not be. It should be the other way around. There should be no surprises in regulations.
    I have some grave concerns about this. I do not think there is anything I can do about it. I will say that the potential implications concern me. It concerns me that the committee seems to have given it fairly short shrift. That is problematic. There are potentially some sweeping implications of this. There have been some assurances given with regard to the charter issues and privacy issues. I would have had a greater comfort level if the representatives from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner had been there to give their view to the committee about the privacy considerations, because if a customs controlled area is much broader than we think it is, the public could be subjected to questions on any matter that someone has a reasonable suspicion to think might affect the Customs Act.

  (1215)  

    Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member's comments. He has made similar comments in the past and I certainly agree with him that all too often legislatures pass bills for which regulations will be promulgated in the future, and we never get updates as to what the process is and how it is developing.
    There was a bill passed three or four years ago in Parliament to establish all-in pricing for airline fares. After two years that provision was lost in space. We will probably never hear about it again and regulations will never be brought into force.
    Clause 6 of this bill creates a new section under the Customs Act to allow the governor in council to make regulations regarding the advanced information that is required for the importation of goods, information about the persons and goods on board the conveyance.
    I would like to ask the member a question. Does he think there are any planned consultations for the development of these regulations? Clearly, that is a question that should be asked by the committee. What is the process going to be, who is going to be consulted, and when are they going to be consulted?
    Madam Speaker, consultation on a regulation should not actually be necessary because it provides clarification. There should be consultation on clauses of the bill, the act itself.
    The member raised a question. This is where the scrutiny of regulations committee comes in. From time to time there have been additional clauses put in bills that basically say that any regulations made pursuant to legislation shall be reviewed by the appropriate committee of both Houses to ensure that the meaning, intent, scope, et cetera, is enabled by and is the intent of the legislation.
    Committees should understand that they have the extraordinary authority, right and responsibility, where necessary, to make amendments at the committee stage. Where there is some concern about the regulation-making process and where there are potentially some very serious consequences, the committee should have the opportunity to review them, maybe not to reject or accept them but at least to examine them, and make comment to the minister before the regulations are gazetted.
    Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague from Mississauga South a question. He has become a renowned expert on parliamentary procedure in this place and has picked up on a very important issue in this particular bill, and that is the protection of the rights of individuals as per some of the language that is being used, at least in my experience, and I agree with him, for the very first time in many a year.
    I note that in his presentation he talked about protection of the rights of individuals as we try to build in greater efficiencies in the way that we handle our border crossings and the movement of people and goods back and forth. I am wondering if he could take a moment to comment on just what it means, at least from the perspective of parliamentarians, when the government says that there will effectively be no restrictions on the kinds of things that a border official can demand of someone crossing the border.

  (1220)  

    Madam Speaker, I am the chair of the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Standing Committee of the House. We have been doing a fair bit of work. We are in the middle of a project on the Privacy Act. There is another act. It is called the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act which also covers a lot of these things.
    However, with regard to privacy issues, the member is absolutely right. We have a creeping going on in terms of the exposure of information that is being disclosed. We had a proviso where the U.S. authorities wanted to have airline manifests, even for aircraft that was just flying over U.S. airspace. Now we have other legislation which is allowing CSIS and even the RCMP, for security reasons, for personal information to be shared with foreign jurisdictions. There are other cases where concerns are raised even with respect to companies like Google whereby Google view software is taking pictures of people. Those are already subject to concern and they require that faces be blocked out, that original information be destroyed, and that the retention be limited.
    Therefore, the members is quite right. This seems to be much broader than some of those things. It raises some concerns and I think the House should be very concerned and vigilant about the implications not only to the charter but also to the privacy rights of Canadians.
    Madam Speaker, I want to follow up on that exchange that the member just had.
    I know that his interest in privacy runs very deep, partly from his work as the chair of the standing committee. I am wondering if this legislation is in place whether a requirement for a privacy impact assessment might be part of this kind of legislation. It is an example of where that should be a legislated part of legislation, such as the bill that we are discussing today.
    I also want to ask the member if he could respond. For many of my constituents, the key border issue, not to diminish the importance of cross-border trade, is the flow of illegal weapons across the border.
    It seems to me that even though that is the view of many people as the most serious border issue between Canada and the United States, this legislation does not seem to add anything to our ability to stop that flow of illegal weapons across the border.
    I wonder if the member could comment on whether he sees that as a serious deficiency of this opportunity to make changes to the customs legislation.
    Madam Speaker, with regard to the privacy impact assessments, as the member who is also a member of our committee well knows, this was discretionary at the time. I think it is becoming more and more clear that they should be a prerequisite to have been conducted prior to legislation being considered or drafted. There are pitfalls. The member will know that we have a case where it has been two years of waiting for a privacy impact assessment which seems that there is not a buy-in yet.
    With regard to illegal weapons, the member is absolutely right. It is a very important area. I think the two encouraging things in the bill are: first, that the authority to search and to question and so on which is now restricted to Canada Border Services Agency personnel will be broadened to I guess the whole customs area. That is very important. Second, and I have raised it before, I am hoping that the definition of what is a customs controlled area will be interpreted based on the intent of the legislation to include a broader range of areas, other than just simply the entry point. That would certainly give more opportunity for the authorities involved to be able to be vigilant for potential areas where illegal weapons may be coming in.

  (1225)  

    Madam Speaker, in terms of this bill, as a general concept, I support it.
    We did review this before the public safety committee, of which I am a member. Generally speaking, there were very few questions but there are some problems, two in particular I wish to highlight during the latter part of my speech.
    Initially, I simply wish to comment upon what is good about this bill. First, it must be remembered that this particular statute, the Customs Act, its simple purpose is to administer and enforce the collection of duties and taxes. This is not actually a taxing statute. This is also not comprehensive legislation in terms of border security and the arming of guards. We have other statutes for that.
    What must remembered any time we are passing amendments to one of these statutes in this area is that we live in a different time. When this was initially passed many years ago, we did not have the same number of concerns with the border and we did not have 9/11. Various things have changed. At this point in time, we have to find a reasonable balance between safety and the enforcement of these various charges.
    No act is perfect, but generally speaking I think this is a relatively good act, and I would be surprised if all parties did not support this in the House. This already passed the Senate on April 23, 2009. The Senate has done a good job in terms of considering this act.
    There are two main changes to the Customs Act in terms of what this bill does. First, is the expansion of activity within a customs controlled area. My esteemed colleague already commented on that. Essentially, we are creating a customs controlled area that would be under the supervision of these officials without having restrictions upon their ability to actually enforce the legislation and to make sure that things are not actually happening in an illegal manner.
    For example, if there is a flight that has come into Canada, there may be a parcel that was international in origin. Smuggling does take place. We have gun problems, narcotic problems and things do happen. If the package is taken from an international cargo area and somebody trying to do something wrong tries to bring it into the domestic area, it might become one of those packages that simply does not get searched.
    One of the things this act is trying to accomplish is to allow officers to search people in these customs controlled areas, even if they are not passengers, and if there are reasonable and probable grounds. For example, somebody who works there obviously cannot be checked in and out every time, that is just not practical. There is too much going on. I think the stats at Pearson in Toronto, as one example, indicate that a plane is either touching down or lifting off every minute. In those circumstances, the laws have to be practical and efficient as well.
    Going back to my example, in the situation where a parcel is now in the domestic area, which ordinarily would not be searched, it would now be in one of these customs controlled areas. Whatever the parcels may be, or is going back and forth, or people are going in and out of these areas, there is now the ability to search these people and search these parcels. Essentially, it is an expansion of what the legislation previously was. I think that is a good thing to do in these times with these various problems that we are having.
    The second main purpose of this amendment is to advance passenger information in terms of providing information to the Canadian authorities before people come into Canada. That makes sense. There is nothing wrong with letting us know in advance who is coming and what information there may be about those people. We will have a better opportunity to guard against what should not be occurring. I think that is another supportable feature of this legislation.
    Another issue, in terms of clause 2, is that the minister will now have the power to directly authorize access to customs controlled areas. Before this, it could only be done by regulation. That is not very practical. If a minister now wants to authorize, for example, a member of Parliament to come and examine the site, he or she could do that. We do not have to wait for a regulation. I think that is a very practical measure which makes sense.

  (1230)  

    There was also an exemption previously in terms of persons boarding a flight to a destination outside of Canada and leaving a customs controlled area. They did not have to present or identify themselves to an officer. They did not have to report any goods that were obtained in the area and they did not have to answer any questions from an officer.
    To be safe, in this day and age I believe it is reasonable to include a requirement that officers can in fact question people, examine them, ask for identification and see what goods they have. In essence that is part of an overall deterrence package. Once again, with so much traffic coming in and out of Canada, if people know these powers are there and they are now subject to inspection, perhaps that in itself would modify a good portion of conduct that should not be taking place.
    It is important we recognize that something in the range of $1.6 billion of daily trade goes back and forth between Canada and the United States. These amendments obviously do not apply just to the United States, but since 80% of Canada's trade is with the United States, it is important that we have these various types of reasonable requirements. We especially have an obligation to all our trading partners and all our friends around the world to make sure we are doing what is necessary to ensure that laws here are being enforced.
    Other improvements, specifically clauses 10 and 11, deal with inspections on the reasonable and probable grounds that I was mentioning. These clauses are very substantial, good changes that will allow us to fight smuggling specifically. I very strongly support those.
    In terms of support from stakeholder groups, we have the GTAA and the Canadian Airports Council. A number of persons have supported this. I am not speaking for all parties formally, but I believe this will be supported by all parties when it comes to a vote.
    Now, there are problems. There are two problems in particular that I do want to address. Once again, bills are not perfect, and perhaps they can be changed, but I do want to identify the problems. The first one has already been pointed out by my colleague, which specifically is proposed subsection 164.1(1), and I am going to read it. It is with respect to regulations, and it indicates:
    A regulation made under this Act may incorporate by reference any material regardless of its source and either as it exists on a particular date or as amended from time to time.
    In terms of law, one of the first principles is that there is no certainty to this. When we consider, once again, “on a particular date or as amended from time to time”, I would strongly prefer that this provision be tightened up so it specifically notes how regulations would be made and that there is not this incorporation by reference, especially with the phrase “as amended from time to time”. That does not provide certainty under the law, and I would like to see that changed.
    I should mention that I do have the honour of being the joint chair of the scrutiny of regulations committee and this is what we deal with all the time. When these various regulations come to us and there is a problem, we seek to change or amend them. If something cannot be done, there is the power of disallowance, which is very rare. But it is better to try to avoid these problems now rather than having to deal with them in the future, so I would like to see that changed if possible.
    The second potential problem deals with solicitor-client privilege. Specifically, it is not clear to me from the wording in this legislation that it is protected. Solicitor-client privilege is one of those legal rights that is accepted essentially in all common law countries, and it is something that needs to be enumerated specifically here. An example would be this. We are providing these powers in customs controlled areas to inspect essentially anybody at any time. The bill refers to reasonable or probable grounds. There are various passengers coming in and out to these various customs controlled areas.

  (1235)  

    I would like to see something that specifically says if it is a lawyer with solicitor-client documentation that it cannot in any way be inspected, period. I myself have had this situation, not in a negative manner, bringing legal documents back and forth for cases I had in the United States. It never has been a problem. However, I want to make sure that it never becomes a problem for anybody. I think it would be better if this was enumerated so we know that right would not be abrogated.
    Overall, I believe that the statute is worthy of becoming law. There will always be problems. It would be my preference to see these problems that I noted solved. However, that being the case, I think that overall this is good work by the Senate, and I think we should support it.
    Madam Speaker, I note that the Auditor General's report of 2007 also made recommendations on the need for the Canada Border Services Agency to improve its framework and strategy for managing and assessing risks. Specifically, the report recommended that the Canada Border Services Agency should better develop its risk-based approach for the delivery of integrated border services and use this as a basis for deploying its resources and focusing enforcement efforts.
    I would like to ask the member how the provisions of Bill S-2 would improve the Canada Border Services Agency management and risk assessment procedures in his view?
    Madam Speaker, I do not think it would do much. It would provide the additional power and abilities to enforce in these customs controlled designated areas. However, this is not a statute that deals specifically with the border. There are other methods to do that, and I fully agree with my colleague that we do need to be focusing on this.
    There are various problems that still remain, which the Conservative government has not dealt with. One example is the arming of border guards. I understand there are no studies to actually show this is necessary, nothing to show that it is cost-efficient. In fact the studies I did see, or at least that were referred to, indicate the RCMP should be doing this rather than arming border guards, some of whom will not be able to do it. In those cases we would have to pension them off or have buyout packages for them. We do not know what the costs would be. This could be some large monstrosity.
     In terms of this particular statute, this does not really focus on it. However, I think the Conservatives should be focusing on the other problems that do exist and changing their policies in terms of some of the problems such as arming border guards.
    Madam Speaker, one of the issues I have followed in the past is the whole issue of racial and religious profiling applied to people, often at border points, in customs areas. We have had many Canadians who have felt they have been targeted solely on the basis of their belonging to a racial or religious minority. This legislation does not talk about how people are to be treated specifically in these customs controlled areas.
    I wonder if the member would agree with me that the practice of racial and religious profiling should be banned--I actually have a private member's bill to that effect--and that it would be sensible to include that kind of policy in legislation like this bill before us to look at exactly what happens in customs controlled areas at the border points, at our airports, at our ports, to ensure this very odious practice of targeting specific people because of belonging to a religious or racial minority is ended. Does he think this is something that might have been included in this bill if we were doing a very thorough job of updating our customs legislation?

  (1240)  

    Madam Speaker, I think that is an excellent point. Obviously we do oppose any such profiling, very strenuously. There are many examples where we have been advised that this has occurred. We have had Canadians coming back across the border in buses, from events, where they have been stopped and held up for hours. This is a serious problem.
    What I might suggest for this legislation, and what I think should happen at a minimum--I mean if the legislation is amended, that is wonderful, but if it isn't, at a minimum to stop this practice there should be some form of specific, approved training standards in the regulations so the people who are actually applying these rules would be told in advance what they are not allowed to do. I think it is an excellent point.
    Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the member a follow-up question.
    Has there been any economic impact on shippers and businesses in recent years stemming from problems experienced crossing the border in his view? Which specific provisions of Bill S-2 would contribute to alleviating those problems? How would the provisions of the bill pertaining to advance information requirements facilitate low-risk commercial shipping?
    Madam Speaker, there have been delays going back and forth, and in particular between Canada and the United States. Once again, we have approximately $1.6 billion of trade per day. Eighty per cent of our trade is with the U.S. It is a very serious problem.
    Systems are in place that seek to move goods and people back and forth faster. There is the NEXUS system and the FAST system. The FAST system deals specifically with the movement of commercial goods back and forth across the border.
    The problem is one of political philosophy. We have to understand that right now the Americans, if anything, are becoming more restrictive not less restrictive. We need to examine all potential pieces of legislation to make sure we have fair and reasonable requirements, but that also provide some form of reasonable standards that the Americans will accept, within the bounds of what we believe to be right of course, to make sure our trade back and forth continues to flow on an adequate basis.

[Translation]

    Questions or comments? Is the House ready for the question?
    Some hon. members: Question.
    The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie): The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie): I declare the motion carried.

     (Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

[English]

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act

    The House resumed from May 27 consideration of the motion that Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona has about 17 minutes left for his intervention.
    Madam Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to finish my remarks today, having started yesterday.
    Bill C-20 has been before the House previously under a different number. With the perpetual election process we have around here, it appears that every two years we go into an election. As with a lot of the bills we are speaking to these days, it seems we get these bills through to the committee stage and then an election gets called and we have to start the whole process over. I am hoping that this Parliament survives long enough to finally clear off all these bills that have been in the hopper for two, four and six years, so that we can start with a fresh, new group.
    An hon. member: It is up to you guys.
    Mr. Jim Maloway: The Conservative member says it is up to us. I think the member should understand that it is a two-way street. The government members have a big role to play in the reason that the House gets off the rails so often.
    Though I had not been elected at the last Parliament, I remember when the Conservatives were torching their own committees.The whole place was shut down and things were not getting done. They say one cannot teach an old dog new tricks. I think we seeing some evidence that one can, because we do have a couple of committees in the House now that are working very well. We see some possibly positive signs of some future improvements and cooperation.
    That said, the NDP is on record as opposing Bill C-20, the Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act. We do so for a number of reasons. In particular, this bill covers liability of only $650 million. That may seem like a lot because the current legislation allows for only $75 million. It is hard to believe that here we are in 2009 with limits on liability for nuclear reactors of only $75 million. That is extremely small.
    Clearly, this law has to be updated. It is time to get it updated. The government has decided to raise the bar to $650 million.
    We say that $650 million is far too low. If we look at our largest trading partner, the United States, they have a $10 billion limit. We know that when nuclear reactors are built, whether they are in Canada or the United States, they are likely going to be built in populated areas, near cities. So I cannot, for the life of me, see why we should somehow have only a $650 million liability limit in Canada and a $10 billion liability limit in the United States when the reactors are in proximity to the same sorts of risk and exposure.
    That is one area I see as a problem. Certainly, if there is damage with a reactor in Canada, there is likely to be as much damage out of a reactor that melts down in the United States. There is a consistency there between the companies.
    U.S. nuclear companies want to buy Canadian nuclear facilities. They require this change, so the U.S. companies want this legislation before they buy in. Today in the paper we have an article regarding the sale of our nuclear facilities to a private interest. That gets back to the budget, when the government announced that it was going to raise $6 billion selling government assets. There is no worse time to be selling government assets than when we are in a recession.

  (1245)  

    What is the government doing? We were trying to determine what sort of assets it would be selling off. Clearly, this is one area where it is looking at selling off assets. It seems to me that to the extent that we have to be involved in nuclear, and I do not really like to see us too heavily involved in nuclear, certainly not building any more new plants, but dealing with the plants we have, we should be at least keeping the ownership of the facilities within the purview of the government.
    At the end of the day, if we are going to privatize nuclear facilities and require liability limits from these same facilities where there were 81 nuclear accidents in the last 50 years, we know that the risks involved are sufficient that we would not find insurance companies wanting to cover it, and if we do, it is going to be at very excessive rates. What will happen after a loss is that the taxpayers end up picking up the shortfall anyway. So why would we allow private entrepreneurs to own nuclear facilities, and after they construct their facility, they come to us after a couple of years and say they were not able to obtain high enough levels of liability insurance? What are we going to do at that point? Are we going to dismantle the plant? No, the government is going to backstop. The bottom line is that we know, at the end of the day, when the insurance policies run out, the government is going to backstop the whole process anyway.
    We are dealing with an industry that has a very spotty safety record. I have a list of 81 nuclear accidents since 1950. Certainly within my lifetime, on December 12, 1952, Chalk River, which is seemingly always in the news, had a reactor core damaged. Approximately 30 kilograms of uranium was released through the reactor stack. There was a huge problem involving that incident in 1952.
    On May 24, 1958, once again at Chalk River, just a few years later, over 600 people were employed in the cleanup of the spill at that time.
    When we juxtapose 81 nuclear accidents with, say, a more friendly source of energy such as hydroelectricity, I am not aware in Manitoba or in terms of Hydro-Québec, or any hydro producer in North America, of these utilities having any incidents at all. If we do have a hydro failure, the worst that happens is that we have a blackout, which we had a couple of years ago. We had rolling blackouts through the United States and parts of Canada, but we do not see huge contamination. We do not see people being poisoned, cancer rates going up, or the cleanup problems we have with nuclear.
    Also a big area of concern is the storage. We have a big issue in Manitoba with the Pinawa area and the desire to store the waste in a mine shaft. All the studies that have been done and the opposition to the idea have eaten up a lot of time and money to try to determine how stable the rock is in the mine to enable storage of the nuclear material.
    We have examples, as I mentioned yesterday, of certainly the Russians, but probably the Americans too, dumping nuclear waste into the ocean. Who is to know where that material is and whether those barrels are leaking? It seems to me that eventually it is going to happen and we have just contaminated our environment for the last 50 years using this approach. Why do we keep doing the same things when we know they do not work?

  (1250)  

    I mentioned yesterday the asbestos situation. There was a time when we did not know the effects of asbestos and we spent billions of dollars installing it in government buildings and other buildings. Then at a certain point we found out the medical evidence was that it is not safe. Now we are spending billions having it removed from government buildings.
    There is the whole issue with trans fats and DDT. We have had long experience with nuclear power and we see the government trying to kickstart the process, privatize the nuclear industry, basically selling it to the Americans at cut-rate prices, and trying to facilitate more development, particularly in places like India.
    There is an article in the paper today talking about how contracts are contemplated with India and all the provisos we have to make sure that country does not use it to build nuclear bombs. That is nice. How well did that work in the past? We started out with only two nuclear powers, and there are so many right now that I do not even know what the final count is. Dozens of countries are in the process of trying to obtain a nuclear bomb, and one way they are doing that is starting out with nuclear power plants.
    This could be an overpowering issue, a supported issue, if we did not have alternatives available. We have hydro power. There is Hydro-Québec in Quebec and Manitoba Hydro in Manitoba. Manitoba has developed 5,000 megawatts of power and there is another 5,000 megawatts that can be developed.
    What we should be doing is building an east-west power grid. I know members of the Conservative government are supportive of that. The member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia and Minister of State (Democratic Reform) is a strong supporter of the idea of building an east-west power grid. What happened? The federal government wrote a cheque for $500 million or so to the Ontario government a year and a half ago, and nothing has been done as far as an east-west power grid is concerned. I think the money is being used to develop nuclear plants.
    If we could build a power grid to Manitoba and beyond, we could develop our final power plants and provide the power to Ontario so that it could get rid of the coal plants it is using now. It would stop the need for developing more nuclear power.
    How long is it going to take Ontario, Saskatchewan or Alberta, all interested in nuclear power plants, to develop them? They are never going to get done. I do not know of any politician who would go out door-knocking and campaigning in favour of nuclear power. I may be wrong, but certainly none in Manitoba will. This industry is still very tarnished and I cannot see members of any party campaigning on nuclear energy.
    A member from Saskatchewan stood yesterday and talked about that very issue. I suggested to him that if Brad Wall and his Conservative government in Saskatchewan think they are going to be re-elected in two or three years after campaigning that nuclear power plants are going to be built, I say good luck to them. It does not matter who the NDP nominates at next week's leadership convention; he or she is going to be the next premier of Saskatchewan if the Conservatives run on that issue.
    We have dealt with the hydro situation. Let us deal with wind power. Wind power was not a going concern. Even though Holland had windmills for hundreds of years, wind power has not been a going concern over the years. If people go to Pincher Creek, Alberta, as I have, they will see wind farms that were built in 1990-91, sort of at the beginning of the wind farm development in Canada. It is amazing. It is almost like a museum of wind farm development. We see small turbines from those days and compare them to the huge turbines we see now, and the cost of production of those wind turbines has dropped substantially.

  (1255)  

    Wind power is clearly the way to go. Gull Lake in Saskatchewan has 99 megawatts of wind power. We have the St. Leon wind farm in Manitoba and a new one is coming up that will be the largest in Canada. This country's potential for wind development has no end. We only need to look at what Germany has done in turning the whole equation around, away from the focus on nuclear and oil, and over to wind development and solar panel development.
    A program on CBC or CTV the other day described how Canada lost a cutting edge solar panel developer who took his plant and built it in Germany. He is thriving there all because the government did not have the foresight to look ahead, plan ahead and try to get him to locate that plant here.
    This country needs to start catching up in the process. It is falling behind. We need to look at countries like Germany that are leading the way. A German politician has made a career of trying to turn around this slavish loyalty toward the old ways of doing things. We need to get moving forward. I know we have allies in the Liberal Party and in the Bloc in this area. We just need to pull the Neanderthal Conservatives along and we can get things done.

  (1300)  

    Madam Speaker, as it is questions and comments, I would like to make a comment about the member's speech.
    I have a couple of clarifications for the member, who obviously does not understand the industry as well as he should. With regard to AECL, the federal government does not own, other than Chalk River, any commercial reactors in this country. They are all run by the provinces and are all provincial organizations.
    I know the member is from a different province, but in the province of Ontario, the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant is run by the private sector and its number one owner is the Ontario teachers' pension plan. Therefore, there is private sector involvement and that has nothing to do with us.
    I want to be clear, though, on what was announced today on the AECL issue. AECL has two divisions and the first is a research division that has Chalk River in it. The announcement was that we would look at a new management process to ensure we can continue to develop our nuclear technology in this country. The other side is commercial, which provides the reactors. Reactor development does the actual selling of reactors around the world.
    We know of a hundred different locations that are looking at nuclear power over the next number of years. We need to be in that business or we are out of the business.
    The announcement for AECL today was that we would upgrade AECL to be able to be in the business so that our experience and development is turned into a commercial opportunity for this country.
    The member talked about hydro power, which we all agree with, but could he name any research that he has done and where there is potential for hydro power that has not been looked at currently?
    Madam Speaker, we have 5,000 megawatts in Manitoba that are ready to be developed. I already explained to the member that wind power is a developing area that should be looked at.
    What the Conservatives are trying to do is commercialize nuclear power, a long discredited enterprise. The government's vision is to take us back 30 or 40 years but that just will not work. Nobody is headed that way.
    We are trying to get into a green economy. U.S. President Obama has taken over from eight years of backward Republicans, the Conservatives' Republican cousins' backward policies, and he is trying to drive the American economy forward into the future with green initiatives. All I can say is that those guys are stuck in the past.

  (1305)  

    Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for the speech he gave. A lot of thought went into it. He brought forward a couple of points that I found very interesting, one having to do with foreign ownership and the other with safety.
    I want to go back to what happened in Ontario when the current finance minister was there. The government built a structural deficit. There was a problem. So that it would not show, it sold off assets, assets that were producing income, such as Highway 407 which was sold to foreign interests mainly. Money is now being collected from Ontarians and it is going out of the country, profits that could have been going to Ontarians.
    We see the same thing happening here. The minister has abandoned Ontario, was thrown out of Ontario, basically, and now he has come to the federal government to do the same damage.
    What we see is a deficit that is one of the biggest we have ever seen. What is the Conservative government doing? It is selling off assets. It is not a highway or a building. It is a nuclear plant, which really concerns me. If that were to go into foreign hands and something were to happen, the foreign owner would not only take profits away but when it was all over the owner would pick up and walk away. It is not the foreign owner's country.
    Would the hon. member comment on the safety issues for not only Canadians who live directly around Chalk River but also for those of us who live in North Bay? The people in Ottawa are downwind so it also affects them. A major concern is that radioactive waste can blow over and hurt people. It affects generations. It is not just like when a cloud of smoke comes over, we breath it in and we feel lousy for a day. No. Nuclear waste stays around for thousands of years, which is where I have some concerns. I have a concern with selling that to a foreign owner who does not care about Canadian lives.
    Madam Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. It is just totally bizarre that we would have private firms developing and owning a new nuclear reactor, having to buy insurance for the reactor and we limit the liability to $650 million when in the United States it is $10 billion and in Germany and Japan it is unlimited liability. We know at the end of the day that if the owners do not buy the insurance some year because it becomes too pricey, or even if they do have the insurance in place and the damages exceed the insurance policy, it will be the taxpayers who keep paying over and over again for the cleanup costs and then the storage costs that go on forever.
    There is something in the computer business known as total cost of ownership where one does not just look at the cost of the computer. One needs to look at the total cost of operating the system. That is what we should be looking at.
    When we look at those costs in the nuclear industry, we will never win because there is the cost of developing the plant, the huge delays, the cost overruns and the huge insurance costs. The insurance people are not stupid. They know there have been 81 accidents in the last 50 years, which I am sure will scare off a lot of insurance companies. Then there is the storage issue. Nobody wants the waste trucked down their highways nor do they want it stored anywhere near where they live.
    What are we going to do with all this stuff? Are we going to store it here in the Parliament Buildings? People do not want it. There is a very limited market. Maybe people are agreeable to nuclear development if it is someone else's problem. If we are going to store it, build it and keep it in Ontario, fine, but the people will not like it there either.
    The problem here is that we are dealing with a bad scenario and we have good scenarios for a change. We have hydro development, wind power and other sources. I spoke about the solar panel company that Canada did not help out and it went to Germany. The Germans gave it whatever it needed and it is producing huge amounts of solar panels in Germany right now. Here we are once again on the outside looking in.
    Madam Speaker, I have three comments to make that might clarify this debate.
    The first is about the cost of nuclear. Solar and wind power cost far more than nuclear power does at the present stage in their development. The idea that nuclear is prohibitively expensive and therefore we should not be developing that technology or refurbishing the reactors that we presently have is a fallacy.
    Second, with respect to the environmental footprint, nuclear has a very small environmental footprint. When we compare what we need to do in many parts of this country to produce hydro power in northern regions, when we look at the amount of watershed that needs to be flooded in order to produce this hydro power, there are significant environmental effects from the production of hydro in many parts of this country and the development of new hydro.
    Furthermore, I would add that with respect to the production of power from other sources, we produce a lot of toxic chemicals, like mercury, through smokestack pollution and coal-fired plants that could easily be replaced with nuclear.
    Finally, I would point out that the idea that we can move off nuclear is simply a fallacy. Ontario produces—

  (1310)  

    The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona has 40 seconds to respond.
    Madam Speaker, I draw the member's attention to former Conservative premier, Gary Filmon, from 1991, who was signing an agreement with the Ontario government at that time to build an east-west power grid because Manitoba has 5,000 megawatts of clean hydroelectric power.
    We have exported this power for many years and are making huge amounts of money doing it, all north and south to the United States. All we need to do is build an east-west power grid. The member should talk to his own member, the minister of democratic change, who, last fall, when I made a speech on this matter, made his way over to talk to me about it and said, “Keep up the good work on this. We need that east-west power grid”. He sits only a few seats away from that member. Do they not talk to one another over there? The member for—
    Resuming debate. The hon. member for Etobicoke North.
    Madam Speaker, ballet slippers for little feet, cardboard pictures of Lenin and dolls in various states of dress and dismemberment provide a glimpse into kindergarten life before it came to a standstill in April 1986, when Chernobyl's reactor 4 exploded.
    The fire burned for 10 days, contaminating tens of thousands of square miles, and the fallout was 400 times greater than that of Hiroshima. Thirty people died in the blast, four thousand died of cancer, a third of a million people were driven from their homes and six hundred thousand registered as cleanup workers or liquidators. Of these, 240,000 received the highest radiation doses.
    Over the years, the compensation costs, economic losses, health and cleanup expenditures and lost productivity mounted into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Today Chernobyl remains the world's worst nuclear disaster.
    Growing up, our high school teachers and our professors taught us to be concerned about nuclear accidents, nuclear waste, nuclear weapons proliferation and pollution from uranium mining. Unfortunately these problems have not gone away. For example, we continue to bury waste, a policy of “out of sight, out of mind”, despite not knowing the full environmental and health consequences.
    Bill C-20 is however a positive step to managing and minimizing the risks involved in the use of nuclear material, namely through preparation, response and reparation. Specifically, Bill C-20 establishes the civil liability regime and compensation to address damages resulting from radiation in the event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation, or from nuclear materials being transported to or from the installation. Compensable damage includes bodily injury, damage to property, economic and property losses and psychological trauma resulting from such injury or damage.
    It is important that the bill address psychological trauma. The Chernobyl accident impacted economic prosperity, personal health and social well-being. Victims reported high levels of anxiety, stress, medically unexplained physical symptoms and reckless behaviour, including alcohol and tobacco abuse and consumption of game from areas heavily contaminated with high levels of radioactive cesium.
    Bill C-20 increases operator liability from $75 million to $650 million and would put Canada on par with liability limits in many other countries, as well as responding to the recommendations of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. The latter is important, as private insurers have consistently and systematically refused to provide coverage for damage resulting from nuclear incidents.
    When discussing nuclear accidents, bodily injury may range from radiation sickness through to leukemia and other cancers. Radiation sickness is a serious illness that occurs when the entire body receives a high dose of radiation, usually over a short period of time. Many survivors of Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became ill with radiation sickness, which often began with nausea, diarrhea, skin damage and vomiting and progress to seizures and coma.
    Most people who did not recover from radiation illness died within several months of exposure, usually from the destruction of bone marrow, which led to infections and internal bleeding. Unborn babies can also be exposed to radiation and they are especially vulnerable between two and fifteen weeks of pregnancy. The health consequences can be severe, including abnormal brain function, cancer, deformities and stunted growth.

  (1315)  

    Ionizing radiation can also cause certain types of leukemia. An elevated risk of blood cancer was first found among the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan two to five years after exposure. Recent investigations suggest a doubling of the incidence of leukemia among the most highly exposed Chernobyl liquidators.
    Unfortunately, time does not permit me to describe all potential health impacts such as cardiovascular problems, cataract and thyroid cancer.
    Neither Bill C-20 nor its predecessors Bill C-63 and Bill C-5 have been the subject of lengthy public debate outside Parliament or have they attracted much media attention.
    Members of the Canadian Nuclear Association have commented that the bill responds to society's needs and represents a balanced approach. The association further reports that the bill provides protection of the public under a coherent, explicit and stable framework.
    Before putting forth questions that might be asked at committee, it is important to remind the House that while the government puts forth the bill, it is also responding to the leak at the Chalk River nuclear reactor, which provides a third of the world's medical isotopes.
    The general manager of the Association of Imaging Producers and Equipment Suppliers points out that there have been at least five crises of medical isotope production in the last eighteen months. What makes the present crisis so challenging, however, is that three out of the four other reactors in the world that supply medical isotopes, in Belgium, France and South Africa, are also shut down.
    While I support the bill in principle, it requires study at committee and careful questioning. For example, what are the projected economic, environmental and health costs of a nuclear release in Canada and possible impacts farther afield? Does the proposed compensation address those impacts?
    We must remember that the Chernobyl fallout had far-reaching effects, spreading radionuclides as far away as Lapland in northern Scandinavia. The Arctic's Sami people are reindeer herders and face significant problems from the accident because of the high transfer rate of radioactive material from contaminated lichen to the reindeer. Many herds had to be slaughtered to avoid consumption of the meat. Scientists estimate that it will take another 20 years for radioactive levels in reindeer to fall to pre-Chernobyl levels.
    The executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada reported:
    A nuclear accident on the scale of the Chernobyl disaster would cost hundreds of billions of dollars in cleanup costs—conceivably 100 times more than the maximum liability industry would face under Bill C-63.
    Belarus and the Ukraine are paying approximately $460 billion over 30 years to clean up Chernobyl. Twenty years after the accident, these countries still pay 5% to 7% of their budgets toward the cost of the catastrophe.
    The bill is only a small part of a web of protection needed to make Canada more nuclear safe as well as providing life-saving medications to those in need.
    We have had multiple wake-up calls. In August 1945, an American war plane dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. An estimated 80,000 people were incinerated and in the months that followed, another 60,000 died from the effects of radiation.
    A few days later was Nagasaki. About 30% of the city, including almost all of the industrial district, was destroyed by the bomb and nearly 74,000 were killed and a similar number injured.
    In 1979 radioactive steam leaked into the atmosphere in Pennsylvania when a water pump broke down at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. There were fears that some of the plant's 500 workers had been contaminated.
    Complacency cannot be an option when it comes to nuclear safety. Today we know the tremendous costs and we must take action.

  (1320)  

    Madam Speaker, I commend the member on her speech, which consisted of a lot of facts and figures and a broader perspective on the issue of nuclear liability. I thought it was quite well researched. I have a comment to make.
     I think many people do not realize how integral to our electricity production our nuclear reactors are. Ontario produces 50% of its 25,000 megawatts a day from the nuclear reactors in the province. Many other jurisdictions around the world produce even higher percentages of their electricity from nuclear power. It is a greenhouse gas freeway of producing electrical power. It is also something that has been proven reliable for decades now. Yet there are still people out there who believe we can somehow eliminate or remove nuclear power from the electricity generation equation, and that simply is not possible.
     In Ontario alone, as I mentioned before, 50% of the electricity comes from nuclear power. The idea that we can, through conservation alone and through solar and wind, replace 12,500 megawatts a day with environmentally-friendly measures, like conservation, wind or solar, is simply living in a fairytale land.
     The bill will go a long way to ensuring the long-term viability of nuclear power in the country. Nuclear power will be part of our electricity generation mix for a long time. It is something I strongly support because it produces electricity without any greenhouse emissions. Of all the environmental choices we have to make, that is the most challenging one and the one on which we have to put the biggest emphasis.
    Madam Speaker, nuclear energy is part of the mix today. However, we have to ensure that it is safe. Chalk River had leaks in 1952 and 1958. There are leaks today. We do not know what the environmental and health hazards are going forward. Therefore, safety has to be paramount.
    In talking about climate change, it is our most pressing environmental issue. We must look at many options for reducing climate change, from adaptation to mitigation. We have to look at nuclear energy. We have to look at renewable energy. We must look at the whole gamut of opportunities. There is no one solution to this global problem.

  (1325)  

    Madam Speaker, I agree with a lot of my colleague's comments up to the point where she says she supports the bill.
    My colleagues in the New Democratic Party have said many times that when we look at other jurisdictions, this just does not add up. What does add up is the cost burden to the taxpayer, which does not make financial sense to us.
     However, I want to ask her about what we can do to further strengthen regulation. I guess my colleague from the Conservative Party forgets that the fuel for nuclear power does not fall from the sky. It is mined and there are many consequences to that. In fact, greenhouse gases are emitted. Should we not look at the life cycle of nuclear power?
     Our water, which is sourced from the Ottawa River, has tritium in it. There will be more of it because of the recent leak. We are not following the standards they have in other jurisdictions on tritium. It should not be going into the Ottawa River, but it is. I have a problem with that, as should everyone in the country and, indeed, the people who live here.
    Is she okay with the limit on liability? Does she not think we should do more in terms of regulation, be it on how things are regulated and how things are put into the environment, and look at the life cycle of nuclear power and how uranium is mined?
    Madam Speaker, I absolutely agree that we must look at the life cycle in the production of nuclear energy.
    I was very clear that the bill is part of a web of protection that is needed, in terms of mining the material and how we store it. I was clear in mentioning that we do not know the long-term environmental and human health impacts. The bill must be a part of a web of protection.
    Madam Speaker, my question concerns the environment. We have heard about viability from my Conservative friend across the way regarding the nuclear plants. There is no question that we need electricity and we are going to have to decide where it comes from. Nuclear energy is an option. It is out there and it is a reality.
    When we look at viability, viability is one thing. Does it work? Does it pay the bills? Does it work as far as finances go? That is a very important part of it, because with the profits, we have to keep up a certain level of safety. However, we cannot have viability at the expense of eliminating all liability so that if something happens, someone can walk away.
    My concern is that the responsibility goes from $75 million to $650 million. What is the environmental cost, and is $650 million sufficient?
    Madam Speaker, it is important that liability has been increased from $75 million to $650 million, but is that enough? Does that take into account the environmental impacts? It depends on where the reactor is and the size of the leak. Will it take into account the human health impacts? If we look at Chernobyl, there are 4,000 cancer cases. We have to look at the economic impacts. We do not know how great the leak would be. The amount of $650 million is not a very large sum of money. This requires careful consideration at committee.
    Madam Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, also known as the nuclear liability compensation act. I had the pleasure of speaking to the bill in the previous Parliament when it was known as Bill C-5. This is at least the third attempt to bring forward this legislation.
    Unfortunately, it is the same legislation all over again. We had serious problems with it as New Democrats in the last Parliament and none of our concerns have been addressed with the new legislation that has been tabled by the government in this Parliament. Bill C-20 still has the failings we were concerned about last time around and we continue to oppose this legislation because of its very serious shortcomings.
    With respect to some of those shortcomings, when we put it all together, some of my colleagues have called this the “worst nuclear practices act” to really give voice to our concerns about its very serious problems and why we are taking it so seriously in this new Parliament as well. We are very opposed to the legislation. We thought that it needed significant improvement before we could ever support it. We are very disappointed that the government did not see fit to strengthen the bill before it tabled it again, but we will work hard in Parliament and at committee to try to change it, to improve it and make further judgments of it as it comes forward. The fact that we have to do that, that those concerns that were raised in debate in other Parliaments have not been addressed by the government, should be very disappointing for most Canadians.
    We know that Canadians have very serious concerns about nuclear energy. Most Canadians understand that nuclear energy is not green energy, that there are very serious problems associated with it, including the potential for accidents and other safety concerns, including concerns about the disposal of waste from the nuclear power process which we have not been able to solve over many, many years. Most of those issues continue. We have not found good, long-term solutions to the question of nuclear waste. There remain many serious issues about nuclear power in and of itself and ones that most Canadians would share.
    We have heard from members of our caucus who raised issues related to the nuclear power process. The member for Timmins—James Bay in the last Parliament made it very clear that attempts to deposit waste from nuclear plants in northern Ontario would be resisted by the people of northern Ontario again and again because of problems related to that process of storage and disposal and to the waste itself. The folks in northern Ontario have time and time again spoken out against other parts of the country depositing their waste and their problems in the neighbourhoods in northern Ontario. We need to be very cognizant of the fact that this remains a very serious and unresolved problem of the nuclear energy industry.
    The member for Ottawa Centre remarked about ongoing issues related to Chalk River and the presence of tritium in the water of the Ottawa River to this very day. It will continue to be there because we cannot get rid of it. There are problems when there is a release at Chalk River. It is contained and then diluted and released into the Ottawa River. There should be better processes in place for that kind of release. It should be treated. The radioactive material should be removed and then stored. But we are still back at that same problem of what to do with waste and storage issues related to that. The whole issue of how it is eventually released into the atmosphere, into the environment is a very serious question and an ongoing problem with the nuclear industry here in Canada.
    The legislation before us was developed to limit the amount of damages a nuclear power plant operator or fuel processor would pay out should there be an accident causing radiological contamination to property outside the plant area itself.

  (1330)  

    The legislation really only applies to power plants and fuel processors. Unfortunately, those are not the only places where nuclear material is used and where there is potential for an accident that might cause a claim for liability and compensation. There is a limitation to this legislation in regard to its scope and what industries, what processors, what is exactly covered by the legislation.
    This legislation is very old. It dates from the 1970s. That also makes it very inadequate. Even those of us who oppose the bill before us appreciate that changes are needed to the legislation. Under the existing legislation, the liability limit is only $75 million, which is incredibly insignificant when one considers the kinds of accidents and liability claims that might come about as a result of a nuclear accident.
    We heard the previous speaker talk about Chernobyl, the disaster that that represented and the huge costs associated with cleaning up that accident and the ongoing problems associated with it. Certainly the current liability limit of $75 million or even the one that is proposed in this legislation of $650 million would go nowhere near dealing with the kinds of compensation and liability claims that would arise out of an accident like Chernobyl. We need to be very cognizant of that experience because it is a serious question related to the nuclear power industry.
    The bill before us, as I said, only considers raising the liability limit to $650 million, which is the absolute low limit of the international average on this kind of legislation around the world. We have gone for the bottom line, the very lowest level of liability that we could possibly contemplate when looking at this legislation in the current day.
    We know, for instance, that in Japan the liability is unlimited and that each operator has to carry private insurance of $30 million. Germany is another country where the liability is also unlimited. There is an exception, as there is in this legislation, for accidents caused by war, but in Germany each nuclear operator has to have $500 million in private insurance, almost equalling what the liability limits set in this legislation would be. That is a far different approach than is taken by the current legislation or what is proposed here in Canada. Even in the United States there is a limit of $10 billion, with each operator needing up to $200 million in private insurance.
    This legislation, by any consideration of what is done around world, falls very short. The liability limit of $650 million that is proposed in the current legislation does not come anywhere close to what should be in place. When we look at other countries from which we would take advice on this particular question, it is not near to what they themselves are doing.
    We have to be very cognizant that $650 million just does not cut it, especially when for any costs beyond that $650 million it is the taxpayers who are on the hook to deal with the fallout of any accident or problem that arises in a nuclear facility. The nuclear operator would only have to pay out a maximum of $650 million and then it would be up to Canadians to cover the rest. There is a provision in this legislation for a special tribunal set up by the Minister of Natural Resources to look at liability beyond $650 million, but again that liability is paid out of the public purse. I do not think this establishes an appropriate level.
    I suspect that Canadians, should there be a serious problem, incident or accident, would want to be part of the solution to the problems that arise from that, but I do not think they want to do that with the alternative being the protection of the operators or the nuclear industry itself from that liability. I do not think this sets up any reasonable standard for a level of liability. I do not think that Canadian taxpayers should be put on the hook because of the failure of this legislation to find that reasonable level.

  (1335)  

    This goes to the whole question of establishing the true cost of the nuclear industry. When we fail to establish a reasonable limit for liability and compensation, we underestimate the cost of this industry. I think this is one way where we have downplayed the true cost of nuclear energy, the true cost of the nuclear industry, here in Canada and perhaps around the world.
    This is a very serious process. Things can go wrong and when things do go wrong, the consequences are very serious. I think it is high time we took into account the true cost and the potential of the problems when we are looking at this industry.
    In this corner of the House, New Democrats have said that establishing such a low liability limit is perhaps related to the government's interest in getting rid of this national asset, of selling off our interests in nuclear energy, and making it more attractive to potential investors who would see it as a real bargain to get into a nuclear industry that has such a low level of liability attached to it by government statute.
    Again, that is an irresponsible approach to dealing with a resource, as something that Canadians own, that is an appropriate thing for Canadians to own, for government to own, but also is an inappropriate approach to establishing the true cost of doing that kind of business. I think we have to bear that in mind when we are looking at this legislation.
    We should not be supporting legislation that will contribute to a fire sale of the assets of Canada. We want to make sure that what we do in this place establishes a reasonable price, a reasonable cost for this industry.
    I am pleased as a British Colombian that British Columbia has made decisions over the years not to engage in nuclear power generation. I think most British Columbians are relieved by that fact, and I suspect, Madam Speaker, that you share that relief that our province has not gone that route.
    We have, however, been concerned as British Columbians about the nuclear station in Washington State, just south of the Canadian border, at Hanford. For many years that has been a source of real concern to British Columbians. We know that Hanford had nine nuclear reactors and five massive plutonium processing complexes, and that they did release nuclear radioactive contamination into the air and into the water of the Columbia River.
     We also know that it has leaked, and the storage facilities have leaked, into the ground surrounding the Hanford station site in Washington State. For many years, when we talk about concerns around the nuclear industry, when we talk to British Columbians about it, it is Hanford that comes first to mind. We have often talked about the concerns we had with that particular facility.
    Thankfully, Hanford has been decommissioned and it is now in the process of cleanup. That process of cleanup, I think, again draws our attention to the need to establish reasonable liability and compensation limits for this industry. The decommissioning and cleanup of Hanford is not a cheap prospect. It is not a matter of turning off a switch and mopping out the room, putting a lock on the gate and walking away.
    The estimated cost of cleanup is $2 billion a year, and the cleanup will go on for decades, not just a couple of years, not just a decade but decades. It is $2 billion a year for decades to clean up this decommissioned facility in Washington State.
    Part of the cleanup involves the establishment of very specialized facilities, like a vitrification plant, which is one method of combining dangerous waste with glass to render it stable. The vitrification facility alone costs $12 billion to be established at Hanford to be part of this decommissioning and cleanup operation.
    The costs involved with just decommissioning and cleaning up an existing nuclear site, let alone contemplating any accident or any release of radioactive material is hugely expensive, hugely significant. Unfortunately, I think we are all concerned that the timelines for the cleanup of Hanford have been delayed and put off time and time again.

  (1340)  

    The timelines which were originally established are not being met and it means that the ongoing concerns we have about this facility are not relieved to any great extent. It is still leaking and leaching radioactive waste into the groundwater in the surrounding area. It will take many decades to complete this process and many billions of dollars to actually see this plant decommissioned.
    I think it is an example of the huge costs associated with this industry. It drives home for me the importance of ensuring that we have liability and compensation limits that are adequate to the task that may arise from a nuclear accident. It again points out the inadequacy of Bill C-20 before us.
    A liability limit of $650 million just does not come anywhere close to dealing with the true cost of what an accident could render here in Canada. We need to follow the example of countries that we respect around the world that have made choices around nuclear energy like Japan and Germany, that have set unlimited liability for nuclear accidents.
    We should take a very close look at establishing that kind of liability here in Canada because we know the dangers associated with this industry are so significant and ongoing. They do not just disappear. The question of waste will be with us for many generations and we have to make sure that we solve those problems, that we put the money into understanding those problems and solving them in a permanent kind of way, and not just leave them for a future generation to deal with.
    It is irresponsible of us to go down that road without making sure that all of those arrangements and due caution is taken to make sure that we are not leaving a mess for someone else down the road. I think that is exactly what we are doing now.
    We have to make sure too that we are not sticking taxpayers yet again with the bill for an accident and that we put the true costs before the industry to make sure it appreciates the true value of safety, health and security for Canadians who live near these installations, near these facilities, and who want to make sure that they do not suffer the consequences of an accident in these cases.
    I think it is a very important piece of legislation. It is absolutely clearly a bill that needs to be updated and needs to see a review. However, as it stands, it is wholly inadequate to that task. We need to make sure that a reasonable liability limit is established. The liability limit of $650 million just does not cut it.
    I hope the bill will be significantly amended or if not, defeated because it is just not up to the task.

  (1345)  

    Madam Speaker, one of the concerns that many of us have about the bill is the wider issue of nuclear energy and where Canada is going.
    We know that we have entered into arrangements with the government of India. It is important to note that. As the House knows, when we sold to the government of India before, in 1974, there were concerns about what it did with that technology and certainly with the energy. India has not signed the non-proliferation treaty and that would be a concern.
    We have, it seems, many things in play. We have nuclear energy liability which seems to be a gift to potential buyers. We have Canada exporting nuclear technology to governments that have not signed on to an international non-proliferation process, which we are all concerned about. Finally, we have a lack of regulations.
    I want to ask my colleague his thoughts about the wider view of the government's policy when it comes to nuclear energy, be it on proliferation, the liability or regulation.
    The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.
    Before the hon. member answers, I would like to ask members in the House to please be respectful in their conversations debate is going on.
    Madam Speaker, I know my colleague from Ottawa Centre is very concerned, as I am, about the broader issues around nuclear energy, disarmament and proliferation. He raises a very important question about what happens to nuclear technology and how it is used around the world.
    We have to be very cautious and there should be absolutely ironclad agreements in place before Canada exports nuclear technology anywhere in the world. We must have a backup of all of those kinds of agreements. We must ensure that we are not trading with countries that are not signatories to non-proliferation agreements, for instance. It just does not make sense that there be some opportunity to use Canadian technology to further engage the nuclear arms race. That would be totally inappropriate and I think most Canadians would see that as absolutely contrary to Canadian values.
    Canada was one of the first countries to renounce the possession and use of nuclear weapons even though it would have been easily possible for this country to have adopted those kinds of weapons as part of a Canadian arsenal. I think that Canadians would want to see and ensure that we did not go down that road.
    Canada has had an important role to play over the years on nuclear disarmament issues. Many individual Canadians such as Douglas Roach, Peggy Mason and others have taken a significant role there. The Pugwash movement had its foundation here in Canada. They and many other NGOs have been significant players in the movement against nuclear weapons. I think that to honour that history and maintain that place is very important.
    Recently, Canada has been less prominent in the nuclear disarmament movement, the movement around the non-proliferation treaty and the test ban treaties. We still have Canadian diplomats who are working very hard. Marius Grinius is our ambassador on disarmament. John Barrett, who is an expert on verification issues, has been very active. There are still individual Canadians, but it seems that our government has taken a less prominent role in those kinds of issues as they are debated and negotiated around the world. I think that is a sad commentary, since Canada is known for its history of support for those kinds of measures.
    We do need to see the whole question of nuclear liability in a broader context. What is our moral liability as Canadians when our technology is exported around the world to ensure ongoing safety in the country where it is exported? We need to make sure that it does not find its way into some kind of weapons process.
    I think there are all kinds of ways that we can see the broad picture of liability. It would be worthwhile for all of us to consider at any time these issues come before us as both legislators and Canadians.

  (1350)  

    Questions and comments. The hon. member for St. John's East.
    Again, I would like to ask for a little order in the House. There is a debate still going on.
    Madam Speaker, I was very interested in the remarks of the member for Burnaby—Douglas about both the liability issues as well as the whole notion of nuclear proliferation and the need for nuclear disarmament to be advanced by not only the government but throughout the world.
    I have a specific question having to do with his remarks about the decommissioning in Washington State. There is a cost of $2 billion a year for a nuclear plant decommissioning. Is that something that is borne by the taxpayers of the State of Washington or is that something that is covered by the greater levels of liability found in the United States?
    I do not know if he has the answer to that. I suppose that it is a significant cost either way and well above the $650 million we are talking about here. I do not know if he has the answer to that, but if he does I would certainly be happy to hear it.
    Madam Speaker, I do not have an exact answer to my colleague's question, but I believe that significant government funding is involved in the decommissioning and cleanup of the Hanford site in Washington State. It is $2 billion a year for decades, not just for a decade, not just for a couple of years, but for decades, to clean up that site. It also requires other kinds of specialized facilities, such as the vitrification plant, which is an additional $12 billion.
     None of these costs are insignificant. They are huge costs. Whether they are costs to industry, to the taxpayer or to government, they are huge costs. It goes to show that we do not fully appreciate the true costs of this industry when we do not understand how much it could potentially cost to deal with an accident and when we do not understand how much it truly costs to deal with the remediation of a retired nuclear facility of any kind.
    We could look at the kind of remediation effort that has to happen at a gasoline filling station that has been closed. We often see the structure being torn down and the tanks being removed, but then the fence goes up and testing goes on for biohazards that continue. That site stays vacant for some period of time while that remediation goes on. We are talking about a gasoline filling station and not a nuclear facility with all of the extra, and more serious perhaps, concerns about waste, leakages and other problems that may have occurred on that nuclear facility site.
    When I compare the process of remediating a filling station site to what is required of the nuclear industry in the event of the retirement of a facility or an accident, it behooves us to make sure that we have in place the best possible regime to deal with liability and compensation that we can possibly construct.
    Bill C-20 falls far short of that, especially when we look at the costs associated, and when we look at the examples from other nations around the world. Some of the countries that we look to, for example, on how to deal with various issues, countries like Germany and Japan and even in this case, countries like the United States, have set far higher and even unlimited in the case of Germany and Japan, compensation limits in the event of an accident at a nuclear facility.
    We need to look at that very carefully and try to find ways to avoid passing that cost on to the taxpayers, should there be an accident or should there be a retirement of a facility.

  (1355)  

     Resuming debate. The hon. member for St. John's East will have three minutes before statements by members.
    Madam Speaker, It is my pleasure to join in the debate. In the three minutes I have now, I would like to reflect on some of the things my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas said concerning liability.
    We are talking about to what extent a company that owns a nuclear facility is responsible for the damages that are caused, whether it be in the case of an accident, a decommissioning or a situation where damage is done to individuals or to the environment.
    We have just been through a situation in the forestry industry where, as a result of economic hardship, mismanagement or overcapitalization, et cetera, we have seen companies go bankrupt to the point where they cannot meet their obligations for pensions and other obligations to their employees. The situations where we would see this kind of liability are probably massive situations where the damages are so large that the companies actually would be put into a situation of insolvency or bankruptcy. Whatever expenses there are beyond the limit now of $75 million, and if the bill passes as is, $650 million, will actually fall on the victims or be picked up by the taxpayers.
    We really are setting up a situation where we are suggesting that the owner of the facility will have a limited liability and members of the public, as individuals or the government collectively, will take full responsibility for all the damages. That is the essence of the bill.
    Madam Speaker, I see you are about to rise, so I will continue along those lines after question period.
    The hon. member will have 18 minutes when the debate resumes.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

  (1400)  

[English]

National Prayer Breakfast

    Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today after a very successful event this morning. It was my distinct privilege and honour to chair, for the third time, the National Prayer Breakfast here in Ottawa.
    Over the last 44 years, the National Prayer Breakfast has brought together people from all faiths and political philosophies to celebrate the spirit of Jesus Christ. I was pleased to see many of my colleagues from each party in attendance at this morning's event. People from across our great nation joined members of Parliament and senators, diplomats and ambassadors to pray under the theme of faith in uncertain times.
     It is especially important in light of the challenges we face in today's worldwide recession that we recall and lean on the principles of faith. We are experiencing a global financial crisis. In these uncertain times, faith and hope are precious commodities. As parliamentarians, we are called to lead our nation. How can we convince Canadians to have faith and hope in our nation without demonstrating them ourselves?
    It is the spirit of Jesus Christ that gives many of us here today faith and hope in these uncertain times.

Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation

    Madam Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to a constituent in my riding of Scarborough Southwest, William McDonald, who on May 11 received the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation. This award is presented to individuals who have contributed to the well-being of veterans and to the remembrance of their contributions, sacrifices and achievements.
    Mr. McDonald lobbied Toronto city council to have streets named after fallen soldiers in a new subdivision in Scarborough Southwest, a project which received unanimous council support. The official unveiling ceremony for the first two signs was held on November 4, 2008, and marked the first time Toronto had honoured its fallen soldiers by emblazing a poppy of remembrance on street signs.
    Thanks to William McDonald's efforts, those brave men who gave their lives defending our country shall never be forgotten. It is for these efforts that I honour him today.

[Translation]

Fiftieth Anniversary of the Boucherville Daughters of Isabella

    Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Mgr Poissant Circle of the Order of the Daughters of Isabella in Boucherville, which will celebrate this event on May 30 with the book launch of L'Ordre des Filles d'Isabelle, d'hier à aujourd'hui, 1959-2009 and a banquet dinner.
    The circle's 108 members provide assistance to society's least fortunate using the money they raise through their second-hand clothing store for disadvantaged families, and their civic and charitable activities.
    On behalf of those whom I have the honour of representing, I would like to highlight the community spirit, engagement and dedication of these women. I also wish to thank them for their involvement in this organization, especially their young regent, Diane de Champlain, who has served in this role for the past four years.

[English]

Aboriginal Affairs

    Madam Speaker, for centuries before Samuel de Champlain's arrival, the Chaudière Falls and Victoria Island were a sacred meeting place for indigenous peoples. The area has been the site of cultural convergence, political evolution and influential innovation.
    Today the land sits in the shadow of Parliament Hill awaiting the building of a national aboriginal centre envisioned by Algonquin elder William Commanda. The island would host an aboriginal centre, a peace building meeting site, an eco-park, a research institute and a historic interpretive centre.
    World-renowned Canadian architect, Douglas Cardinal, has captured the land's heritage in a masterpiece.
    The government must review its 2004 and 2006 commitments to the materialization of the national aboriginal centre. Let us prepare for a grand opening in June 2013 to showcase and celebrate the heritage of this sacred site on the 400th anniversary of de Champlain's arrival.

Boissevain and Area 4-H Rally

    Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to bring special attention to an organization in Canada that is celebrating a milestone in educating rural youth in my constituency. Next week the Boissevain and Area 4-H Rally will be celebrating its 75th year. Its long history of recognizing the achievements of youth from dozens of local 4-H clubs and communities is to be applauded.
    Over the years, beef, calf and home ec clubs and others have converged at the Boissevain Rally to compete with other 4-H'ers in the region.
    The 4-H pledge says it all about the basic principles of the organization:
    I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.
    I congratulate the volunteers and organizers of the Boissevain and Area 4-H Rally for inspiring leadership, citizenship and life skills to our youth for the last 75 years. I wish them success and many more years.

  (1405)  

Children's Wish Foundation of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, tragically, thousands of Canadian children between the ages of 3 and 17 are diagnosed every year with a life-threatening illness.
    The Children's Wish Foundation, which was founded 25 years ago in 1984, is celebrating an important milestone this year. Incredibly, it will be granting its 15,000th wish this spring.
     Each wish is as unique as the child who makes it. The magic of a wish provides children and their families with an opportunity to share the joy of a special experience and escape from the day-to-day challenges of a serious illness.
    I want to remind hon. members that as we sit here in this place today, the Children's Wish Foundation is hard at work granting every child their wish.
    I am very proud to note that the foundation is headquartered in my riding of Pickering--Scarborough East.
    On the Hill today is wish child Justin Ernst. Justin is here with his family and members of the foundation here in Ottawa.
    I would like to congratulate the Children's Wish Foundation for reaching out and making this incredible milestone a reality for all Canadians.

New Generation Prayer Team

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today in recognition of Reverend Elaine Baillie, a resident of my riding and founder of the New Generation prayer team.
    The New Generation prayer team, made up of students from Fort Saskatchewan Christian School, have positively impacted the riding of Edmonton--Sherwood Park.
    Over the past several years, Reverend Elaine Baillie and the New Generation Prayer Team have brought together citizens in our community to honour our Canadian Forces through the power of prayer.
    Every year at our local Remembrance Day ceremony, in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Legion, they invite members of our community to recognize family members or loved ones who are serving with the Canadian armed forces.
    These names, bound together in our Book of Remembrance, are then brought to the team's weekly school meetings where they use the power of prayer to ask for their safety and recognize the brave soldiers we have lost while they were serving this great nation.
    I ask that the House recognize Reverend Elaine Baillie, who is in Ottawa with her husband Reverend Ray Baillie, for her leadership, compassion, and commitment to youth.

[Translation]

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

    Mr. Speaker, with the United States still opposing the ratification of a free trade agreement with Colombia and all social and labour groups denouncing such an agreement, the Conservative government remains determined to ratify a treaty with a country where the number of assassinations of labour representatives is constantly on the rise.
    Since 1986, Colombia's rate of union membership has gone from 13.5% to 4%. In 2008 alone, there were 46 murders and 157 death threats targeting union members.
    Coming from the agricultural labour movement myself, I find this government's lax attitude towards the protection of Colombian workers' rights unacceptable.
    The government must drop its planned trade agreement, which makes us a party to human rights violations. We need to send a clear message that we will not sign trade agreements at any cost.

[English]

Children's Wish Foundation of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, the Children's Wish Foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
    The group grants wishes to children diagnosed with high-risk, life-threatening illnesses. As I read this statement today, the group will be granting its 15,000th wish to a child in a community somewhere in Canada.
    One of those children is 11-year-old Justin from Ottawa, who is getting ready to receive his wish, which is a beautiful rescue dog named Muffie. His dog will be arriving next week from Calgary, so Justin is going with his family today to get all the necessary pet supplies. Muffie will also be a great motivator for Justin, who will be doing exercises to help his muscles recover from the cancer treatment he has been receiving. His mom Patricia said that throughout the challenges of his treatment, Justin was able to keep himself preoccupied with thoughts and dreams of his new dog.
    I congratulate young Justin, his whole family, and thank the Children's Wish Foundation for all the work it does.

  (1410)  

Taxation

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives have become a single issue party. The issue is taxes. They want them higher and they will have more of them to pay for their staggering deficit. Their leader told the House two days ago that he will not bring in another budget, and I quote, “until we need to raise taxes”. It is now clear: taxes will rise under the Conservatives.
    In these tough economic times, that is not what Canadians need. We need a stable and focused leadership that only the Liberals can provide.

[Translation]

    The Conservative government is attacking hard-working Canadian families, and now it wants to make it even harder for Canadians to support their families.
    Basically, we will have the Conservatives to thank for higher taxes.

[English]

     Raising taxes to cover their incompetence is just plain wrong. I know it is wrong. The people of my riding know it is wrong. All Canadians know it is wrong. It is only the Conservatives who have not figured it out yet.
    

[Translation]

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the opposition leader that the issue here is the economy, not the deficit. We are in the middle of a global recession, and we will do whatever it takes to protect Canadians and help them make it through this economic storm.
    The measures we are taking are necessary, realistic and short-term.
    We will not apologize for spending to stimulate the economy, for protecting jobs and for protecting the unemployed. If we have to do even more, we will.
    The Liberals are so hypocritical. First, they criticize the size of the deficit, then they turn around and demand that we spend billions more. Clearly, the Liberal leader changes his mind depending on which way the wind is blowing.

[English]

Hamilton Olde Sports Slo-Pitch Association

    Mr. Speaker, today is opening day for the 2009 baseball season of the Hamilton Olde Sports Slo-Pitch Association.
    Since I cannot be at Turner Park for the opening pitch this year, I thought I would rise in the House to wish this amazing group of ballplayers all the best for the upcoming season.
    The Hamilton Olde Sports Slo-Pitch league has over 200 players. Men must be over 55 to play, and women, 45. The oldest player this year is an incredible 81 years young.
    The calibre of the game is amazing. Although this league is all about friendship and good sportsmanship, there is absolutely no doubt that the competitive spirit is alive and well and the playoff title is hotly contested.
    The league is made up of 12 teams, and each has a local sponsor. In these tough economic times, that cannot just be taken for granted. Therefore, I want to give props to Boomers Sports Bar, Scheiding and Associates, Tire Tech, Ace Family Restaurant and Sports Bar, West Hamilton Denture Clinic, Rees Plumbing and Heating, Dalbar Leisure Sportswear, John Carnahan, Legion Branch 163, Tim Hortons, Investors Group and Ringo's Automotive for their continuing support of this incredible league.
    I wish all the ballplayers a safe, sunny and high-scoring season.

Liberal Party of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader is leading the Liberal Party down the path of hypocrisy and they are losing credibility with Canadians. On one hand, the Liberal leader is in Toronto saying that he stands up for seal hunters; meanwhile, the Liberal Party's campaign boss is calling the hunt “appalling” and “more trouble than it is worth”.
    Our Conservative government believes that seal hunters and their families are worth it. They are worth defending, and our Conservative government will continue to stand up for them.
    The Liberal leader's biggest hypocrisy of all is on Canada's economy. On one hand, the Liberals are attacking the size of the deficit, and then on the other, they are demanding billions and billions more in spending. They cannot have it both ways.
    While the Liberal leader and his party continue on this path of hypocrisy, our Conservative government will continue to support and help Canadians during these tough economic times.

[Translation]

Official Languages

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday, when we were voting on the bill to appoint bilingual judges to the Supreme Court, a measure that has received the support of the Commissioner of Official Languages and Quebec's National Assembly, we were dismayed and offended to see francophone Conservatives from the greater Quebec City area oppose it.
    How shameful it was to see those members congratulate themselves on voting against a measure, to see how proud they were to be undermining the right of francophones to be heard in their own language. What does it mean for linguistic equality when francophones are forced to use simultaneous translation in the highest court in Canada to plead their case, when one single judge's unilingualism forces all of the judges to deliberate in English?
    Are those francophone Conservative members from the greater Quebec City area so ashamed of their language that they are all too eager to kowtow to party ideology even though it clashes with the linguistic realities of Quebeckers, Canadian francophones and Acadians?
    We believe that nothing could possibly justify their opposition.

  (1415)  

[English]

The Prime Minister

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister admitted to the House that he is spending hours holed up in his basement, going through old tapes that he has collected on the Leader of the Opposition.
    We knew the government was a bit shaky when it came to scientific novelties like the greenhouse effect and the theory of evolution, but who knew they missed the digital revolution as well?
    The Prime Minister seems to be stuck in another political era. Who does the Prime Minister think he is, Richard Nixon?
    What are these tapes the Prime Minister is talking about? Is he bugging the phone lines again, just like when they eavesdropped on the NDP? Are there microphones in our offices and cameras in the potted plants?
    It is time for the Prime Minister to wake up, throw away his little spy cameras and start focusing on the mess that he and his government have made of this economy, or else he may be remembered in political history as fondly as Richard Nixon.

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are off in dreamland again. The issue is not the deficit, it is the economy. We are in a global recession, and the Conservatives will do whatever it takes to protect Canadians and help them weather this economic storm.
    The measures we are taking are necessary, they are affordable, and they are short term, unlike the Liberal hypocrisy where, on the one hand, the Liberals attack the size of the deficit, and on the other, demand billions more in spending.
     As the Liberal leader revealed, their plan is to raise taxes on Canadian families and businesses. On April 14 he said, “We will have to raise taxes”. He declared that a GST hike is on the table.
    They support billions more on an east-west power grid, another $1 billion-plus on EI, $5 billion to bring back the Kelowna accord that was written on the back of a napkin. The world economy is in a difficult position. Canada is a leader in this G8, but the Liberals are trying to spend us into oblivion. Canadians do not need tax and spend Liberals with their hands in the cookie jar.
     In these times, only the Conservative government's steady leadership can keep us on the right track.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[English]

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, 37 days ago the Minister of Finance said we were on track, and now we know we have gone right off the rails. Thirty-seven days ago the deficit stood at $32 billion. Now the finance minister says it has ballooned to over $50 billion. He did not say how much more over $50 billion. Canadians are tired of these sorry guesstimates. They want to know the truth.
    When will the Prime Minister tell us the truth? How much more?
    Mr. Speaker, at the end of this year, the deficit will depend obviously on the performance of the economy, but what Canadians are wondering about when it comes to more is the leader of the Liberal Party.
    He comes here and tries to criticize the deficit, but day after day he is here demanding literally tens of billions of dollars of new spending from this government, new spending, permanent spending, unaffordable spending to be paid for by tax increases. Everyone knows his position on the deficit. It is just hypocrisy.
    Mr. Speaker, my party has an unimpeachable record in fiscal responsibility. Liberals left them the record that they squandered.
    The Prime Minister made a second claim yesterday, which was that the deficit will be “short term”. There is not a Canadian who believes that is true.
    He got us into this mess. How does he propose to get us out?
    Mr. Speaker, the record of the Liberal Party is this: Liberals got this country into deficits when borrowing was at record levels, and then when recession came, they were cutting the unemployed and raising taxes right in the middle of a recession, something this party will never do.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, six months ago, the Prime Minister predicted a budget surplus—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

  (1420)  

    Order please. The hon. Leader of the Opposition has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, six months ago, the Prime Minister predicted a budget surplus.
    On Tuesday, it became a deficit of more than $50 billion. This government's credibility is at stake.
    With the unemployment rate reaching record levels and municipalities still waiting for the money promised in the budget, how can Canadians believe this government after so much incompetence?
    Mr. Speaker, I could even quote the Toronto Star, a Liberal newspaper, which asks what the opposition wants to do about the deficit. Do they want the government to start slashing its spending? No, quite the contrary, the opposition is demanding that the government spend more.

[English]

    The editorial in the Toronto Star goes on to say it is time to have a real conversation. It says:
[The Liberal leader] has said he would be open to the idea of raising taxes. [The Prime Minister] isn't.
    Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives dismissed the recession and their $50 billion deficit as just “temporary”, just “cyclical”. Not to worry, they say, it is not “structural”, but Chrysler is in bankruptcy, and GM almost. The auto sector is down to a fraction of its former self. Manufacturing is chopped by 20%, and forestry has been devastated. This is big-time structural change.
    Why did the Conservatives put Canada into a deficit before any recession and cripple the ability to help vulnerable Canadians now?
    Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite knows, since he voted in favour of Canada's economic action plan, we brought in a deficit this year in order to respond to the global recession. There is a serious global recession that is deeper and broader than had been anticipated by anyone, and the hypocrites on the other side come in every day and ask for more spending, more deficits--
    Order, please. Members do enjoy freedom of speech, but calling names of other hon. members, I think the member knows, is out of order. We do have hypocritical things happen in the House from time to time, but there is no hypocrite sitting here.
    The hon. member for Wascana.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board

    Mr. Speaker, it is no wonder that people like David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, say the government is totally unrealistic and dreaming in Technicolor.
    Here is another structure issue, pensions. Canadians are worried about the security of their retirement plans, public and private. The CPP alone has lost some $20 billion.
    As a gesture of moral leadership, will the minister invite the CPP Investment Board to review its multi-million dollar bonuses, in the context of a recession that is killing the jobs of 350,000 ordinary Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, I did not know we were at the NDP round at this point. That question came from over there, yesterday. I see the member for Wascana is reaching out to his colleagues down the bench.
    As I said yesterday, and I will say it for the member for Wascana today, we do not believe in political interference in the Canada pension plan. We will not interfere. I did the three year review with all the provincial and territorial finance ministers earlier this week. We agreed unanimously that we would not politically interfere with the operation of the Canada pension plan.

[Translation]

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister said, in these exact words, “If the recession gets deeper, we will do more to help the unemployed and to help people.” Things are already worse, the unemployment rate is skyrocketing, no one can keep count of the numbers of jobs lost in the manufacturing and forest sectors, and the deficit, which only months ago was zero, is now $50 billion. What more does it take?
    Will the Prime Minister admit that the crisis is deeper and that he must take action today to propose real support measures for the unemployed and for the economy?

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, the recession has started. We have changed the rules to give the unemployed more benefits. The deficit has increased because we are giving more to the unemployed, but despite the fact that we are giving more to the unemployed, there is one thing that has not changed: the Bloc Québécois is opposed to these benefits to the unemployed.
    Mr. Speaker, Conservatives and Liberals alike, they have nothing to offer to really revive the economy. As for the Bloc Québécois, we have put forward some realistic proposals to help the unemployed by improving the employment insurance program, to compensate Quebec for harmonizing the GST, and to give loan guarantees to the forest industry. His Liberal-backed budget is quite obviously not up to the task.
    What is the Prime Minister waiting for before he takes inspiration from the proposals we have made to him?
    Mr. Speaker, we have improved employment insurance benefits, and the benefits to the population and the unemployed have increased a great deal in recent months, because of the recession and because of our policies. The Bloc Québécois opposed all that. Ours is a realistic position for all the people, unlike the ideological opposition of the Bloc Québécois.
    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Revenue mislead the House again yesterday by saying that, this week, the government had announced a $500 million injection into training for the unemployed. The minister knows full well that that is the same $500 million announced in January's budget. According to the minister's twisted logic, announcing the same $500 million twice probably adds up to $1 billion.
    Instead of trying to pull the wool over Canadians' eyes, will the minister finally put pressure on his government to introduce new measures to help unemployed workers?
    Mr. Speaker, in our economic action plan, we added five extra weeks of EI benefits, and we extended the work-sharing program by 14 weeks. We also invested in workforce training so that workers are better trained for the future, while being paid to take the training. Not to mention, we froze EI premium rates. All of these measures were not supported by the Bloc Québécois.
    Mr. Speaker, by wrongly claiming that 360 hours of work would allow workers to receive 52 weeks of EI benefits, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, the Minister of National Revenue, the Prime Minister, in short, every member of this government is trying to fool the public. The minister should make public any figures or studies she has.
    Instead of perpetuating misinformation, would it not be more appropriate for the government to help unemployed workers by eliminating the waiting period and setting the eligibility threshold at 360 hours?
    Mr. Speaker, nothing is harder than being hopeful when you share the Bloc's ideology. Our action plan is getting results. The proof is that Bloc members are thinking of going back to municipal and provincial politics to help implement our economic action plan.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board

    Mr. Speaker, the CPP Investment Board published its annual report yesterday, in which it reported losses of $24 billion for 2008. Despite these huge losses, its five executives gave themselves outrageous bonuses: $11 million for 2008 and another $6 million for 2009. We are talking about $24 billion in losses and $17 million in bonuses.
    How can the Prime Minister justify this?
    Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Finance has explained several times, that is not a decision that the government makes. The Canada Pension Plan is an independent plan. Members of the board of directors are appointed by both levels of government. It is not a federal government decision.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the CPP board is supposed to protect the savings of Canadians. This is money earned through hard work, and they were counting on it for their retirement. How can the government say it is not its problem?
    Those guys just lost $24 billion and they turned around and gave themselves $17 million in bonuses. For losing $24 billion, five guys walk away with $17 million.
     How can the Prime Minister stand up and justify this? He should do something about it.

  (1430)  

    First, Mr. Speaker, it is important to correct the misinformation in that question. The Canada pension plan is actuarially sound. The benefits to Canadians are guaranteed for many decades to come.
    The board is responsible independently for remuneration for the management of the plan. I noticed, by the way, that the board in fact did drop a total compensation for its executives by 31% last year, but that is a board decision, not a government decision.
    Mr. Speaker, other countries are doing something about these fat cat bonuses and the Canadian government simply will do nothing about it.
    We have the Prime Minister essentially endorsing here today $17 million of the money of Canadians going into the pockets of executives who just lost $24 billion. How can that make any sense whatsoever? This is on top of a huge deficit that has not produced any results in the economic recovery yet that could possibly be measurable or satisfactory to Canadians.
    Will the government take responsibility for anything or is it just washing its hands and walking away?
    Once again, Mr. Speaker, the federal government does not make these decisions. This is a joint body of the provincial and federal governments, which is administered at arm's-length and independent of politics.
    When it comes to taking credit for things, it seems to me, in listening to the House today, that the NDP is once again seeming to take credit for Liberal questions in question period. The last time the NDP hooked up with the Liberals it did not work out too well. It may want to rethink that strategy.

[Translation]

Minister of Finance

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has proven once again that he is not up to the job. It was not so long ago that he left Ontario with a surprise deficit of $6 billion. Now, his incompetence has turned a budget surplus into a $50 billion deficit in just a few months.
    Will the Minister of Finance take responsibility for once, admit his incompetence and step down?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this is coming from a party with a hypocritical position. That position is even noted today by what is going to be my new favourite paper, the Toronto Star. It says:
It's hard to take their outrage seriously. In January, when [the government] announced the projected 2009 federal deficit...both the Liberals and NDP accused [it] of not doing enough....The Liberals voted for the budget anyway, all the while attacking the Conservative government for (a) spending too much and (b) not spending enough....Now...the opposition parties continue with their internally inconsistent attacks.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the minister has just proven that he is capable of reading words, but he has yet to prove that he can read numbers. Just 36 days ago, the Minister of Finance assured Canadians that the numbers were “on track”.
    Now he is leading us into the worst deficit this country has ever seen.
    The Minister of Finance does not know how to count, and Canadians cannot count on him, the Conservative Prime Minister, or the Conservative government, especially when it comes to public money.
    Is that not the case?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is not right at all. In fact, we can learn from experience. One of the experiences we had in the country was what Liberal governments did to the sick, the elderly and public education in the 1990s, when they balanced the budget on the backs of the provinces. Hospitals were closed. People were out of work. Employment benefits were down. That is what they were proud of: balancing the budget on the backs of the provinces.
     We are not doing that. We are increasing transfers to the provinces. We are working in partnership with the provinces, not demeaning the sick and elderly.

  (1435)  

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, 37 days ago, the Minister of Finance knew the forestry industry was in trouble. He knew EI was up. He knew the auto industry was in the tank. Thirty-seven days ago, the minister said, “I'm staying with our budget projection. We're on track”.
    I would like to ask the minister a very simple question, which he has still not answered. How could he have made such a terrible statement a mere 37 days ago with respect to the financial situation in Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, I pay attention to the questions from one of the leading Canadian experts in deficits, having brought Ontario through that period from 1990-95. By 1995, the people of Ontario were paying $1 million an hour in interest only on the debt accumulated during that time, creating a permanent structural deficit in the second largest government in the country.
    Here is another hypocritical position of the member for Toronto Centre. He said, “if we have a deficit now, at the federal level, is that going to be the personal fault of the government. I don't think so and I don't think that's an intelligent position and no reasonable person—
    The hon. member for Toronto Centre.
    Mr. Speaker, I am an amateur in this regard. The minister—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. We need to have some order. I have to be able to hear the hon. member for Toronto Centre. He has the floor.
    Mr. Speaker, the minister has become the expert. He going to win the Nobel Prize with respect to the financial situation. I simply want to ask the minister—
    Some hon. members: More, more.
    Order, please. There will be more, but we have to have some order so we can hear it. The hon. member for Toronto Centre has the floor. We will have some order, even if he is addressing a Nobel Prize winner.
    Mr. Speaker, if the Conservative Party takes pride in receiving the Nobel Prize for deficits and debts, that is fine.
    We know the Prime Minister spent the last 37 days holed up in his basement watching tapes. I want to ask the minister this. What has happened in the last 37 days to so drastically change the numbers with which he is coming to the House? That is a simple question.
    Mr. Speaker, this is a serious time. Unemployment is worse than anticipated. The recession is deeper and broader than was anticipated by anyone. This is a serious time and a serious subject.
    We also have the auto negotiations with respect to Chrysler and with respect to General Motors. I would be interested in knowing the member's position on that. Is he against supporting the auto industry in Ontario?

[Translation]

Medical Isotopes

    Mr. Speaker, the shortage of medical isotopes has reached disturbing levels. Doctors and patients share the same concern and are not happy to be hostage to a shortage that was anticipated for a number of years. Faced with the human drama caused by this shortage, what does the Minister of Natural Resources do? She announces a plan to privatize part of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.
    We would like the minister to tell us how the proposed privatization will put an end to the shortage of medical isotopes.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, there are two parts to the announcement today. The first one talked about how this government believes in the Canadian nuclear industry and we plan on strengthening it through the restructuring of AECL.
    The second part of the announcement today was the announcement that we have appointed an expert review panel to take a look at the numerous proposals that we have received upon our call in December of last year to a response regarding medical isotopes for the future. We will be asking this expert review panel to review the submissions received and report to us in the fall.

  (1440)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, like the Liberals before them, the Conservatives are hiding their heads in the sand. We learned this morning that the Minister of Natural Resources is getting ready to privatize Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. Thus, the government would turn over management of the Chalk River reactor, which produces medical isotopes, to the private sector. It is extremely disappointing to see this government shrug off its responsibility on an issue as vital as the health of Quebeckers and Canadians.
    By handing over management of Chalk River to the private sector, is the government not admitting that it is unable to solve the isotope crisis?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her question because a fundamental part of the restructuring is for Canada to be able to take advantage of the nuclear renaissance in selling nuclear reactors in the world that is currently happening so that we can have a better Canadian industry, with high paid, high skilled jobs, and a developing and growing industry. That is why we are restructuring AECL.

[Translation]

Omar Khadr

    Mr. Speaker, the last Amnesty International report focuses on Canada and criticizes its handling of detainees in Afghanistan as well as its refusal to ask for the repatriation of Omar Khadr, the child soldier held in Guantanamo.
    Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs not consider it high time to intervene on behalf of young Mr. Khadr, now that this organization has lumped Canada in with countries that violate human rights?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I have been giving the government's position for many months in this House. Let me repeat again the government's position. There has been no change in our position in reference to Mr. Omar Khadr. Mr. Omar Khadr faces very serious charges for killing an American paramedic. Therefore, we will continue to wait for what is happening in the U.S. with President Obama's review of the detainees.
    Until that time, there will be no change in the position of this government.

[Translation]

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, this same Amnesty International report criticizes Canada's lack of interest in taking action and its inability to protect aboriginal girls and women who go missing or are murdered at a rate deemed alarming by that organization.
    Is the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development not embarrassed that Canada has been criticized this way on the international stage? What concrete measures does he intend to put in place to put an end to this situation?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I think all Canadians are concerned and should be concerned about the issues of aboriginal women and disappearing aboriginal women. That is why the minister in charge of the status of women is engaged in discussions with the national organizations to decide what the best next steps may be.
    However, one of the things we can do to help aboriginal women today is to move ahead with Bill C-8 to finally protect, for the first time ever, the matrimonial property rights that every other Canadian woman takes for granted. It is time to give those rights to aboriginal women.

Government Assets

    Mr. Speaker, today we heard a rather stunning admission from Public Works, which was that this was not a good time to sell assets and that to do so would be no more than a fire sale.

    Could the Minister of Finance please comment on his promise to add $10 billion to the government books, $2 billion in this year alone, through the sale of assets, and more specifically, in this bad time to sell assets, what, in addition to Rideau Hall silverware, is he planning to let go in the fire sale?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, at present we have no plans in that regard. Perhaps my colleague did not hear the minister correctly when he appeared before the committee this morning.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, “aucun projet”. That is incredible. It is in the budget: $10 billion over five years and over $2 billion in this year alone.
    I will add that we actually had another stunning admission from Public Works today that the Minister of Finance has not even asked Public Works for a list of assets that could be considered for sale.
    The minister will not do his homework. He cannot count. Canadians clearly cannot count on him. How on earth can he commit to generating such a large amount of money from asset sales without having a clue what they are?

  (1445)  

    Mr. Speaker, there were a lot of accusations and some information there, most of which is in error.
    As we said in the budget, Canada's economic action plan, as any prudent enterprise and any prudent government would do, we will look at the assets that the government has. There will be no fire sales. Nothing would be sold at an inappropriate time, not at good value for the Canadian taxpayers.
    We have started to get the work together to look at the review, which we promised in the economic action plan.

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, it seems that when the Prime Minister was telling us last fall that everything was fine, it was not. The recession was deeper. People were spending less and more people were out of work. Fewer taxes were being collected and the deficit was soaring.
    The Prime Minister knew Canadians expected their prime minister to do something, but doing something on EI or infrastructure stimulus would cost money, so he announced, as if he were doing something, then did not do anything to get himself off his financial hook, even if it meant millions of Canadians had to dangle on it.
    Why?
    Mr. Speaker, we have invested a significant number of dollars to help those who qualify for EI and those who do not qualify for EI by investing half a billion dollars in training for long-tenured workers, helping 40,000 Canadians, and $1.5 billion in training for those on EI and those who do not qualify.
    We have done a significant amount of work to ensure that those who do not have jobs can prepare for the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.
    Mr. Speaker, as sports fans, the Prime Minister and the finance minister know the axiom “records are made to be broken”. However, some records have seemed unbreakable, such as the Rocket's 50 goals in 50 games and Babe Ruth's 714 home runs. Outside sports it was Brian Mulroney's $39 billion deficit. Then the present Prime Minister and finance minister blew it out of the water. They did it with their ill-advised moves these past few years so that when the recession triggered this deficit on steroids, for those who really need help, they have nothing left but placebo announcements.
    Why?
    Mr. Speaker, since when does the member opposite take this hypocritical position? Why does he stand and criticize the government for running a deficit, as we are obliged to do in order to help unemployed people in Canada, and at the same time say that the government should spend even more money?
    One does not make the playoffs that way.

Medical Isotopes

    Mr. Speaker, I know there were questions about this earlier in question period but I would like the Minister of Natural Resources to clarify the situation regarding the establishment of an expert review panel to consider proposals for alternate sources of medical isotopes.
    I would also like the minister to tell this House what other steps the government is taking with respect to the production of medical isotopes.
    Mr. Speaker, the question is very timely. This is a situation in which we need to be clear and we need to communicate clearly. It is a situation that requires a concerted international effort as well.
    Today, our government established an expert review panel to assess proposals from the private sector that we received, as well as proposals we have received from research organizations and universities.
    Last week, our government led an international meeting of isotope-producing companies. We will do so again next week. In June, there will be a meeting in Toronto to discuss the issue of increasing the global supply.

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

    Mr. Speaker, the government has stumbled from one nuclear crisis to another.
     First, it runs Canada's isotope producer into the ground, causing distress and concerns for thousands of Canadian cancer patients, which, a year and a half ago, the government said was a life-and-death situation but now thinks a three month study group will be enough.
    Then, in the middle of a global recession, when prices are at their lowest, the Conservatives are hell-bent on privatizing a crown corporation for which Canadians ponied up $20 billion.
    Why now, during an economic crisis, do the Conservatives see an opportunity to hack up AECL for bargain basement prices?

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, the fact is that in November 2007 this government ordered a review of AECL to determine if it was fulfilling its mandate and fulfilling its promises to the Canadian public in the best way. We have the results of that review and announced today that we are moving forward on restructuring AECL.
    However, I do want to point out that the NDP does not support the nuclear industry. This government does support the nuclear industry, the 30,000 high-skilled, high-paid jobs that it supports, and the $5 billion in economic incentives that it brings to this country.
    Mr. Speaker, in the middle of a medical crisis the Conservatives created, a $50 billion deficit of their own making and a global recession they ignored until it was too late, those financial geniuses across the way think it is a good time to have a fire sale of public assets.
    Canadians will be on the hook for any toxic waste produced in the future, any cost overruns in Ontario and the liability in the event of a nuclear accident.
    Why is the government hitting the panic button and putting the health of Canadians at risk?
    Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that the member actually read the report that is posted on the website. However, we all know that the NDP do not actually read things before they make decisions on them.

[Translation]

Fisheries and Oceans

    Mr. Speaker, the help for the lobster fishery announced yesterday by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is not enough to deal with the crisis in this industry. Prices are falling, jobs are being lost and the crisis is worsening every day. There are no plans for short-term measures and nothing to facilitate access to employment insurance for those losing their jobs.
    Will short-term emergency measures be put in place?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I know that fishers are doing what they can to cut their costs in the short term. In discussions with the provinces, I know that the provincial loan boards and some banks are providing flexibility for some short-term relief. The Business Development Bank and EDC have also been working with the industry to provide access to credit.
    In the medium and long term, we are supporting the industries that must help the market recover so fishers can get a fair price in the marketplace.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, fishers are asking for short-term measures, improved access to employment insurance and a new round of licence buybacks with new money.
    What is the minister waiting for to take action?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, when it comes to supporting fishers, we have provided access to credit. We have provided money for marketing. We are supporting the lobster council. We have doubled the budget for small craft harbours. I must add that the member has a number of small craft harbours in his riding and he voted against money to fix them.

Finance

    Mr. Speaker, three years ago, under a Liberal government, Canada was poised to eliminate its net debt. Think of it: Our children and our grandchildren would no longer need to pay our way.
    Now we all know that our $50 billion man cannot count and that Canadians cannot count on him but can he at least guess in which century his policies will lead to the elimination of Canada's net debt?
    Mr. Speaker, as the International Monetary Fund noted on Friday, our government paid off about $40 billion in debt in the first three years of our mandate.
    As the International Monetary Fund also pointed out, this puts this country in the best position in the G7 as we enter the recession and as we weather the storm. We have the best fiscal position of all our competitors in the G7.
    Mr. Speaker, that $40 billion debt that was paid down is more than wiped out in a single year by the finance minister's more than $50 billion deficit.
    That reminds me of a story. I ask members to picture it. At Queen's Park, November 2001, Ontario's finance minister tables an economic statement that says the books are balanced. Thirteen days later he admits there could actually be a $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion or $5 billion deficit. Who was that man? It was our $50 billion man.
    Did the Prime Minister really think that this theatre of the absurd needed a federal replay?

  (1455)  

    Mr. Speaker, the provincial budget in Ontario in 2001-02 was balanced. Yes, it was. It was an excellent balanced budget.
    I have to agree, again, with what is becoming my favourite paper, The Toronto Star when it looks at the opposition and it says, “The opposition should get a grip on itself. The deficit is a direct result of the global recession, nor is the new deficit projection out of line with the outlook in other countries. The deficit would still just be 3.3% of Canada's GDP. By comparison, Washington's is 13.6%. Japan's, Britain's and even Germany's finances are all higher than Canada's”.
    I hope the--
    The hon. member for Vancouver—Kingsway.

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Federal Court issued a decision that reveals serious misconduct by CSIS and the ministers responsible for the security certificate process.
    The court found they repeatedly failed to disclose information that cast significant doubt on the case against Mohamed Harkat. Worse, the court held that the government's conduct raises grave concerns about compliance of CSIS with court orders, prevarication by witnesses and violation of the obligation to act in good faith.
    Can the minister explain why CSIS and the government violated the constitutional rights of Mr. Harkat and the rule of law itself?
    Mr. Speaker, CSIS does take the recent Federal Court order very seriously and intends to comply with it. The service understands its responsibility for transparency and forthrightness in these cases. In fact, it was CSIS that noticed the discrepancy and reported it to the court. CSIS is reviewing the matter.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a response like that which undermines our legal process.
    That man's life has been turned upside down and with clearly unreliable evidence. The court also called into question the validity of the security certificate itself against Mr. Harkat.
    This is not surprising. When there is evidence heard in secret, no right to face an accuser, and no right to cross-examine witnesses, this creates a procedure that is ripe for abuse.
    Would the minister now admit that secret trials violate the fundamental rights of citizens and have no place in a society built on the rule of law?
    Mr. Speaker, I do not think my hon. colleague heard the answer to the issue.
    CSIS does take the recent Federal Court order very seriously and does intend to comply with it. The service understands its responsibility for transparency and forthrightness. In fact, it was CSIS that noticed the discrepancy, which was reported to the court. CSIS is reviewing the matter.

Democratic Reform

    Mr. Speaker, today our government announced the introduction of legislation to limit the tenure of new senators to one term of eight years.
    Could the Minister of State for Democratic Reform explain to us how our government is moving the Senate toward reflecting the ideals of a 21st century democracy?
    Mr. Speaker, we all know that the new 18 senators are bringing a fresh perspective to the Senate, and they are working hard with their Conservative colleagues who are already there to reform the Senate. We also know that Liberal senators will do everything they can to block our Senate reform legislation.
    The fact that senators can serve for 45 years is not consistent with Canadian democratic ideals. That is why we have introduced legislation that would limit Senate terms to one term of eight years.

[Translation]

Government Spending

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government is making cuts to culture and the arts, even though every dollar spent has an even greater economic spinoff.
    The Conservative government is making cuts to scientific research, when that fuels the innovation that will give our industries the edge over global competitors in the future.
    Does the Prime Minister understand that Canadians cannot count on his Minister of Finance, who does not even know how to count, himself?

  (1500)  

    Mr. Speaker, we are making smart investments. Question period is almost over, and it started with a condemnation over the deficit. Now we are being condemned because we are not spending enough, according to this member. We are investing wisely, just as we promised voters during the election campaign. We will deliver the goods.

Military Training at Borden

    Mr. Speaker, at the largest military training school in Borden, 38% of basic classes and 47% of advanced or specialized classes are not offered in French. In engineering, no advanced classes are offered in French. In healthcare and dental schools, 77% of classes are not offered in French.
    Can the Minister of National Defence tell us what he plans to do to ensure that the rights of French-speaking recruits and members of the military are finally respected?
    Mr. Speaker, there are many things. The Canadian Forces are working hard to remedy the situation at Canadian Forces Base Borden, and they have taken a number of specific and immediate steps to support both official languages.
    To this end, a language component has been added to the orientation program provided to new students and staff; it describes in detail their language rights and responsibilities. Furthermore, all evaluation reports and personnel rating procedures done by officers include official languages obligations.

[English]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, since it sank six months ago, a barge containing 70,000 litres of diesel fuel has been deteriorating in lobster fishing grounds off the coast of Nova Scotia. What did the government announce it would do about it? Nothing. Its plan is to have the fuel seep out slowly.
    This weekend the signboard from this barge washed ashore. We have been given a sign. Will the minister accept that cleaning up this ecological disaster should be a priority for Environment Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, Environment Canada is responsible for providing scientific and technical advice. There has been no evidence of oil pollution observed from surveillance flights since November 27.
    Two reports have concluded that the barge poses no serious threat to the environment and leaving it intact is the best course of action at this time.

Agriculture and Agri-Food

    Mr. Speaker, farmers in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake want to make their money in the marketplace.
    They export their great Canadian products to people all over the world, but to win the battles in the international marketplace, they need agreements in place that level the playing field with our competitors.
    Colombia and Peru are key customers that want to buy Canadian grains and meats. Can the minister update the House and farmers across this great country on these important agreements? This is their country too.
    Mr. Speaker, as the member for Selkirk—Interlake will know, Canadian farmers can compete on any level playing, and that is what these trade deals deliver.
    Let me tell the House what an icon of the opposition, the Canadian Wheat Board, said:
    Western Canadian farmers cannot afford to be left at a competitive disadvantage to the Americans. We need these trade agreements implemented.
    These markets are worth some quarter of a billion dollars a year to western Canadian wheat and barley farmers and some $100 million to the pulse farmers.
    The opposition says it supports rural Canada. Now is the time to prove it.

Points of Order

Oral Questions  

[Points of Order]
    Mr. Speaker, when there is a reference to a particular document it is customary in this place that the document be tabled. During question period I noted that both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance referred to some articles in a daily publication in Toronto.
    I scoured through that same publication to find the items to which they made reference, and here is what I found. That is, with the Minister of Finance, it is difficult to find a worse record than his.
    Those who bother to pan through the long, uneven list of federal finance ministers will find that even the perception of such incompetence in that hypersensitive portfolio provides a compelling reason for a cabinet shuffle.
     I am prepared to table the document.

  (1505)  

     Order. Is the hon. member asking for unanimous consent to table the document?
    Hon. Joseph Volpe: Yes.
    The Speaker: Does the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence have the unanimous consent of the House to table this document?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Speaker: There is no consent.
    It being Thursday, I believe the hon. member for Wascana has a question.

Business of the House

[Business of the House]
    Mr. Speaker, we are now into the final semester of this parliamentary session, the supply period leading to June 23. I wonder if the government House leader is in a position to lay out his business plan for that period, at least the first couple of weeks of that time, and I wonder if he could also be more specific about two things: when he plans to designate the remaining supply days, or opposition days, between now and June 23; and when the government proposes to file its budgetary probation report, which is due at least five days before the last of the supply days.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to my colleague's questions. Before I get to his specific questions, perhaps we will revert to the more traditional response, which is to lay out the anticipated business for the week ahead.
    As members know, today we completed debate at third reading stage of Bill S-2, the customs act. We will continue and hopefully complete the second reading stage of Bill C-20, Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act. Following Bill C-20, we will call at second reading, Bill C-30, Senate Ethics Act.
    Tonight the House will go into committee of the whole to consider the main estimates of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
    Tomorrow we will begin debate on Bill C-24, Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. The back-up bills for tomorrow will be any unfinished business left over from today.
    Next week we will continue with any unfinished business from this week, with the addition of Bill C-15, drug offences, which is at report stage and third reading stage.
    We will also consider Bill C-32, the bill that will crack down on tobacco marketing aimed at our youth, and Bill C-19, investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions. These bills are at second reading.
    As I have been doing, I will also give priority consideration to any bills that are reported back from our standing committees.
    Finally, I would like to note that on Monday, June 1, at 10 a.m., there will be a memorial service in the Senate chamber to honour the memory of parliamentarians who have passed away since April 30, 2008.
    As well, in response to the specific questions, the hon. opposition House leader would know full well that we just had our House leaders meeting of all four parties and their whips. I thought I took extraordinary steps to inform my colleagues about the anticipated business that I intend to call between now and the House rising on June 23. He has all of that information. He knows as well that much of this is tentative and subject to change because we do not know exactly how fast committees will move and how long debate will take in this place. Having said that, I have tried to be as transparent and as open with my colleagues as possible.
    As far as specific questions about the three remaining supply days, I will be designating them in the future, although I did indicate tentative dates for all three, and the member is well aware of that information; in fact, I think it has been made public.

Routine Proceedings

[Routine Proceedings]

[English]

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to table the review of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited summary report by Natural Resources Canada, in both official languages. I have copies of the report here for the House.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act

    The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    When the debate was interrupted, the hon. member for St. John's East had the floor. There are 18 minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for St. John's East.

  (1510)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to continue my remarks on Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.
    As I spoke before the question period portion of today's proceedings, I raised the concerns that by raising the amount of limitation of liability, we are still leaving to the public of Canada or individuals the rest of the liability for what could be extremely expensive nuclear accidents.
    What we are also learning today and what we believed all along is that this is all part of the effort to privatize or sell-off and make available Canada's nuclear industry.
    What is ironic though is that if the bill were not brought before the House at all and American corporations who we understand have some interest in purchasing nuclear facilities or starting nuclear facilities in Canada, they would be bound by American law and lo and behold they would be subject to a compensation limit of $10 billion.
    What we are effectively doing is raising our limitation of liability to what is known as an international minimum standard. If that is available in the case of $650 million, then the American law which requires $10 billion would not apply.
    What we are effectively doing is making it easier for American corporations to operate nuclear plants or purchase nuclear plants in Canada in the private sector in a cheaper way without the same kind of responsibility that they would have under their own law in their own country or even in this country under existing law.
    What is being presented as a significant increase in the requirements, by increasing compensation limits from $75 million to $650 million, in fact is a disguise for lowering the limits for foreign buyers such as the Americans. That may sound complex, but that is a function of how American law operates to protect its own citizens.
    My question is this. If we are going to change the law and allow this to happen, why would we not adopt the same standard of $10 billion? Why would we not do that?
    The government has deemed fit to continue to have public liability for damages from any nuclear plants, whether it be the liability for an accident, for decommissioning or for public liability of any sort. It will either be falling on the public as the taxpayer, that is the government, or the damages will lie where they fall, just as, for example, the victims of the bankruptcy or insolvency of Abitibi-Consolidated and the pensioners of AbitibiBowater who are losing their promised pensions, severance pay and other things. They are not covered by the insolvency law and therefore the severance payments that they were supposed to get contractually are not available to them. The additional pension payments that had been agreed to are not available to them. The Federal Court of Canada has decided that that is the case under our law. In other words, the loss in a bankruptcy falls on the victims. The public is not stepping up to the plate in that situation.
    However, if we had a nuclear accident or a nuclear decommissioning in a bankrupt company for whatever reason, I foresee very easily that the company's ability to look after the cost of the damages would very soon be exhausted and the $650 million is not going to do the job. Therefore, I am assuming that there would be a public outcry and an expectation that the Government of Canada, under whose jurisdiction this falls and who allowed this industry to develop in the way that it was planning, would have to assume responsibility for the damages that were done to individuals financially, physically, health-wise or whatever long into the future.

  (1515)  

    That is what this bill is about. It is bringing about a situation which takes the direct control of the nuclear industry out of the hands of government and is designed to put it into the hands of the private sector with a special arrangement that says that the nuclear industry will only be expected to have a compensation limit of $650 million. That is wrong and we in the NDP oppose it.
    The development of the nuclear industry has been very controversial in Canada and elsewhere. We have seen, as previous speakers from my party have noted, a series of nuclear accidents over the years, which have been very expensive not only in terms of the health costs, the lives lost and the environmental and health damages for many years to come but also obviously in terms of dollars.
    Let us look at the enormity of some of the costs of damages. For example, the cost of cleaning up the Three Mile Island nuclear incident a number of years ago in the United States would equal the cost of developing over 1.1 million 100-watt solar panels. We know that solar panels are rather expensive ways to produce electricity. The cost of cleanup alone, not the cost of operating or building, could have produced 1.1 million 100-watt solar panels.
    We have the absolute cost of building nuclear plants too, which are very expensive. We have not had examples in Canada of this yet but we have long-term costs and expenses associated with finding a way to look after nuclear waste for many years to come.
    We have seen an example of the mining industry running into financial difficulty. It was unable to clean up its environmental waste because it went bankrupt and the public had to step in. There is the example in my own province of the Hope Brook Gold Mine on the southwest coast, which was operated for a number of years. It did not operate for many years, just a handful, during which it made some money. It left a toxic waste situation that required millions and millions of public funds to clean up because the company itself was bankrupt.
    That is the kind of situation we would be facing when the liability issue would be brought into question. It would be brought into question when something drastic and dramatic happened. It is not something that is so far beyond the realm of possibility that it ought not to be accounted for. If that were the case, the American government would not be insisting that nuclear plants and developments inside its borders have a minimum of $10 billion liability.
    Other legislators and governments have decided that this is an extremely serious matter. The amount of liability that we are exposed to when it comes to the nuclear industry are enormous and must be accounted for.
    We see the very mundane example of people who drive motor vehicles, which is provincially regulated, being required to have certain levels of insurance. In some provinces it is $100,000 public liability, in some cases it is $200,000. Some people get $1 million or $2 million public liability, and they do it because they want to protect themselves if there is an accident where the costs are greater than the statutory minimum of, say, $100,000.
    There are many examples of car accidents which have incurred costs for recovery, rehabilitation and long-term care in excess of $100,000. Some are in excess of $1 million. Drivers of motor vehicles must protect themselves by law to the minimum but by common sense higher.

  (1520)  

    The same thing is at work here. If individuals with $100,000 liability insurance have a car accident that they are responsible for which ends up costing $300,000 in damages to an injured party, the $100,000 comes from the policy, but the $200,000 comes from the individuals, from their assets, their homes and their properties. So people protect themselves.
    By the same token, in the nuclear industry, where we are talking about the kinds of damages that would be incurred, we are talking about an enormous amount of money, hundreds of millions of dollars and into the billions of dollars. Our American friends have decided in their wisdom that a minimum of $10 billion of liability is required to provide for the safety of the public in the United States of America.
    That does two things. If the liability were $10 billion, that requires a very strict level of activity by anyone engaged in the nuclear industry, first of all, to get the insurance and, second, to abide by whatever rules, regulations and activities are insisted upon by these insurers with respect to safety. If I were an insurance company and on the hook for $10 billion of liability, I would be acting extremely vigilantly in ensuring that any activity going on under my policy was going to be strictly looked after.
    We see that in the offshore oil industry and in other industries where a lot of damages can be incurred. As a result, of course, there are very strict guidelines and international standards organizations actually monitoring, in the case of the offshore, the construction of offshore oil platforms, drilling rigs and all of these things. They get involved because they have the ultimate liability in ensuring that the rules are followed. The same thing would happen in the nuclear industry if it were to be privatized, as the government seems to be hell-bent on doing.
    It is a very expensive industry and the biggest problem is that the costs are almost unknown. The additional costs can balloon by millions and billions of dollars fairly readily. With the nuclear system such as the one in New Brunswick, the cost of repairs to keep it going are in the billions of dollars. Where does all that money come from? It has to either come from the public or private enterprise, or the industry has to shut down.
    These are enormous costs that are thrown upon the industry and the public without any real control. That is why we in the New Democratic Party prefer other methods of energy generation, for example, electricity generation. Some of my colleagues have talked about wind power, solar power and hydro power.
     We have enormous potential in hydro power that has not yet been developed. My colleague from Manitoba spoke about the 5,000 megawatts of power in Manitoba that is yet untapped. We have a huge power potential in Lower Churchill, Labrador, that has not yet been developed.
    These are the kinds of first choice developments for energy needs that we would want to see promoted and encouraged by the Government of Canada. It can do that in a number of ways. There is a lot of talk about an east-west power grid where we can provide, within our own country, for our power needs by being able to trade and transport electricity from one province to the other.
    We saw an example recently, and it is a model example, where Newfoundland and Labrador is selling power not to Ontario but in this case to the United States through Hydro-Québec's power grid, under the wheeling rights provisions that Quebec is party to.
     We should have similar rules in Canada with respect to allowing the transport of electricity so that one province can generate and another province can use. This requires a bit of cooperation and it requires a bit of help from the Government of Canada, for example, a loan guarantee for the province of Manitoba's power corporation or Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro in the case of Lower Churchill.

  (1525)  

    These are the ways in which the Government of Canada could make these projects more viable. It could allow access to capital at an easier rate for what is essentially a green technology that is renewable, sustainable and will be available for decades to come.
    In the case of nuclear, the shelf life of nuclear plants inevitably results in the deterioration of the plants and the need for decommissioning in some cases. My colleague from Burnaby—Douglas talked about the project in Washington State in the United States costing $2 billion a year. Those costs will go on for decades in order to decommission a nuclear facility that is not producing any power.
    These are the kinds of long-term costs that are very difficult to predict. What we can predict is uncertainty. We can predict uncertainty and a certain amount of certainty that many of these costs ultimately will be passed on to the taxpayer.
    We do not see this as the way to go when it comes to the development of power in this country. We see a lot of other alternatives that are better for the environment, produce more jobs, have less risks and less danger and will not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear technology and weapons in the world.
    There has been some talk about the changes that are taking place, for example, with India and the sale of nuclear plants and the transfer of nuclear technology. Now India, which did not sign the nuclear non-proliferation agreement, is a nuclear power. Pakistan is in the same boat. There is some hope that a new round of nuclear disarmament may take place. I look forward to a government in Canada that can provide some leadership on that. We have not had it from the current government. I guarantee that we would have it from an NDP government.
    We are seeing signs that one of the largest nuclear powers in the world, the United States, is ready to embark on a policy of nuclear disarmament. That is a very positive sign. We cannot have a situation where they are the ones holding nuclear weapons and they do not want anyone else to have them. However, if they are saying that they believe in world nuclear disarmament and are prepared to play a part in that, that is a different story. That is a recipe for possible future progress and peace. It is something that I would like to see happen.
    This bill is not a step in the right direction. We cannot support it in the form that is before the House.
    Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that since September 11, 2001 AECL and our different nuclear power plants have been unable to conduct tours on their premises. Before then, they were able to give an education based on-site with people seeing what actually happens.
    I would hope that the natural resources committee does conduct a study on the impact of the outage of the NRU reactor at Chalk River and that the committee members take the time as privileged members of the public to go on a tour and see firsthand what happens at this particular reactor. Not only is it the manufacturer of isotopes, but it is also the important research behind Candu technology as well as neutron scattering which helps our material science and our manufacturing study.
    There was mention of legacy debts. I wanted to ensure that the member opposite understands that companies that utilize and manufacture products using radioactivity are required by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to have a legacy fund so that when their business ends, there is money in place to cover any costs of cleanups. I want to give an example of that. In Pembroke, SRB technologies actually takes the tritium that is emanated from the Candu power plants for Ontario Hydro and instead of burying it, it is reused to make watches glow. It is used for exit signs so that electricity is not necessary. It is used along the aisles of airplane floors so that passengers can find their way out if the power goes out.
    I just wanted to make sure he was aware of that. Candu does not use highly enriched uranium for its power reactors. That is a real benefit when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation. Canada's technology does not use weapons grade uranium for the production of electricity.
    Could the member opposite compare and contrast the terms “nuclear waste” and “spent fuel”?

  (1530)  

    Madam Speaker, if I did not know better, I would think that the member was a schoolteacher asking me to compare and contrast certain terms.
    There obviously are uses for nuclear, but the fact that something could actually glow in the dark bothers me a little. The concentrations are a problem. I know there are uses for nuclear technology and that the Candu reactor is probably one of the better ones, but the point I was trying to make is that we are dealing with an industry on which there are not really the right amount of controls.
    In terms of this bill itself, we are not prepared to say to the nuclear industry, whether it be private or public, that we are going to put the same standards in place that our American neighbours have by saying that the liability should be $10 billion. If we are not prepared to do that, then we obviously do not have faith that the industry is going to develop with the right kinds of constraints.
    The same issue goes for the safer world. If we had the kind of world that we are envisaging, if Mr. Obama and the Americans are successful in proceeding with a nuclear-free world, which I would like to be part of and I would like my children and grandchildren to be part of, then it is a different playing field, where we have the responsibilities in place and we have the fears under control, and we have a situation where we can feel more confident. We do not feel confident right now.
    Madam Speaker, I listened to my hon. colleague's comments about a nuclear-free world. Certainly we would all like to see that, but the practical realities of the matter are something entirely different.
    If we want to combat global warming and climate change, we have to use an array of non-carbon-based fuels. One of those things that we have to use is nuclear energy. Some would dismiss that and say that we simply should not, but there is a cost benefit analysis.
    In the case of China, for example, 40% of greenhouse gas emissions are from coal. Would the member prefer that countries such as China and India build more nuclear power plants as part of an array of alternate energy sources, or would he prefer that countries such as China continue to build and expand coal-based power plants that are incredibly destructive to the environment?
    Madam Speaker, obviously that is a false choice.
    The member talked about the practical realities standing in the way of a nuclear weapons free world. We do not make progress unless we take an ideal and go to work to try to make it happen.
    The same thing could have been said about medicare in Canada, that we would love to have free medicare but there are so many practical barriers in the way. It happened because people with vision made it happen, because they believed in it and wanted it to happen.
     We have to show some leadership as a country in this field. If this legislation were to go through, if the amount were $10 billion, then we might have some confidence that people who are engaged in nuclear activity would be paying more attention to the safety issues than to the long-term costs and all of the things that are involved with that.
    I can talk about the percentage of Alberta's electricity that is produced through coal as well. These are false dichotomies. We are talking about the principles of if we are going to develop a nuclear industry for peaceful purposes, let us do it this way, but let us have a nuclear weapons free world too.
    Madam Speaker, one of the myths out there is that nuclear power is cheap. It never has been cheap.
    Look at what is happening in New Brunswick with Point Lepreau. There is talk about billions of dollars of reinvestment into that nuclear power plant, and the reality is that it is outdated now. What can the hon. member suggest be done with those billions of dollars in terms of alternative energies, and not just alternative energies to keep the power going, but also a mass educational program to reduce the amount of energy we use?
    I say this with great respect, but Canadians are energy hogs. We use more electricity, more gas and more fuel per capita than most other societies on the planet, yet we do not talk about reductions. We do not talk about the need to slow it down, to look after future generations.
    Eventually uranium and coal mining will cease. There will be no uranium left. Eventually it will stop, but what about the waste? There are a million questions about nuclear power that are extremely concerning, but everybody knows that one nuclear mishap can ruin one's whole day for a long time.
    I would like the hon. member to comment on the fact that nuclear power is not cheap. It never has been cheap. It is very expensive, and the reality is that the taxpayers of Canada are the ones who would end up cleaning up the mess at the end of it.

  (1535)  

    Madam Speaker, the Canadian government has invested $16 billion to $20 billion in research and development in the nuclear industry. If that kind of money, or anything near that kind of money, were invested in alternate fuels such as wind and solar and the options available for fuel cells, for example, we would see a proliferation of safer, cleaner and less dangerous electricity all across this country.
    The wind keeps blowing. We might try to stop it sometimes in my part of the world, but it keeps blowing. We could be harnessing that. The cost of wind power today is down to less than 16¢ a kilowatt hour. I heard a few years ago that the research that was going on in P.E.I., a very modest research project supported by the Government of Canada, was able to generate wind for between 5¢ and 8¢ a kilowatt hour. People are paying more than that on their hydro bills for the marginal cost per kilowatt hour.
    We were getting very close, but with more research and development, we could have alternative energy forms available to the public. We do not need to have the proliferation of a nuclear program with the cost, the expense, the danger and with the unlimited liability, as it turns out, in a case like Point Lepreau or other places where for many, many years to come we would have to look after nuclear waste.
    As a short summary, the bill is designed to replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability Act and would establish a clear regime in the event of a nuclear accident, which are laudable goals.
    The bill would establish the compensation and civil liability regime to adjust damages resulting from radiation in the event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation. The bill would also increase liability limits from $75 million to $650 million and would put Canada on par with internationally standards.
    The Liberal Party supports the bill in principle. We are looking forward to getting the bill to committee so expert witnesses can be brought in and our team can ask the pointed questions to ensure the bill will be respectful of and protective of the interests of Canadians.
    The principles of the bill are in many ways similar to the principles of the previous bill that it will replace, in that operators are exclusively liable for damages. The operators must carry insurance. The liability is limited in time and amount and suppliers and contractors are effectively indemnified.
    I am sure this question will be asked during the committee hearings. Should there be some liability for suppliers and contractors? If contractors are building a new reactor or doing work on an existing one and that work is shoddy, surely there should be some element of responsibility on the shoulders of the contractors. I am sure this issue will be delved into during the questions that will come before the committee.
    The bill addresses foreseeable risks and reflects the insurance capacity of companies to pay. If a nuclear event were to take place, then the costs could be quite large. We want to ensure that the liability will be somewhat limited on the part of the companies, otherwise no insurance policy could be purchased. If possible damages to be paid out by an insurance company were to be so large, it would destroy the ability of a company to continue to exist.
    I want to talk about a couple of other important issues in this area. It goes to the heart of AECL. A review of AECL found that the structure of the corporation was impacting its effectiveness, that AECL needed significant review and that review should get to the heart of structural changes that would have to take place in AECL and its two divisions, the CANDU division and the research and development division. Both are in desperate need of specific restructuring. We know process has started and we would like to see the outcome of that assessment. All Canadians need to see that.
    Nuclear power is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can provide enormous benefits in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in using an energy source that will be needed by large industrial countries such as ours. On the other hand, there is a risk, albeit a tiny one, that has to be managed quite carefully. Therefore, the outcome of these assessments of AECL should be made known to the House and to the public.
    We have some extraordinary nuclear scientists in our country and, as a nation, we should be a leader in this field. Some would argue that we should not deal with this issue at all, that nuclear power is bad and we should somehow go down the road of other non-fossil based fuels. However, given the power needs of our country, can we derive enough energy from other non-nuclear, non-fossil based sources? I do not think so.
    Hydro power, geo-thermal power and solar power are very important alternate sources of energy and they will be useful to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, but they are not the only answer. The fact is nuclear power, whether we like it or not, is and will be an important part of our strong need to wean ourselves off carbon-based fuels.

  (1540)  

     France, for example, does a very good job. A significant part of its power comes from nuclear power. Canada should also follow suit to some degree. We have other assets, particularly hydro power. On the other hand, we should be able to integrate nuclear power as one of the options in order to wean our country off fossil fuels.
    Why is this issue critically important? My very famous colleague, our former minister of the environment and the former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, has done, and continues to do, an extraordinary amount of work on the environment. He has been one of the top leaders in the world in dealing with climate change. He has said many times that a 2° Celsius increase in temperature will have potentially catastrophic effects for the world. Right now we are about 1.4°, if we factor in all of the elements. We are getting fairly close to that tipping point. Once that tipping point occurs, we will be faced with the following problems.
    We could get into the feedback loop mechanisms. As the temperature of the earth rises above a certain degree, the temperature of the oceans increases. We have removed a lot of the polar ice, as the permafrost has melted, which contains methane and that has 25 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide. For example, Siberia has a very large capacity of methane that is stored in the permafrost and that is being released. As the temperature of the oceans increases, the oceans become more acidic. Those two factors reduce the ability of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, photosynthesis.
    After a certain point, we get to a place where we have passed the tipping point, where we are getting into a feedback loop that cannot be reversed. The impact of that, as I said before, will be catastrophic, not only for our country but for developing countries in the world. It will produce not only environmental calamities but security and economic calamities as well.
    This is why it is very important that we do not dismiss the use of nuclear power because of visions of Chernobyl. The responsible thing to do is to see how we can integrate nuclear power in a way that will be an addition to the tools we use to get us off greenhouse gases. A failure to do that means countries like China, which produces an absolutely appalling number of coal-based plants every year, will continue to rely on those carbon-based fuels such as coal. In the process of doing that, it is going to be releasing more greenhouse gases, which is going to have a catastrophic effect on our world.
    When we manage risk, is it better to allow that to occur and dismiss nuclear power, or is it wiser to embrace nuclear power plants if we are to decrease the building of coal power plants? I would argue that the responsible thing to do is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and use an assortment of other tools.
    Another area is the issue of Chalk River. About a year and a half ago the Chalk River nuclear power plant close, and that has happened again. The Chalk River nuclear facility is facing a three month shutdown. Why is this important for patients who need those isotopes? Isotopes only last hours, not several days, so we cannot stockpile them. Isotopes are critically important in diagnostics for cardiovascular problems and various cancers. If we cannot produce those, thousands of patients, with a particular disease, will suffer the uncertainty, the unknown, which will potentially affect them.

  (1545)  

    Do we have options? No. Why did the government, knowing the failure of Chalk River and knowing that it was a 52 year old power plant, not understand that it was absolutely urgent to find new sources of isotopes? I cannot understand that. We are missing an extraordinary opportunity. We have amazing scientists in this area. It is a technically difficult area, yet we are losing this scientific excellence.
    Canada could be a leader in the production of radio isotopes, in diagnostics and treatment in medicine, yet we are not. This deprives not only our patients, but patients around the world access to these materials.
    This matter will be made even worse. The Petten reactor in Europe will be down for two to three months for a normal overhaul. I believe the reactor in Europe produces about 34% of the world's isotopes. The Chalk River reactor produces over 50% of the world's radio isotopes. Both of those reactors will be out of commission. What is going to patients who are relying on the radio isotopes for their diagnostics? This is a medical catastrophe.
    I am flabbergasted. Why on earth did the government not plan to capitalize on Canada's excellence in this area and commission a new reactor to produce these radio isotopes and build redundancy into the system worldwide? We need to have that. The medical system and our patients need this in the production of radio isotopes. AECL scrapped two MAPLE reactors due to design flaws, and they were massively over budget.
    People have asked this question. Why on earth can Canada not build a reactor in under a decade? Why does it take more than 10 years to build one? We have the scientists. We have the capability. We have the knowledge. Where are things going wrong? That is why a public review of AECL would be very important. Canadians could have the answer to these important questions. It is not simply an academic exercise. It is a matter of life and death.
    The other issue is that the government has lost control of the public purse. A few months ago the Minister of Finance said that the deficit would be $34 billion. Now he has said it will be $50 billion.
    At the end of last year, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance said that our economy was in top-notch shape and that we would not face any kind of deficit. There are two scenarios. Either the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance did not know we were heading into a deficit when everyone else was telling them we would have one, in which case they are incompetent, or they knew about it and did not tell the truth. People will determine which of those two scenarios it is. Either one is not appealing for the Prime Minister of our country. All Canadians should ask themselves if the Prime Minister and his cabinet are fit to lead our country, since they have messed up so often in so many areas, areas that are so important to them as well as the country.
    In order to generate some money, the government will try to sell off AECL. If we sell off AECL to private interests, what will be the checks and balances and oversight to ensure that our nuclear reactors will be managed properly? The public safety factor has to override all other considerations? Where is the public right to know and Parliament's right to know if AECL will be sold to private owners? This fundamental question has to be answered by the government before any kind of tender is put out. That has to be part of the process and it is critically important.

  (1550)  

    The other area I want to discuss is the fact that Canada has exported our nuclear capabilities to other countries. Right now, Canada and India are poised to potentially sign a deal where India would buy Canadian nuclear capabilities. It is a good thing in principle but there must be checks and balances to ensure these reactors cannot produce fissile materials. We know that India and Pakistan have nuclear capabilities. We also know there is significant, to put a fine point on it, antipathy between both India and Pakistan and we are seeing the consequences of this in Afghanistan.
    In Afghanistan, where our troops are bravely working, people are paying the price in blood and our nation is paying a price in treasure for our mission there. However, the mission in Afghanistan will not be successful and the people of Afghanistan will not have the peace they so justly deserve unless the issue of Pakistan is dealt with. Pakistan can only be dealt with if its own concerns and fears are dealt with about India.
    Would it not be a great opportunity for Canada to play a diplomatic role in trying to bring India and Pakistan together to deal with the issue of the insurgency going into Pakistan? It would also help Pakistan to deal with the internal insurgency that it has that has killed thousands of people. Surely, this could be an innovative and diplomatic endeavour for our country.
    Unfortunately, the government has eviscerated the Department of Foreign Affairs, cutting more than 20% of its funds just in the last couple of years. How can the government profess that Canada should have a strong diplomatic force in the world and then eviscerate the very diplomats and resources they have to do their job? It cannot.
    Herein lies an opportunity and I would strongly advise the government, for the sake of Afghanistan, the Afghan people, our troops and their families in particular, that it act innovatively to address this issue. A failure to do this will simply not allow us to deal effectively with the pressing challenges within the country.
    I also want to talk about an issue that deeply concerns all of us and our neighbours south of the border, and that is the loss of control of fissile materials. We talk about fissile materials getting into the hands of organized crime or terrorist groups, and it is a very real concern. Initiatives have been established to control these materials coming from eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R. However, the reality is that Canada should be taking a role with its partners, which would improve our relations with our allies, to deal with the lost nuke problem. It is not a tiny problem but a large problem. The failure to grapple with this issue is an international security threat. This is another area where I strongly advise the Government of Canada to use its diplomatic capabilities to deal with this issue.
    We know about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the proliferation in countries that are hardly democratic, law-abiding states, such as North Korea, and it is a very serious problem that requires a multinational effort. Canada, as a country with some extraordinary diplomats within its borders, should utilize its diplomatic capabilities, fund the Department of Foreign Affairs and work with its allies to deal with the great challenges of the 21st century, and certainly the proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of those.
    We in the Liberal Party will support this bill to get it to committee. We have raised many issues in the House relating to the bill and to the larger issues of nuclear power, nuclear weapons and fissile materials. We are willing to work with the government to ensure these issues are resolved in the best interests of our country.

  (1555)  

    Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the remarks of my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I would agree with him that the issue of the medical isotopes from Chalk River is a matter of life and death. We do need those isotopes to continue to provide the kind of medical service that they have been providing, not only to Canadians but to the rest of the world. My colleague is very critical of the current government for failing to take measures that would have ensured the continuation of this production.
    He also said that it takes 10 years to build a reactor. The reactor at Chalk River is now 50 years old and worn out. I guess 10 years ago would have been the time to try to fix this problem and put in a duplication of effort or redundancy as he talked about.
     I am questioning whether this problem came about in 2005 or 2006 since the Conservative government came into power or whether this problem should have been dealt with by the previous Liberal government 10 years ago in the late nineties. Could he respond to that? I ask that sincerely because I know the member was sincere when he said that this was a life and death matter and that the government should take responsibility for it.
    Madam Speaker, my colleague is right. This cannot fall on the shoulders of one government. However, the breakdown of the Chalk River reactor occurred under the current government's watch. I think all sides have a willingness to work with the government to ensure we come up with a plan to develop redundancies in Canada for the production of medical isotopes.
    I honestly believe that the production of medical isotopes could be an area of excellence for Canada. Canada is a net exporter of medical isotopes but we could certainly expand on that in some of the new medical technologies.
    Canadian patients have little access to positron emission tomography scanners. This scanner is one of the most effective ways to detect cancer early. Canadian patients do not have access to that because governments do not have the money to pay for it but we could develop innovative partnerships to ensure this occurs. I honestly believe this is something that all parties can work toward.
    This problem does not rest solely on the shoulders of the current government but the absence of any leadership after the Chalk River reactor broke down twice, displays an appalling lack of foresight given the fact that all of us warned the government to produce a plan of action to ensure this would not continue to occur, that the situation would be repaired and that redundancy would be developed within the production of medical isotopes in Canada.

  (1600)  

    Madam Speaker, I certainly respect the frankness of the answer, recognizing that the full responsibility does not fall on the Conservative government.
    However, we have put ourselves forward as a world leader in terms of the production of medical isotopes but we have let the rest of the world down. We have let them and ourselves down because we have not had the kind of sustained commitment to research and development in this country that is necessary, not only to solve the problems that my colleague is talking about now, but in the broader field of science. We talk about it from time to time and we lurch from here to there, but in terms of a sustained commitment to research and development, it needs to be supported by government, where necessary, to make the kind of progress that needs to be made if Canada is going to be a world leader, whether it be in scientific development, technology, or whether it be simply in a way of ensuring that our young people and our workforce have an opportunity to participate in new economies.
    Would my colleague not agree that it is not simply a failure of the Conservative government but a failure of governments in the past, including his own, although I am not sure if the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca was here, to make that kind of sustained, long range, high level commitment to research and development?
    Mr. Speaker, in the mid-1990s, when we were battling a very large deficit and Canada was about to have its bonds actually downgraded, and we were going the way of Argentina, the Liberal government of the day said that it could not do this. It decided that the responsible thing to do was to reduce expenditures and get the country's finances under control.
    That is what happened. The Liberal government actually moved from a very large deficit to a surplus budget. We had surplus budgets from the late nineties through until the current government came on board. The current government spent wildly in a time of surplus and lowered taxes at the same time. Former President Bush did that in the United States which resulted in the catastrophic economic problem that the U.S. is now facing and which will have a massive effect on us in the future.
    On research and development, the then prime minister, Mr. Chrétien, made some of the largest investments into research and development, which took our country from being in the middle to being third in the world in research and development on a per capita basis. Many of the Centres of Excellence were created, excellence research chairs appointed and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and social sciences were created. All the major scientific bodies were created during the time of the Liberal Party with a massive increase in funding.
    The government has put moneys into structures but it has failed to do invest in operating costs, which is a serious problem. We have been telling the government for months now that it needs to give o