Senator attacks Liberals' nuclear bill, calls it 'very biased'
Reposted with permission from the Hill
Monday, May 20, 2002
By Bill Curry
A government bill to set up a $550-million agency designed to
develop Canada's long-term nuclear waste policy is coming under fire
by a Liberal-dominated Senate committee because the body won't be
subject to the Access to Information Act or the Auditor General's
The Hill Times
"We're having quite a bit of trouble with that bill,"
declared Alberta Liberal Senator Nick Taylor, who chairs the
Senate Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee currently
studying C-27, the Nuclear Fuel Waste Bill.
"It sounds like the first draft was put together by the
president of Ontario Hydro, or something like that," he told The
Hill Times. "The act is very, very biased towards secrecy
and is very airy-fairy as far as what to do in the future."
The bill sets up a Waste Management Organization that will be paid
for and run by nuclear power producers. Ontario Power Generation
will put in $500-million of the total $550-million budget. Within
three years of Parliament's passing of C-27, the organization will
have to have studied and recommended a long-term plan for storing
nuclear waste. It will be studying three options: burrying it deep
in the Canadian Shield; keeping it in on-site water storage; or
building a central storage facility either above or below ground.
Sen. Taylor said such an important body should be subject to the
Access to Information Act and to audits by the Auditor General's
Office, but the bill doesn't allow for that. Sen. Taylor said
because of those concerns, as well as concerns that the bill is
loosely written and lacking in proper checks on those who will run
it; the committee is concidering four options.
"One is a complete rejection," he said. "The second
is an amendment and send it back [to the House]. The third way is to
talk to the minister about amending it and the other is to pass it,
but with a scorching letter like back in 2001 on the Innovation
[Foundation] about taking money out without telling
Sen. Taylor led the Alberta Liberal Party from 1974 to 1988 and is
scheduled to retire from the Senate in November. He made headlines
last month when he said donations to the Liberal Party and
leadership candidates by the powerful oil lobby is behind the
government's move to back down from the Kyoto agreement on climate
But Sen. Taylor has also been a critic of the decreasing amount of
accountability in government and he pointed out that his committee
was the first to raise the issue of the growing number of
quasi-government agencies that increasingly avoid scrutiny by the
public or Parliament. He told The Hill Times that C-27 is
another example of that trend.
"I think the Auditor General's report, the byelections, they're
all wrapped up in the one ball," he said. "The public
wants to know what's going on and they not only want to know what's
going on, they want it to appear that they know what's going on.
This whole idea of 'Trust me, I'm from Ottawa,' doesn't wash very
The bill raised little fuss when it went through the House, though
Liberal MPs did vote down an amendment put forward in the House
Natural Resources Committee by Bloc Québécois MP Serge Cardin
that would have added access-to-information provisions.
Toronto Liberal MP John Godfrey, who is on the Natural
Resources Committee, said the Waste Management Organization doesn't
really fit with the debate over other arm's-length agencies because
this one will be entirely funded by the private sector.
"I mean, it's always important that these arm's-length
organizations be transparent and accountable, but I can't think that
the fundamental issue [with the bill] is about the auditor general
and access to information. I think in the grand scheme of things,
those are relatively minor points. Maybe they're symbolic of a
larger set of issues of accountabilty, but the real issue is almost
a philosophical one. I mean, we've produced the stuff. We've
benefitted from it. We're all in on it. We're all guilty and it
seems to me that anything that advances the cause of more research
into the various options and which spurs further technological
investigation into new things that we haven't discovered yet, is
But one of Mr. Godfrey's Liberal caucus colleagues took issue with
his statements. Ontario Liberal MP John Bryden has been
fighting "the larger set of issues of accountability" for
years and almost got a bill passed that would have forced Crown
corporations and arm's-length agencies like Atomic Energy Canada
Ltd. and the CBC to comply with the Access to Information Act. He
says he doesn't buy the argument that it's okay for the Waste
Management Organization to be exempt because it's privately funded.
"The problem is, it's public safety," he said.
"Because it's public safety, then it should be open to public
"You need to be able to see how the administrators are
performing in order to increase your comfort level that they're
obeying the principles outlined in the legislation, so I'm very,
very interested that the Senate is taking this on because it shows
the Senate is doing it's job."
While Mr. Bryden said he's optimistic a Treasury Board Task Force
looking at updating the Access to Information Act will have positive
recommendations when it reports shortly, he said the forces of
secrecy led by the Privacy Commissioner seem to be winning out over
calls for openness.
"I'm quite concerned," he said.
Backing up his concern is Canadian access specialist Alasdair
Roberts, an associate professor at the Maxwell School of
Syracuse University, who has criticized Bill C-27 as part of the
Liberal government's continued "assault" on the right to
Prof. Roberts also criticized Mr. Godfrey's argument about private
money, saying this new body will be drafting public policy that will
literally affect the country for thousands of years and therefore it
should be subject to the access act.
"We used to think policy development happened in government
departments, but that's no longer true," he said, pointing to
the increasing power of these agencies.
Prof. Roberts also had low expectations that the task force report
will tilt the scales toward more access. After hearing a
presentation from Task Force chair Andrée Delagrave at a
recent conference, Prof. Roberts said it appears her report will
merely propose administrative tweaking and will even restrict access
by bringing in new rules and increasing fees.
"This government is clearly not a big supporter of the Access
to Information Act," he said. "I would say while the
desire to set up new organizations doesn't stem from the desire to
limit the act, this government is using the opportunity to limit the
ambit of the act. So, while it's not a driver of the reform, it's
one of the spin off benefits for the government, I suppose.
"So one the critical issues with the preservation of the right
to information is expanding the number of institutions that are
subject to the Access to Information Act, and it seems reasonably
clear that the task force, or rather the government, isn't going to
take dramatic steps on that.
"The decision on the Waste Management Organization has already
been taken by the government. The decision on the Canada Health
Infoway to exclude it from the act was already taken from the
government, at the same time that the review [on access legislation]
is going on. So if you want an understanding of what the
government's position is on alternative service delivery and the
right to information, the WMO and the Canada Health Infoway give you
--Bill Curry's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org