Sixth Time’s the Charm? Long-Overdue Legislative Changes Announced by Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources

Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver (the “Minister”), recently announced that the federal government intends to overhaul Canada’s Nuclear Liability Act (the “Act”).

Passed nearly 40 years ago, the Act has been instrumental in facilitating the development of Canada’s nuclear industry. It implemented, among other things, no-fault operator liability and a cap on operator liability. This approach is broadly consistent with other jurisdictions except that the cap on operator liability, fixed at $75 million in 1976, has been significantly outpaced in most other jurisdictions. This anachronistic limit has been a lightning rod for criticism as well as a significant impetus to amend the Act.

There have been five attempts since 2003 to amend or replace the Act. None have been successful. Private Member’s Bill C-415, which was an attempt to amend the Act in order to increase the cap on operator liability to $1.1 billion, failed in 2004. This was followed by the failures of Bills C-63, C-5, C-20 and C-15. All of these bills floundered due to circumstances completely unrelated to their merits, such as the proroguing or dissolving of Parliament.

In the recent announcement by the Minister, several proposed changes were described. Primarily, the liability cap of $75 million would be increased to $1 billion. Claims would be permitted through a greater number of categories and an improved procedure for delivering compensation would be designed and implemented. The scope of compensable damage would be broadened to include economic loss and environmental damage and the limitation period for certain claims would be increased to 30 years. The new legislation would also provide for a specialised claims tribunal to, among other things, accelerate claims payments.

Interestingly, the federal government is also considering having Canada join the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (the Convention) which would provide for funds from other member countries to supplement Canada’s domestic compensation regime.

Stay tuned for further blog updates on the Convention and on the Minister’s  proposed legislation.

The Minister’s announcement can be found here.