I call to order meeting number 18 of the Standing Committee on Finance. We are continuing our examination of Bill C-9, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget, tabled in Parliament on March 4, 2010.
We have two panels before us this afternoon and evening. I want to welcome all the witnesses and thank them for coming in today. We have six organizations here with us. We have the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Green Budget Coalition, MiningWatch Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and Ecojustice Canada. We have by teleconference from Calgary the Alberta Wilderness Association.
We have five minutes for an opening presentation for each organization and for logistics. We'll start with the Alberta Wilderness Association.
Ms. Kwasniak, can you hear me?
Okay. Thank you. I wasn't expecting to go first, but here we go.
Thank you for this opportunity to connect remotely. I represent the Alberta Wilderness Association, which is the oldest conservation organization in Alberta, dating back to 1965. We promote wilderness, wild lands, and ecosystem protection generally, so of course environmental assessment is very important to us.
We'd like to stress the importance of strong, effective, federal environmental assessment in Canada. The federal government has exclusive constitutional legislative jurisdiction over a number of heads, including our fisheries, navigation, oceans, and others. If the federal government doesn't appropriately assess projects that impact these heads of power, no other level of government can constitutionally do it. So it's really important that the federal government keep its very strong role in environmental assessment.
I'd like to say that what is happening now in Bill and some other events that preceded it in the last couple of years is defying a long tradition of legislative requirements and general comprehensive consultation for the CEAA and its regulations and policy.
I'd like to highlight a couple of things, and they're all set out in my brief. The CEAA took five years to develop. Obviously the government considered it to be very important legislation that impacted people, the environment, and the whole face of Canada. That is why it had such extensive consultation. The government formed the regulatory advisory committee, which advises the federal minister on CEAA matters. It was very instrumental in developing the key regulations under the CEAA, and has worked for several years to assist the government in the development of regulations and policy.
The first five-year review took three years, because it took that long to make sure the act was properly reviewed. The second review is scheduled to happen later this year. The act itself requires a comprehensive, substantive review of the provisions of the act.
I would like to suggest that there has been a recent demise in consultations having to do with the CEAA and an avoidance of the legislative requirement for consultations for substantive changes. This is very clear in the budget implementation bill of 2010.
In my brief I lay out a number of events prior to this budget bill, but I'm going to leave it to you to look at them, because I certainly don't have the time in these five minutes. I want to go right to the budget bill itself, because a number of destructive substantive changes to CEAA are buried in this bill.
For example, proposed section 15.1 would give the environment minister the right to slice and dice projects so that only one component was assessed. This provision completely undermines the potential application of the act and could result in significant environmental impacts not being assessed and mitigated. It will certainly diminish public participation. It also overrides a recent Supreme Court of Canada case that says a project is a project is a project, and the CEAA requires the assessment of projects, and not bits and pieces of them.
Finally, this provision opens the door for uneven and unfair application of the CEAA. There are no statutory conditions governing the exercise of the minister's discretion, except that the minister must set some conditions, whatever they might be. So I think that all interested persons, including regulated industry, should be very concerned about this.
There are also provisions that exempt most Building Canada plan projects from environmental assessment. These provisions, which are currently in the exclusion list regulation, have been challenged by the Sierra Club of Canada. Curiously, this bill purports to put these exclusions in the act, making that part of the challenge moot.
The exclusion list regulation can only, by the act itself, include projects that are known to have insignificant environmental effects. It's clear that this list of Building Canada plan projects could have any range of environmental impacts, so they certainly don't belong in the exclusion list legislation.
The addition to the act gets around that problem, but what it also does is completely undermine the logic and coherence of the CEAA. The CEAA requires that a project that triggers the act because there's a federal interest in the project be assessed no matter what its environmental impacts are, unless it's on the exclusion list. Putting this exemption in the act completely undermines that. Also under the act, the level of assessment depends upon the level of environmental impacts.
I just wanted to finally say that an omnibus budget bill is really no place for such amendments. There's been no public stakeholder and aboriginal consultation. There could be environmental degradation and impacts on human health through the lack of environmental assessment of projects. It defies, I would say, the will of Parliament by pre-empting the seven-year review, disregards a twenty-year tradition of broad consultation, and undermines the logic and coherence of the act.
I want to close by citing the Senate Standing Committee on National Finance report on the budget implementation act of 2009, which strongly criticized using budget bills to essentially sneak in substantive provisions to other legislation, and asked the government to cease using these bills for that reason.
I'd like to begin by thanking the committee for inviting us to speak to Bill .
As you know, CELA is a public interest law group that was founded in 1970. Our mandate is to use and improve environmental laws in order to protect the environment and to protect public health and safety. We basically represent citizens and public interest groups before the courts and tribunals in order to protect the environment and human health.
CELA has long advocated for effective and enforceable and equitable environmental assessment legislation at the federal level. For example, about 20 years ago I appeared before a parliamentary committee to speak to CEAA when it was first being debated. It seems like only yesterday, but I guess it was 20 years ago. I also participated in the five-year review that occurred from 2000 to 2003.
I should also note the fact that we have intervened in the Supreme Court of Canada in various cases involving federal EA requirements. For example, I was counsel for the six environmental groups that intervened in the MiningWatch case decided by the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this year.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, based on our experience and our public interest perspective, we have very serious and fundamental concerns about the Bill proposals to amend CEAA. Our main concerns were outlined in a letter that I sent to Prime Minister Harper back in April, before the bill was referred to this committee. I have provided a copy of my letter to the committee clerk for distribution. My understanding is that it has been translated and distributed to the committee.
In essence, our letter raises three main concerns about the Bill C-9 proposals to amend CEAA. First, CELA objects to the process that's being used to enact these amendments. In our opinion, proposed changes to CEAA should not be buried in a budget bill. Instead, any proposed amendments to the act should be brought forward and proceeded with as stand-alone legislation that's subject to full parliamentary debate and meaningful public consultation, neither of which has occurred in this case to this point. That's our first objection.
The second objection is to the timing of the proposed amendments. As the committee is aware, these amendments have been introduced just as the mandatory seven-year review of CEAA is about to commence. In our opinion, the 2010 review is by far the preferable forum for discussing and debating and developing changes to Canada's national EA statute.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we object to the content of the proposed amendments. In our opinion, Bill does not reflect sound public policy. To the contrary, it is our view that most of the amendments weaken or roll back existing EA requirements under CEAA and do not adequately address the various priorities or matters that really do need some legislative attention under CEAA.
Like the previous speaker, I am particularly concerned about the proposal in Bill C-9 to empower the environment minister basically to redefine the scope of projects as they go through the CEAA process. In our opinion, Mr. Chair, that proposal is likely to result in more delay, more uncertainty, and more litigation as the minister attempts on a case-by-case basis to scope out or screen out the most contentious or most environmentally significant components of a project. That's the very type of project-splitting that the Supreme Court of Canada disallowed in its MiningWatch decision. So why would we revisit it through this proposed amendment?
For those reasons, Mr. Chair, CELA does not support the proposed amendments to CEAA. We would respectfully request that this committee do everything in its power to delete or defer or defeat the proposed amendments to CEAA.
Mr. Chairman, honourable committee members, thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I'm here on behalf of the Green Budget Coalition, which as some of you know is unique in bringing together 21 of Canada's leading environmental and conservation organizations, representing over 600,000 Canadians, including Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Nature Canada, Équiterre, World Wildlife Fund Canada, as well as three of the groups speaking to you today: Ecojustice, CELA, and MiningWatch.
The Green Budget Coalition has been working cooperatively since 1999 to assist the federal government to develop and implement strategic budgetary and fiscal measures critical to achieving long-term environmental sustainability, with a particular emphasis on achieving a green economy by implementing a fair price on pollution and the consumption of non-renewable resources.
We make public statements on rare occasions. This is one instance when it was obvious to us there was a need to speak out. We issued a press release--which should be in front of you--on April 21 to that effect. We sent it to you that day as well.
The Green Budget Coalition essentially has two clear messages to convey to the committee regarding the proposed changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in Bill C-9. Firstly, we feel it is not acceptable to use omnibus budget legislation to weaken Canada's environmental protection laws. Second, the Green Budget Coalition requests that you remove the amendments to CEAA from Bill C-9 in order that these proposed changes can receive full parliamentary review, including a thorough review by your esteemed colleagues on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
Canada's environmental protection laws play a fundamental role in preserving and improving Canadians' enviable quality of life and in guiding us toward sustainability by reconciling the economic, social, and environmental elements of development projects. In the interest of transparency and accountability, any proposed changes to these laws deserve the full benefit of government review, including the consideration of the environment committee and a separate vote by parliamentarians without an election hanging in the balance.
As you know, the CEAA contains a statutory provision for review scheduled to begin in the next few months. By making amendments to the CEAA part of the budget bill and subject to a confidence vote, the important stakeholder consultation process involved in this review will essentially be pre-empted, as MPs will be forced to either accept these changes in CEAA or else trigger an election. This leaves little room outside of this 90-minute session for the full discussion, consultation, and debate that these amendments deserve and would otherwise receive.
I would also like to draw your attention to the Senate finance committee's report on the 2009 budget implementation act, dated June 2009. Among only nine recommendations that the Senate finance committee made, the majority of the Senate committee specifically recommended that the government cease the use of such omnibus legislation to introduce budget implementation measures. It also included four options as observations regarding how the Senate finance committee might respond to a future omnibus bill. These included dividing the bill into parts so that the relevant committee could address each component, deleting all non-budgetary provisions, and considering only those elements that are budgetary in nature.
You might be interested that a majority of those Senate finance committee members are still in place on that committee for both the government and the opposition, so they may not be so eager to receive the budget act as it stands right now, either.
In closing, I would like to reiterate the Green Budget Coalition's prime recommendations. In the interest of transparency and accountability, and given the great importance of environmental protection laws to Canadians' well-being now and for generations to come, please remove the amendments to CEAA from Bill C-9 in order that these proposed changes can receive full parliamentary review, including a thorough review by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
Thank you for your time. Merci.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
By way of introduction, MiningWatch Canada is a pan-Canadian coalition of 20 environmental, aboriginal, social justice, development, and labour organizations that advocate for responsible mining practices and policies in Canada and by Canadian companies operating internationally.
Environmental assessment is one of the areas MiningWatch has worked closely in, in terms of policy development, as well as working directly on a number of project-specific environmental assessments.
One of the most surprising aspects of this work has been the level of interest from the public. Communities potentially affected by mining projects are naturally very interested in the assessment of those projects, but so is the broader public, and we receive a constant stream of inquiries and requests for information and assistance.
Environmental assessment, or EA, is sometimes seen as a somewhat technocratic and esoteric process. It can certainly be complex and inaccessible. Yet people are adamant that we need strong and consistent EA processes, and they are willing to invest considerable time and energy in trying to understand the process and participate effectively in project assessments. They tell us what an important part of working together for sustainable development it is.
On January 21 of this year, not four months ago, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided a case brought by MiningWatch Canada over the federal government's handling of the proposed Red Chris copper and gold mine in north-central British Columbia. The court ruled that the federal government cannot assess only part of a project, or split projects into artificially small parts, to avoid rigorous environmental assessments. The ruling guaranteed that the public would be consulted about major industrial projects, including large metal mines and tar sands developments.
The bill before you today includes amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act that would effectively reverse the Supreme Court ruling. These amendments should be removed from Bill .
With support from Ecojustice and the broader environmental community, we have fought through the courts for three and a half years to try to correct profound deficiencies in the application of CEAA. It is with great dismay that we now see those same deficiencies being deliberately re-created, only now in the text of the act itself. What's perhaps most unfortunate about the proposed changes is that they won't address the actual issues with the act that they're supposed to resolve. There is in fact a structural problem with the way CEAA is framed that creates delays through a late triggering of an environmental assessment. By the time a permit or licence application is filed triggering the act, a project can be well along in its planning stages. A major projects management office was created a little over two years ago to help resolve this contradiction by identifying projects earlier on, although it's hard to determine at this relatively early point how effective it has been.
The Supreme Court decision on Red Chris should also help eliminate delays by clarifying the decisions that responsible authorities are required to make under the act. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, for example, does not have to spend months and months trying to figure out how to avoid triggering an environmental assessment or how to reconfigure a project proposal to avoid a comprehensive study, if it simply accepts the project as proposed and assumes its responsibility.
By the same token, if there is a clear mandate behind the federal involvement in joint processes with other jurisdictions, then there is no need for protracted negotiations around the EA process itself. By putting arbitrary ministerial discretion on scoping into the act, the proposed changes will essentially re-create the situation that we fought through the courts to clarify.
MiningWatch Canada has always pressed for a strong federal role in environmental assessment, partly because of the consistency and accessibility that it brings, but primarily because of the federal jurisdiction in a number of critical areas, as has already been mentioned. But let me provide a concrete example.
The proposed Prosperity copper and gold mine in British Columbia is currently undergoing both a provincial assessment and a panel review under CEAA. If the project were to proceed as presented, it would have serious detrimental environmental effects, including the draining of Teztan Biny or Fish Lake to make way for the mine. I have provided you with a picture of this, so that you have an image of Fish Lake. The project would also have serious impacts on the Xeni Gwet'n and Tsilhqot'in people.
The federal panel review has been hearing evidence from the affected communities, independent fisheries experts, and social scientists. Serious shortcomings in the proponents' proposals have been identified and are being reviewed. Meanwhile, the provincial review has been completed and the project has been approved by the B.C. government.
The other picture I have is of the Kemess mine, just so you have an idea of what will take the place of Fish Lake. It's a large open-pit copper-gold mine, barely a few hundred kilometres away and very similar in ecological terms. But if it weren't for the federal review, there would be no meaningful consideration of significant issues around the project's impacts on water and fisheries, and the interests of the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation and the Tsilhqot'in national government.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is a critical element in Canada's legal framework for sustainable development and environmental protection. It has its strengths and shortcomings, but there are also processes established to build on those strengths and to address those deficiencies, and they should be used to their fullest. Substantially weakening the act will deprive Canadians of one of the best and in some cases one of the only tools they have to ensure that vested interests and poorly considered projects do not compromise environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
Thank you for your consideration.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, committee members. I'll be making my presentation in French.
On behalf of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, I want to thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee on Part 15 of Bill . CUPW represents 54,000 workers in rural and urban communities from coast to coast to coast. A majority of our members work for Canada Post.
CUPW would like to urge this committee to give this very small part of Bill a very large amount of attention as it amounts to partial deregulation of our public post office. In Canada, letter mail is regulated for a reason. Canada Post has an exclusive privilege to handle letters so that it is able to generate enough money to provide affordable postal service to everyone, no matter where they live in our huge country. This privilege includes both domestic and international letters. We believe it will become increasingly difficult for Canada Post to provide universal postal service if the government erodes the very mechanism that funds this service—the exclusive privilege.
Canada Post’s exclusive privilege to handle letters has received remarkably little attention over the years. But international mailers, who are currently carrying international letters in violation of the law, have recently taken issue with this privilege and waged a campaign to undermine our post office’s right to handle international letters. Canada Post estimates that international mailers siphon off $60 million to $80 million per year in business. Its concerns with remailers have grown as the international mail business has grown and as remailers have unfairly competed for international mail by exploiting the two-tier terminal dues system adopted by the Universal Postal Union in 1999.
It is our understanding that Canada Post attempted to address its concerns with international mailers through negotiations and finally through legal action against two of the largest companies, Spring and Key Mail. One ruling by the Court of Appeal for Ontario stressed the importance of the exclusive privilege in serving rural and remote communities and noted that international mailers such as Spring Canada are not required to bear the high cost of providing services to the more remote regions of Canada. The corporation won this legal challenge all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
After this victory, a coalition of private Canadian and international mail companies called the Canadian International Mail Association (CIMA), hired a lobbyist in an attempt to convince parliamentarians to remove international letters from Canada Post’s exclusive privilege to handle letters. The government initially defended the importance of the exclusive privilege but it was not long before it started to reconsider its position, presumably because of the CIMA lobby. Nevertheless, the government did promise, in a letter to CUPW, that no changes to Canada Post's exclusive privilege would be considered without thorough policy analysis. We would like to point out that, to date, there has been no serious review or thorough policy analysis of the international mail issue or the impact of removing international letters from Canada Post’s exclusive privilege.
The government’s recent strategic review of Canada Post did not look at these issues. Unfortunately, this did not stop the review’s advisory panel from recommending against deregulation of letter mail, with the exception of international letters. It simply doesn’t make sense to be proposing legislation before you look at the relevant issues. The proposed legislation doesn’t make much sense either. Canada Post’s letter mail volumes declined for the first time in 2008 and again in 2009. The corporation clearly needs international letters as a source of revenue to maintain and improve public postal service. Furthermore, most people in this country are opposed to deregulation of Canada Post. They do not support eroding or eliminating Canada Post’s exclusive privilege. Close to 70% of people oppose postal deregulation according to a 2008 Ipsos Reid poll.
Some remailers have argued that the French version of the Canada Post Corporation Act should carry no weight and that the English version would prevail. This argument has been rejected by the courts, as a result of which those businesses are now outlaws.
I draw your attention to the two recommendations we are submitting to the committee. They appear on the last page. We are asking that Part 15 of Bill be withdrawn. We're also asking that measures be taken to shut down the five or six international mail companies that are violating the law and that there be consultations with Canada Post and CUPW concerning the possibility of offering employment to workers at these companies. That's important for us. I think we'll have to debate the question of the jobs that are at issue.
Thank you for listening. I'll be very pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before the committee today.
I'm here on behalf of Ecojustice, as well as Sierra Club Canada. Ecojustice, formerly known as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, is Canada's largest public interest environmental law organization. Ecojustice is a charitable organization with a mission to protect the environment through litigation and law reform.
Sierra Club Canada is also a national environmental organization that is grassroots in nature and devoted to protecting global ecosystems.
I'm going to speak in English. However, we can answer questions in French.
There's a broad consensus among people who concern themselves with environmental assessment that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act needs reform. That's not really the question. The question is who's going to undertake the reforms. Ecojustice and Sierra Club Canada are extremely concerned that the act is being weakened through a series of piecemeal statutory amendments and regulatory changes without benefit of serious parliamentary or public discussion, when a more comprehensive and integrated response to reform is required.
I would ask two questions. First, what's the rush in getting this bill through as part of the omnibus budget legislation? What's the big hurry? As my colleagues have mentioned, we have the seven-year review coming up. Under law, it must be initiated in June of this year.
Second, are members of this committee comfortable addressing this environmental law? You're a finance committee. Why are you being asked to deal with environmental assessment legislation, which is complicated? It's important, but it's also complicated. You have a committee of the House of Commons whose job that is. The environment and sustainable development committee has that job. It's done reviews of CEAA before. Why isn't it being asked to do it this time?
As I've mentioned, there have been a number of piecemeal changes, of which this bill is only the most recent. Last year there were a number of changes to environmental assessment law that were also introduced through omnibus budget legislation. There were amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which had the effect of eliminating thousands of environmental assessments of projects, such as dams and bridges, that obstruct navigation and also sometimes have adverse environmental effects. These amendments were also not related to the budget, just as the provisions of part 19 and part 20 in this bill are not related to the budget. They also receive little discussion in Parliament.
This wasn't the only piecemeal change that we've seen before. In the budget from last year, we also had some regulatory changes that were announced, which also removed environmental assessment requirements. These regulations were not gazetted in Canada Gazette part I, which is very common, and the fact that they were not so gazetted is a breach of the government's regulatory policy. Secondly, these regulations were not referred through the regulatory advisory committee set up close to 20 years ago by the government of Brian Mulroney to provide assistance to the government in regulatory changes and statutory changes in environmental assessment issues.
We also understand the government is considering another bill on environmental assessment to be brought forward, we're not sure when. The minister spoke on this a year ago. We'll just have to see when that bill comes forward. There was a presentation from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which I have included as part of my package.
Ecojustice and Sierra Club Canada don't accept the arguments that these changes are needed to avoid overlap and duplication. There have been several studies done on the extent to which there is overlap and duplication with federal environmental assessments. Both of these studies have found that there is very little. There was a 1997 study by the House of Commons environment committee, and in 2001 the federal environment minister reported that the federal EA system had been successful in avoiding duplication with the provinces.
Here are some suggestions for what this committee can do about all of this. Ecojustice and Sierra Club Canada are recommending that these environmental assessment provisions, parts 19 and 20, be deleted from Bill C-9. That's the first step. But we also suggest that this committee request that the House of Commons refer part 19 and part 20 to the environment and sustainable development committee for its consideration as part of the upcoming seven-year review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
We would suggest that the House of Commons environment committee should be allowed to do its job and carry out its legal mandate to have a considered, deliberate discussion about federal environmental assessment so that Canada can have an effective and efficient law, something that I think all of us around the table want to have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's obvious to everyone that Bill is an unpalatable stew that the government has put on the table, betting, even though it's a minority government, that the bill will be adopted. If the ranks of each party were respectable enough, this bill would not pass. The government wouldn't have tried to introduce this mess. As proof that we're being served up this stew, we have both people from the environment sector and a union president defending his business. That's what this leads to.
Mr. Lemelin, earlier we were told that no one had been consulted among the people in the environment sector. I'm going to continue down the road by asking you a first question. Were you consulted on Part 15, which concerns you?
With regard to Bill , if this was a minority government and there was an opposition with backbone—some opposition parties have backbone—we could continue by saying we are in favour of it and that we agree to withdraw Part 15. However, we aren't sure that everyone will agree with us that Part 15 should be withdrawn.
One of the reasons why you're opposed to it is that Canada Post's mandate is to distribute the mail at the same rate, regardless of whether you are in downtown Montreal or in the confines of a very remote region in Canada. This is somewhat like Hydro-Quebec's situation. It's national and, as a Crown corporation, it can't bill the Magdalen Islands at a different rate from the one it charges in downtown Montreal. We understand that.
You mentioned that there has been lobbying. The people from the Department of the Environment told us that too, in view of the fact that none of the environmentalists here before us were consulted. What lobbyists could make us swallow this postal mess? Can the people from the Department of the Environment—perhaps Mr. Lindgren could do it—identify the lobbyists that would be strong enough to have bills passed amending all this, in an omnibus bill that has nothing to do with us? Which, if the official opposition had backbone, could even risk bringing down the government? Who are these super strong people?
In our presentation, we talk about the Canadian International Mail Association. It's an organization representing remailers as such.
The act was changed on the international side, for example, to allow remailing to be done. Then there was the court case starting in 2004. It was after those results that Key Mail Canada and Spring Canada had the opportunity to request that the court decision be set aside. So it was from that point, in 2006 and 2007, that we saw this was developing.
We warned the government. We also sent letters to the government saying this sector couldn't be opened up to the private sector without a major public debate. The government confirmed that for us in 2006-2007, saying that the issue was important and that an economic study had to be conducted. No economic study was conducted by any party or by the independent committee that looked into postal service. So there's nothing. There's no evidence of the impact this may have.
Thank to you our witnesses for joining us here today.
I think I should put it on the record to start with that I am an environmentalist. Having grown up in agriculture, having grown up during a lot of my younger years in the wilderness, I'm a strong advocate of protecting the environment. I'm just a little concerned by some of the language that's been raised here today.
In our budget bill last year we made some changes to navigable waters so we could get the stimulus spending out quickly so we wouldn't have duplicate environmental assessments, unnecessary duplicate environmental assessments, but rather make sure that we had one good, comprehensive one.
We had many environmental groups, mostly the canoeists, here telling us how the sky was going to fall. I haven't heard from the canoeists in a year, so I just take a your concerns with a bit of a grain of salt.
Mr. McCallum posed a very articulate question, and very well worded—
Absolutely, as usual. He's a very articulate gentleman. I've heard him quoted in the House of Commons many times.
He asked all of you groups if you were consulted on these changes in Bill C-9, and I truly believe that you probably weren't consulted on Bill C-9. But going back over history, this discussion about this process has gone on for a long time. Most of you here are on the record as suggesting that these changes should take place, and that rather than having 40 or 50 federal authorities spread across government, we should narrow the focus down on environmental assessments.
In fact, Mr. Hazell, when you were executive director of the Sierra Club you said that the conduct of comprehensive studies could be transferred from federal authorities to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. That was back in the mid-nineties at some point.
My good friend Elizabeth May, in her former role as executive director of the Sierra Club, made a similar statement in 2002 in front of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, and I will quote her as well.
Now, Liberals, stay seated in your chairs.
||So we were extremely hopeful with the 1993 red book,
--I'm not sure which iteration of the red book that was--
||where there was a commitment that CEAA would receive royal assent, but it would be with significant strengthening and the creation of an independent Canadian environmental assessment agency that would be more like the CRTC in its functions. That would take us a step away from self-assessment, it would create rigour and professionalism in that body, it would create more predictability for industry, and it would create decisions that were not merely advice to a minister, as, if it was like the CRTC, those decisions would be binding unless cabinet overturned them.
Having said that, you've been consulted over the years—most groups, I won't say all. You've put your positions on paper. So if this bill, as part of Bill C-9, is doing what you'd asked for previously, for a comprehensive study of the environmental assessment of most major projects, moving that over to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, have your views changed?
Can I first direct this to Ms. Kwasniak of the Alberta Wilderness Association? I used to be a member of that association, so we'll give her the chance to answer that first.
Yes, I think it is true that a lot of us have made that specific recommendation. But I think that is, with all due respect, irrelevant to the larger question here about the way this is being done. Moreover, one possibly good thing is in with a whole lot of provisions we have never been consulted on, we would not agree upon, and that would be destructive to environmental assessment in Canada and really need a full airing.
I think the fact that there is something in the bill we would agree with is neither here nor there, and certainly most of the things in the CEAA amendments are definitely very bad for environmental assessment and bad for Canadians, and even bad for a regulated industry, as has been pointed out.
My name was mentioned, so I think I should have an opportunity to respond.
First of all, Mr. Menzies, I'm glad you're an environmentalist, because you live in a very special part of the world. I hope you will be able to support the Sierra Club in getting the Andy Russell Park established in Castle-Crown. We'll just leave it at that.
Neither the Sierra Club nor Ecojustice has ever supported any of the amendments in Bill , and there are a number of movable pieces in this. We all want the most efficient and effective law we can get, but we need to look at it comprehensively. We can't come at it with piecemeal, ad hoc, quick-and-dirty types of amendments, which this committee is being asked to sanction.
There are lots of good ideas on the table, but let's take some time, deliberate, have some public involvement engagement, have some considered review by the parliamentary committee that has the most expertise in this matter, I would submit, and do it that way.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First, I'm going to make a general comment to thank all the environmental groups that have made their presentations here today. They were to the point and extraordinarily clear. They concerned the entirely foreseeable harmful effects of the amendments provided for under Bill C-9. What you said is entirely consistent with my analysis. My friend and colleague Linda Duncan, an NDP member from Alberta, was one of the first to sound the alarm on this subject.
I also want to tell you that your presence here today is essential. Last week, we heard from departmental representatives who tried to stuff our heads. They told us a lot of nonsense about the foreseeable effects of this legislation, and it's scandalous. We are elected members. We agree or we do not agree, we dispute but we do our jobs as best we can. On the other hand, officials, agency leaders, the people who are paid to serve the government—if we literally translated the English term, we could say functionaries—are supposed to be a little more neutral. However, neutrality comes more from your side because you have an enormous amount of experience. You examined the bill and you say it cannot produce the anticipated results.
I also take the liberty of thanking you particularly, Mr. Lindgren, for your comments on what you call “the red herring”. It's true that the feared duplication and overlapping of roles is nonsense.
When I was Quebec's minister of the environment, I had no difficulty signing agreements with the federal government. We brought together two members of the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement and a federal government assessor. The results were excellent. The concerns that are expressed in piecemeal fashion by the Canadian right, that all this is too complicated and we have to try to simplify matters for the public, are nonsense and bunkum. It's not true.
What we have before us is an attempt to destroy a system that exists to protect future generations. Earlier I was listening to my friend and colleague Ms. Menzies, who said that last year an attempt was made to improve matters so that infrastructure spending would be done more quickly. In fact, they ruined a 100-year-old act respecting the protection of navigable waterways. That's what they did, period.
Now I want to come back to Mr. Lemelin, from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. I'd like to ask him whether he received a signal from the Liberal Party. The Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party share the idea that Part 15 must simply be deleted from Bill . On the Liberal Party, you have a worthy representative of the left wing in Mr. Pacetti, of the centre in Mr. MacKay and of the extreme right in Ms. Hall Findlay. This will depend on the group that wins the internal battle. That's why I would like to know whether the people from the Liberal Party told you whether they were going to support you in the effort to delete Part 15 from the bill.
I'd just like to offer a bit of a wink and a reminder.
I'm going to do it in English so nothing gets lost literally. The translators are superb, but I want this to be understood.
It's a corporate message on behalf of all elected members. I'm saying it with half a smile, Mr. Hazell, and I don't want you take it badly, but I was taught in the first year of law school by a wonderful old judge that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Frankly, to come before a group of elected members to tell us that we're just not up to the task of reading the statute, that it's far too complicated for us, is a bit insulting.
Even though we have our fights on these substantive issues all the time, and you see us sometimes publicly and in the House doing that, that's our job. I think we all do it well, irrespective of the party we're in. I was not only the Minister of the Environment in Quebec, I wrote Quebec's law on sustainable development. I changed Quebec's charter of rights to put in the right to live in a clean environment, respectful of laws and regulations. By the way, one of the first books I published was a 300-page bibliography on the drafting and interpretation of legislative documents, published by the Éditeur officiel du Québec some 30 years ago.
I know how to read a statute. I know how to write a statute. And by the way, I am a contributing member of Ecojustice as well.
I just find that it was a bit cheeky to tell us that we were incapable of reading this statute because it might be a bit too complicated for us, even though I'm on your side when it comes to the environment.
I certainly apologize for any disrespect. I certainly intended none. I certainly didn't intend to impugn the capability of members of this committee to read statutes and interpret them.
The key point I wanted to make is that a seven-year review is required by law to begin next month. It's a parliamentary review. Parliament in its wisdom could ask this committee to do it.
My only suggestion is that the logical place to do that would be with the environment and sustainable development committee. There's a process in place to do a comprehensive review of environmental assessment. Why not ask the body that I would submit is best suited to do that task, to take it on?
I certainly intended no disrespect. I apologize if it came out that way.
Mr. Hazell, you didn't need to apologize. I understood completely your intention, that in fact this bill and this segment of the bill is inappropriately in front of the finance committee. It should properly be before the environment committee. That was what you intended, and you did not intend to insult any of us. There's no point making mountains out of molehills here.
I did want to get to some of the substance of the issue. Could you put some flesh on the bones of what this is going to mean? Frankly, we have been told by various groups that there are all kinds of jurisdictions, provincial, federal agencies, and others, and they're falling all over each other doing various environmental assessments, and that this is an attempt to rationalize it and streamline.
It seems to me that in the notes given to us by the Department of Finance, this gives the Minister of the Environment the power to establish the scope of any project in relationship to which an environmental assessment is conducted. I take it that's the core of the objection. What's not clear to me is how that minister would exercise that scope of jurisdiction.
Probably the best way to answer that question is to refer to the Red Chris Mine case itself, where the proponent came forward with a proposal to construct and operate a very large-scale mine. It was so big that it was on the comprehensive study list. The responsible authorities were initially required to do a comprehensive study, which is a very rigorous form of environmental assessment. It includes various opportunities for public review and input.
Somewhere along the way, a project scoping decision was made in the absence of public input, and basically, although the EA was supposed to be looking at the environmental impacts of the mine, the mine and the mill were removed from consideration. So you have an EA that's supposed to be looking at the impacts of the mine, except the scoping decision removed the mine from consideration. That's why the Supreme Court of Canada said that's nuts.
Good afternoon, gentlemen. I'm also quite disappointed to see that we are studying the entire environmental issue in only one part of a budget implementation bill. I'm not a litigant like my neighbour, I'm not a lawyer, but I feel that preventing all possible discussion on the importance we have increasingly been attaching to the environment for a number of years now is an abuse of democracy. We are being denied the right to discuss this.
There is a Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, on which some of our colleagues sit on a permanent basis. They have thus become specialists on all these issues. Our finance committee is examining a budget implementation bill. That doesn't prevent us from having opinions about the environment, as you heard today. You are representatives of the corporation who have come to tell us how disappointed you are that all discussion on a decision contained in a bill is being terminated, especially since the government is also making this a matter of confidence. So some opposition parties feel they have an obligation to give the government their confidence. That prevents all discussion. It's really too bad for you, who are people concerned about the environment. In politics, MPs are supposed to be representatives of the people. We are here to represent the population. Some groups involved in environmental protection, some of the best groups, come and tell us they weren't consulted. We virtually can't introduce amendments. We can't assess the entire importance of certain measures in a part that only affects a bill's implementation. That's really too bad. I have the same opinion as you, but I can't say more.
However, I'm going to ask Mr. Lemelin a question about Canada Post Corporation. There are some technical details I would like to clarify.
Coming back to an important problem for a Crown corporation, the activities of a Crown corporation are evaluated in the context of the review of a budget bill. However, I would like to have some clarification of certain figures. We're talking about $60 million to $80 million in losses as a result of the remailers. I want to know from Mr. Lemelin, who is quite familiar with this file, whether these are actual losses as a result of businesses that are breaking the law or estimated losses as a result of the bill's implementation?
Okay. Thank you very much.
I don't think we're kidding anybody here; the folks who are here on the environmental issue disagree on a couple of points and don't like it in Bill C-9. I don't think, wherever it is, you would like the changes that are being recommended, whether that's in a separate bill or in Bill C-9 or not. I don't think that's really a secret.
I do take some offence to Monsieur Mulcair's comments about the public servants. To that end, Mr. Yves Leboeuf was here. He's the vice-president of policy development of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and he was asked by John McCallum:
||I wonder if you could give us examples of the types of projects that, through these new measures, might not require any assessment at all, which currently do require assessment.
This is his response:
||Sure. First, there is nothing in the proposed amendments that would exclude projects from the requirements of environment assessments that are not already excluded.
And then he goes on to say:
|When you look at the package of amendments being proposed here, they essentially cover three things. The first is to make permanent some exclusions that are already in existence and that were introduced by regulations a year ago and make them permanent now. These are exactly the same exclusions that were covered in those regulations a year ago and the same circumstances when public infrastructure projects are to benefit from federal funding under specified programs. Those programs are the same as those that were set out in those regulations last year.
Thank you, Mr. Wallace.
I want to thank all our witnesses for being with us here, for your presentations, your submissions, and your responses to our questions.
Colleagues, I want to point out that we do have a vote today. We also have a vote in the middle of tomorrow's committee. Can I ask you all to speak to your whips? I've asked our whip if we can move the vote to after question period so we don't have our meeting interrupted. If you can do that, I'd appreciate it, for tomorrow. We have one vote today and one vote tomorrow, so if we can get that moved, that would help the chair mightily.
I do want to thank you all for your presentations.
We'll suspend very briefly and then bring the next panel forward.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your invitation to come and give you our comments on this important legislative measure.
The Mouvement Desjardins hails the initiative that has been tabled before you to permit the recognition and creation of credit unions and caisses populaires under federal jurisdiction. The Mouvement Desjardins understands that it responds—perhaps not completely, which is virtually impossible—to wishes expressed by the credit union system, mainly outside Quebec. Those wishes have been expressed on numerous occasions over the past 15, 20, if not even 30 years. In that sense, the Mouvement Desjardins hails the initiative that is before you today.
Having said that, the Mouvement Desjardins must also say that it is extremely comfortable with the legal framework to which it is currently subject, that is to say the Quebec legislation governing it. We think two aspects in particular are conducive to the success of the Mouvement Desjardins. As a result of them, we are tempted to suggest further improvements to the act before you for the future. They also explain the fact that the Mouvement Desjardins would not be able to use the provisions that Bill will include in the Bank Act.
First of all, the Mouvement Desjardins is an integrated system of caisses populaires. The possibility of establishing a federation—a league, to use the English term—and pooling powers as well as responsibility for the network is fundamentally important for us. We get the impression that, in a second component of the House of Commons' initiative, that would be something you could consider with interest to permit greater cooperation among the credit unions of Canada, indeed cooperation within the credit unions and the Mouvement Desjardins within Canada.
There is another very distinctive feature of the Quebec legislation. In Quebec, as in many European countries, the constituted general reserve cannot be shared. In the bill before you today, the membership shares have no par value. Consequently, a transfer or migration from a Desjardins caisse populaire under federal jurisdiction would be unimaginable since the share's par value, which has been $5 since the first caisse was founded in December 1900, would overnight become several tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, it would have a value pro-rated to the market value of the entire Desjardins group. So are these are two factors that are very different for us.
When we look at the needs of the Mouvement Desjardins in terms of operations, both in Quebec and the rest of Canada, there is an aspect that is fundamentally important for us, and that is the ability to follow our corporate members who have commercial operations across Canada. The Mouvement Desjardins has been examining this question for a number of years. There is one vehicle which we think is suited to enabling us to render these services to our members, and that is a traditional bank as you know it under the Bank Act.
That said, in the cooperative world in Quebec, as in many other places, the term “bank” has a connotation for our members, in our caisses, which is somewhat shaded by our everyday competitive experience. In fact, if the Mouvement Desjardins had one request to make to the committee or to the federal government in connection with Bill , it would be, if a bank is held solely by caisses populaires or cooperative entities or a mix of caisses populaires and credit unions, that they be able to use the name of federal credit cooperative so that it reflects their cooperative nature.
Thus, a simple amendment could enable the Mouvement Desjardins to better discharge its obligations and better serve its cooperative members.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. That's what we wanted to bring to your attention.
Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on part 17 of Bill , the Jobs and Economic Growth Act, which proposes, among other things, to amend the Bank Act in order to allow for the establishment of federal credit unions.
My name is David Phillips and I'm president and CEO of Credit Union Central of Canada. Presenting with me today on behalf of the Case for Progress group of credit unions is Tracy Redies, president and CEO of Coast Capital Savings.
In 2009, Canadian Central called upon the federal government to establish a federal charter option for credit unions. We believe that a useful, attractive, accessible and distinctive federal charter would achieve several objectives.
First and foremost, a federal charter would enable those credit unions that wish to do so to reach beyond provincial boundaries and pursue business strategies that are not constrained by provincial regulation. Expanding across provincial borders has become more pressing as the growth and consolidation of the credit union system is approaching the point where the lack of a federal charter option may become a competitive disadvantage for some credit unions and for the credit union sector as a whole.
Credit Union Central of Canada has expressed a preference for establishing federal credit unions under the federal government's existing cooperative financial institutions legislation. However, Canadian Central did not preclude alternative legislative approaches if such legislation could provide a federal charter option for credit unions that meet these conditions.
The federal government has chosen to provide for the establishment of federal credit unions through the Bank Act, and Credit Union Central of Canada supports the enactment of part 17 of Bill as a good first step towards the establishment of a useful, attractive, accessible, and distinctive federal charter option for credit unions.
While it has many positive features, the placement of the federal credit union charter in the Bank Act does raise some issues of compatibility between the framework proposed for federal credit unions and a number of provisions in the Bank Act that are primarily designed for commercial banks.
The federal credit union legislation, while welcome, is lengthy and complex. For this reason, Canadian Central is still analyzing the proposed amendments. We expect that some issues will result from this analysis that Canadian Central will want to discuss with the Department of Finance at some point in time. These issues include matters such as the granting to members of a federal credit union access to the membership list of that credit union--Ms. Redies will speak to that in just a minute--and the position of the federal credit union in the payments clearing and settlement system.
Canadian Central, nevertheless, wishes to express its support for the enactment of the legislation in Bill C-9 that will provide existing credit unions and those desiring to establish new credit unions with the option to operate under a federal charter. We believe that the proposed legislative framework is a positive step forward in achieving this purpose.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to address you today.
Ms. Redies will now say a few words about the proposed framework.
Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on behalf of the Case for Progress committee. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to offer comments to the members of the House of Commons finance committee regarding part 17 of Bill C-9, which proposes to amend the Bank Act to allow for the establishment of federal credit unions.
Formed in 2006, the Case for Progress committee has been a strong advocate for federal legislation to enable credit unions to expand beyond their provincial boundaries. The committee is comprised of large credit unions interested in developing a national presence, mid-sized credit unions focused on becoming regional financial services providers, and small affinity-based credit unions wanting to serve members of their communities wherever they are located in Canada.
Coast Capital Savings is one of the founding and largest members on the Case for Progress committee, but the diversity of the committee underscores how the option of becoming a federal credit union could appeal to any credit union in the system. The Case for Progress committee applauds the government's decision to allow for the creation of federal credit unions through amendments to the Bank Act, as outlined in Bill . The proposed legislation is a historic milestone that will enhance the strength and stability of the credit union sector and financial services industry as a whole.
The proposed legislation recognizes the hallmarks of a credit union and provides an attractive option for those credit unions interested in expanding outside their province of origin under one national regulatory authority. It will give credit unions the chance to develop greater economies of scale and more competitive cost bases while remaining true to cooperative principles. This, in turn, will allow the development of a wider range of enhanced products and services that credit union members now expect.
Increased competition from federal credit unions will provide Canadian consumers more choice, drive innovation, and lower prices. The charitable sector will also benefit, as credit unions have a proud history of significant involvement and philanthropic investment in the communities where they operate.
While the Case for Progress committee supports the federal credit union charter, we have a concern with regard to a provision dealing with access to membership lists.
My name is Dr. Michael Ivanco. I'm vice-president of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, or SPEA, as we're called. I'm also a scientist who works for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited. With me is Peter White, president of SPEA and a nuclear engineer.
We represent engineers, scientists, technicians, and technologists who work for the CANDU reactor division of AECL. Our members work in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and internationally. Collectively we represent most of Canada's nuclear design expertise. Indeed, the intellectual property associated with CANDU technology is resident primarily within our members. To design and maintain nuclear reactors, you need experience in all fields of engineering and natural science. It took decades for AECL to acquire this unique capability through our members.
Part 18 of Bill C-9 contains proposed legislation that allows for the sale of AECL—but, essentially, it's our members who are for sale. As a company, the CANDU reactor division of AECL does not hold a large number of patents. It holds few physical assets such as buildings or property. The sale consists primarily of the transfer of the knowledge, skills, and experience of the employees who work there, namely, our members. Hence, we have a keen interest in this bill.
Given the size of the industry and the fact that AECL is its cornerstone, we were somewhat shocked to see that the sale was buried in a few pages of a 950-page budget implementation bill. We do not believe that a crown asset with the distinguished history of AECL, and created through an act of Parliament, should be dismantled through an “act” of cabinet. We think that Canadians deserve better.
Seventy percent of Canadians polled by the government last year actually opposed the privatization of AECL. It's difficult to imagine how a 100% sale would lead to a positive outcome for the Canadian industry. No private sector Canadian company can be of sufficient size to give potential buyers the assurance that they will still be around to support the CANDU product for decades to come. A 100% privately owned Canadian company would have little chance of selling reactors abroad. It would likely be relegated to the refurbishment of existing units—the nuclear equivalent of a VCR repair company.
A foreign company with its own technology would likely only be interested in our members, not our technology. If this were to be the outcome, our members would rather leave AECL on their own terms and not wait for any sale. Indeed, a critical mass of our senior members is on the verge of doing so. This subset consists of those who can retire early but have chosen not to, or those who could get jobs next week with a competitor—and likely earning more money in doing so. They're understandably frustrated by the secrecy of the privatization process, the inappropriate inclusion of AECL in an omnibus bill, and the lack of consultation with SPEA, which represents their interests. If they choose to leave, the asset value of AECL would drop like a stone.
SPEA has grave concerns about the nature of part 18 of Bill C-9. It allows for cabinet to make deals with potential buyers behind closed doors, without scrutiny by Parliament. The interests of Canadians can only be assured when they know all the facts. A national debate in Parliament on the sale of AECL would at least be one step in the right direction. Canadians have made an investment in AECL that has created an industry and given us a stature and place among the world's scientific elite. Nuclear science, research, and production are an important policy objective worthy of continued support.
This committee hearing should not be the last chapter of that story. There's still much that Canada can contribute, and there are thousands who would be proud to make that contribution. Do not allow us to lose an industry and our leadership position internationally without a proper national debate on the future of AECL.
Good evening. My name is Neil Alexander. I'm the president of the Organization of CANDU Industries.
OCI is an association of about 165 companies, with bases here in Canada, that have an interest in the ongoing health of the nuclear industry here. One of those companies, Laker Energy Products, is represented by its president and owner, Chris Hughes, who's sitting in the audience.
OCI's private sector member companies employ more than 30,000 people directly on nuclear work. They represent a significant proportion of the 70,000 people who owe their livelihoods to the investment by Canada in its nuclear industry.
OCI is an independent organization, and while it works closely with stakeholders and the plant operators, it does not represent their views.
We see a great opportunity for Canada. Canada is one of the few nations that can benefit significantly from the worldwide renaissance in nuclear power. This renaissance will likely lead to a market opportunity of $2 trillion to $3 trillion as between 400 and 600 new reactors are built around the world. The benefit to Canada will arise from sales of CANDU plants into which Canadian companies supply many of the components, as well as the sales of components to the other reactor designs that are built around the world. These components will be built by companies like Laker Energy Products and our other members, and they will create high-quality jobs for skilled workers throughout Ontario and the rest of Canada.
As an example, we see what the Koreans are doing. They have spotted this tremendous opportunity in the nuclear business, and they recently signed their first export order for four units from the United Arab Emirates. Their newspaper celebrated this success by announcing that this single project was worth the same as the export of a million cars, or one hundred and eighty 300,000-tonne supertankers.
I leave you to imagine how beneficial such an announcement would be in Canada in the present economic circumstances. To gain these benefits, Canada needs to remain at the forefront of the technology. We need to continue developing and innovating, and CANDU Inc. has a very important role in ensuring that happens. It is also essential that the existing fleet of CANDUs is properly supported by a team of sufficient size and competence to deal with any arising operational issues.
OCI has been a long-time and consistent supporter of the restructuring of AECL to achieve the objectives that are very clearly defined in Rothschild's investment summary. We agree that CANDU technology has to be properly capitalized to be successful, that the management team of AECL does need a significant injection of commercial capability, and that the sales team at AECL does need a much greater international outreach.
We believe that all of these things can be achieved through seeking an appropriate business partner for the organization, again as specified in the investment summary. We also believe that to gain access to the wave of opportunity that's currently developing, the restructuring needs to be completed promptly. Further delay will likely cripple the opportunities for CANDU sales, as other reactor designs find footholds in new markets and then become entrenched. And of course we're concerned about the issues that Michael Ivanco raised concerning the retention of the high-quality staff at AECL.
Additionally, continuing uncertainty increases the risk of the loss of our talent. We need to maintain them, and we need to retain that talent in companies like Laker Energy Products, which have very highly skilled craftsmen working within their organization.
As a result, we support the language in Bill and encourage all parties to ensure that AECL is restructured as quickly as possible.
As well as the need to make the decisions promptly, achieving the stated policy objectives is also important. In the investment summary we remind people that there are three policy objectives, five evaluative criteria, and eight desired outcomes. We believe these policy objectives are effectively a contract with the people of Canada and that the government is obligated to deliver on them.
Two of these policy objectives, three of the evaluation criteria, and three desired outcomes are focused entirely on the prospects of the industry, including expanding access to markets and growing jobs in design and engineering.
One policy objective, one of the evaluation criteria, and two desired outcomes are focused entirely on safety and performance.
The issues are complex and we believe that the restructuring team should demonstrate how it is ensuring that these objectives will be met. But we do conclude that the restructuring of AECL has to proceed promptly and that the process should ensure that the policy objectives are met in an optimum way.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
First of all, let me provide the committee with an update on our most urgent priority at AECL, namely the repair and return to service of the NRU reactor at AECL's Chalk River Laboratories.
Intense repair operations continue around the clock. They involve over 300 highly qualified AECL staff and industry partners. As of today we are working to repair the last of ten sites that required repair on the reactor vessel. The process has been painstaking. Our rate of progress has been dictated by the need to inspect, analyze, and understand irradiated metal behaviour and to measure and evaluate stress on the vessel structure. What we are doing, simply put, has never been done before in the history of the nuclear industry. It is probably the most complex and sophisticated welding operation ever undertaken in a radioactive environment.
As we stated last March, the NRU will resume isotope production by the end of July 2010. That schedule does include prudent contingency to reflect the difficulty inherent in these final repair sequences. AECL is making every effort to return the NRU to service as quickly and as safely as possible. At AECL we do understand the importance of critical projects that we must execute successfully. We understand the need to control our costs and the imperative that we prepare for the upcoming restructuring of the company, which is a process being managed by the federal shareholder.
In terms of our first-of-a-kind CANDU reactor refurbishments in New Brunswick and Ontario, we have experienced cost overruns and scheduled delays due to the highly complex nature of deconstructing and rebuilding reactors that were built in the 1970s. However, we have instituted corrective measures to improve project management and financial reporting systems in order to enhance performance.
As for AECL's ongoing market development, there is strong interest in many countries in CANDU technology, both in our proven 700-megawatt reactors and our larger 1,200-megawatt advanced CANDU reactor. In terms of supporting and preparing for the restructuring process being led by the federal government, we have divided AECL into two internal divisions. One is the commercial part of AECL, the CANDU reactor division, which is the part of the AECL being divested by the federal shareholder. The other division is the research and technology division, which comprises Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario and Whiteshell Laboratories in Manitoba. As has been stated, the nuclear laboratories will continue to be owned by the federal government.
To conclude, Mr. Chairman, there is a bright future for the nuclear power industry in Canada and an important role for nuclear laboratories to support world-class Canadian nuclear technology.
I thank our witnesses for coming to meet us. I'm going to focus my questions on the cooperative movement. In the second round, Ms. Brunelle, the member for , can ask questions about AECL since she is much more qualified than I am in that area.
To begin, Mr. Thibault, I would like to ask you two brief questions. You no doubt agree that a specific act would have been a better vehicle than a stew pot bill, an omnibus bill. Were you one of its instigators, or were you consulted about the specific part concerning cooperatives?
In fact, everything depends on what the House of Commons wants to do with a legal framework for a cooperative system, particularly for the credit union system. In that sense, my colleagues might perhaps be in a better position to comment on that point.
In my presentation, I referred to the usefulness of the potential creation of a federation or of establishing entities related to systems. One may nevertheless think that it would be more difficult to introduce that kind of thing in an act like by Bank Act.
The large international cooperative groups—whether it be in Europe, Japan, Canada or elsewhere—are normally two-tier organizations: a system of local caisses or local credit unions organized and headed up by a federation and often provided with a security fund, a central caisse and other entities. One can imagine that, if you went that route, a lot of chapters would be added to the current Bank Act.
In fact, in the case of the Mouvement Desjardins, the act doesn't afford an additional tool. What I was saying is that, to the extent we would like to establish a support agency for the system of caisses—which provide a lot of the service to individuals and to small and, to a certain degree, medium-size businesses—that would enable us to follow slightly more important clients of corporate Desjardins which have operations across Canada. I'm thinking of those that, in some cases, start out small and become big enough. We would therefore need a slightly more specialized arm that would take over the primary caisse system.
In response to your question, yes, indeed, we have operations in Ontario. There is a system of francophone caisses populaires, which moreover was originally founded by Mr. Desjardins, who was very active in the House of Commons at the time. That system is affiliated with the Mouvement Desjardins. It is a full-fledged member, like any caisse in Quebec, with the same rights as the other Desjardins caisses.
We also have a credit union, which is affiliated with the Fédération des caisses Desjardins. It is the Desjardins Credit Union. It is essentially active in Ontario. There are also affiliation agreements with auxiliary members in Acadia, New Brunswick and Manitoba.
Okay. I appreciate that.
I'll now go to the nuclear group.
I have to tell you this, and I have to be frank with my colleagues. I actually worked at the Bruce nuclear station as a summer student for three years. My father worked there at the heavy water plant. My brother-in-law works at Bruce nuclear. My sister works at Bruce nuclear. Let's just say I'm pro-nuclear.
I was there when Douglas Point was decommissioned. It was exciting for students to be in there mopping up water, but I wasn't sure what it was.
The question I have for you is really twofold.
One, we've basically heard this from everybody, other than the engineering group, which we completely understand. Michael was in my office talking to me about the issues. In general, there's a view that the sale either in part or in whole is something that might be needed. That came directly from the AECL and from the supplier group.
This is a question about timing. We put this in Bill C-9 to be able to move on it. What would happen to our nuclear industry if we continued to drag our feet and not make a decision on this? Is the world getting ahead of us on this?
I'll ask Hugh to answer. Perhaps Mr. Hughes, from Laker, can then also answer from the supplier side, if he wishes.
Thank you for the question.
Without question, the world is moving on nuclear at a very fast pace. When we look at the global marketplace and the nature and range of opportunities that exist out there, they will certainly not wait for us to get our house in order to make their decisions. We need to be in a position where we can take the CANDU brand and market it globally and work with our supply chain partners to present compelling propositions to that market.
At the same time, of course, we need to make sure it is the right outcome and the right decision. I don't think we want to be hasty. Certainly, to the extent we can move quickly through this process, I think it's going to be in the best interests of all of us.
I would certainly agree with what Hugh has to say.
First of all, I'm speaking as a private businessman here. It's not in consultation with AECL or with OCI, even though we are members.
I would say, frankly, the longer it takes to conclude this privatization, the lower the value of AECL.
There are opportunities out there in the world for reactor orders. They are on hold, in particular, in Argentina and in China. Both of those countries are quite frankly having second thoughts due to the uncertainty, in their view. After all, they are the customers. The sooner this is sorted out, the better it will be.
I think one thing you'll find is that successful reactor suppliers all have one thing in common: their home countries, governments, utilities, reactor vendors, and the industry all work together on a common front.
Neil mentioned the Koreans. It's a classic example. They do it beautifully. France also does the same thing.
We need to do the same if we're going to be successful out there in the world.
Yes, some details still need to be fleshed out.
My next question is for both Mr. MacDiarmid and Mr. Ivanco.
Yesterday I flew in from Washington. The seatmate with whom I was sitting and I chatted as we flew in. She worked for Nortel for nine years. She now works for a Washington-based company. That Washington-based company was picking up a section of the Ericsson purchase. We discussed the amount of money that the Canadian taxpayers had sunk into Nortel, the tremendous loss that it is. Her comment, entirely unsolicited by me, was that this was a terrible tragedy, that it basically took Canada out of the game, except insofar as it's more advantageous for foreign companies to locate their operations here than it might be anywhere else.
My first question, Mr. MacDiarmid, is whether AECL is the next Nortel, because this legislation gives the government the authority to sell it one minute after royal assent.
So there's no imminent thousand-employee layoff. This is what people are concerned about, because they are hearing that AECL doesn't have its full year's cheque worth for both the repairs as well as the operating costs and that combined with a mass e-mail that engineers and retired engineers got saying that Bill C-9 is designed to sell AECL out from underneath Canadians by stealth. Just by virtue of having this discussion dispels that notion. So that is why I asked that question. And contrast that to representatives from the Technicians and Technologists Independent Union, who are working together so as the company goes through the restructuring they can be a part of it and work together with it.
And as many of my colleagues here are aware, and Madame Brunelle, I've been working with a group of employees at Chalk River. We call ourselves the CREATE committee, which stands for Chalk River Employees Ad-hoc Taskforce for a national laboratory. Of course their main focus at this point is getting NRU back and running, and I hope eventually the case will be made that a multi-purpose reactor should go there.
But regardless of whatever decisions are made about the future of the commercial side of AECL, we believe the proposal for a national laboratory should be pursued, and we see the current restructuring as much as an opportunity as anything else.
Should the decision not to restructure AECL proceed, what does the CREATE committee need to do to encourage AECL to support their proposal that could result in a different government agency, such as the National Research Council, or some newly created agency, like a public-private partnership, to play an enhanced role at the Chalk River site, particularly when it comes to nuclear research and development?