Bill C-20, the proposed legislation to replace the Nuclear Liability Act, has cleared another hurdle in the legislative process. Following a detailed clause by clause review of the draft legislation, on December 10, 2009 the Standing Committee on Natural Resources reported the Bill to the House of Commons with five amendments. A copy of the reprinted Bill C-20 with the amendments may be found at http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=4316005&Language=e&Mode=1.

The following is a summary of the five amendments proposed by the Standing Committee:

  1. Section 22 of Bill C-20 requires the Minister of Natural Resources to review the $650 million limitation on operator liability on a regular basis, and at least once every five years. Section 22(2) identifies items that the Minister is to consider in the review. Section 22(b) of the reported Bill is amended to add “nuclear liability limits in other countries” as a matter that the Minister must now consider in this periodic review.
  2. Section 22(3) has been added to the reported Bill. This amendment requires the Minister to hold public consultations as part of the Section 22 review. The public consultations are to include participation of both industry and non-industry stakeholders and any parliamentary committee that may be designated or established to review matters relating to the nuclear energy.
  3. During the review of Bill C-20 by the Standing Committee, concerns were expressed by certain of members of the Committee about the length of time that has elapsed since the $650 million liability limit was first set in 2002. Due to this period being greater than the five year maximum review period referred to Section 22(a), the Standing Committee has proposed a transitional amendment (Section 68.1) to require that the first review under Section 22 must be completed within 15 months after the day on which the Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act comes into force.
  4. Section 23 requires nuclear operators to provide financial security for its $650 million liability obligation and Section 24 requires this financial security to be in the form of insurance with an approved insurer (subject to the possibility of alternate financial security for a portion of the liability obligation - see Sections 24(2) and 24(3)). However, the insurance market is unlikely to provide coverage for certain operator obligations under Bill C-20. This gap is resolved by Section 26 which enables the Minister to enter into an agreement with an approved insurer under which Her Majesty in right of Canada reinsures some or all of the risk assumed by the insurer under the insurance required to form part of the financial security that an operator is required to maintain in connection with its liability limit. Section 26(4) requires the Minister to cause a copy of each reinsurance agreement to be laid before each House of Parliament. The Standing Committee has proposed an amendment to these provisions (Section 26(5)) which will require the Minister to also cause to be laid before each House a copy of all related risk assessment studies that were completed for the purposes of the reinsurance agreement.
  5. Under Section 36, the Governor in Council must establish a nuclear claims tribunal as soon as possible after its declaration that a tribunal is required to administer the claims from a nuclear incident (see Section 31(1)). Section 37(1) requires the tribunal to notify the public, in a manner that it considers appropriate, of the details of the tribunal’s purpose and the means by which the public can obtain information on bringing a claim. Section 37(2) provides for the mandatory publication of this notice in the Canada Gazette. The Standing Committee has proposed an amendment to Section 37(2) which specifies that the publication requirement be extended to “one or more newspapers in general circulation throughout all of Canada”.

Next Steps for Passage of Bill C-20

The House of Commons has adjourned for the holiday break and is scheduled to return on Monday, January 25, 2010. Based on the general support of the Liberal Party representatives at the Committee review, nuclear sector stakeholders are hopeful that the Bill, as amended, will proceed efficiently through the Reporting Stage and be adopted at Third Reading.

Bill C-20, upon its passage by the House, will be referred to the Senate where it will undergo three readings including a clause by clause review by the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. This Senate Standing Committee review would provide interested stakeholders with another occasion to make submissions for further amendments. If the Senate review does result in amendments, the Bill would be returned to the House of Commons for further consideration and then, upon passage of the amendments, Royal Assent.

There has been speculation in the media that the Prime Minister may choose to prorogue Parliament in the New Year. If Parliament is prorogued before the Bill receives Royal Assent, Bill C-20 would die on the order paper, similar to its predecessor Bill C-5. Ordinarily, this would require this legislation to be reintroduced as a new Bill in the new Parliament, beginning once again with first reading in the House of Commons. However, if we do have a prorogation, we hope that the Government will recognize the importance of this legislation for Canada’s nuclear sector, including in connection with the Government’s recent invitation for proposals for the acquisition of AECL’s commercial CANDU Reactor Division. The Government, with the support of all opposition parties, could capitalize on the efforts invested in enacting Bill C-20 and its predecessors by bringing forward a motion in the new Parliament to reinstate Bill C-20 at the stage of its parliamentary review reached at the time of prorogation.