February 2011

North of 49°
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First District Protests Privatization of
Canada's Nuclear Agency

An emerging coalition of labor unions and elected officials is mobilizing against the ruling Conservative Party's efforts to sell off Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the national nuclear agency, which employs more than 70,000 Canadians.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was able to sneak a series of controversial privatization measures—including one which mandates the sale of AECL—into his government's budget bill, which was passed last fall.

By incorporating the measure into an omnibus budget bill, Harper made it difficult for opposition MPs to vote against it without threatening the stability of the government. Under the parliamentary system, a vote against the government's budget is viewed as a vote of no confidence, which would set the stage for a new round of elections. Bringing down the government was not an appealing option for many campaign-fatigued MPs and voters, who have endured three national elections in less than six years.

"Harper manipulated the system by including this item in the budget," says First District Vice President Phil Flemming. "He's trying to sell off a key component of Canada's energy portfolio with minimal debate or public input."

The concern is that privatization will put thousands of jobs and future investment in nuclear technology in Canada at risk.

Rob Sheppard, president of the Society of Energy Professionals, one of the unions that represents AECL employees, says in a statement that, "Canada has a wealth of nuclear expertise and knowledge that is renowned worldwide, and we feel it is imperative that this technology and the thousands of good jobs it creates must remain Canadian."

First District International Representative Peter Routliff, who testified against the sale before a special Senate subcommittee last fall, questions whether a private investor would have the expertise and funds necessary to maintain AECL, in particular the special CANDU reactors—a Canadian-invented pressurized water reactor used in nuclear power plants.

More than 70 Deep River, Ontario, IBEW Local 742 members work for the nuclear agency's Chalk River reactor—jobs which could be put at risk by privatization.

Hundreds of other IBEW members who work in the nuclear industry could also be affected by the sale.

Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith represents workers at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, which, while owned by NB Power, uses an AECL-produced CANDU reactor.

"Our main concern is whether a private entity would maintain the resources needed to support this technology," he says. "CANDU is a unique Canadian technology and we don't want to see it abandoned."

The sale also met some opposition in Ottawa. Sen. Pierette Ringuette (New Brunswick) teamed up with other senators to oppose the measure last fall.

"The survival of AECL is crucial to Canadians; whether for its medical isotope production for millions of Canadians, or its nuclear energy production, which supplies half of Ontario's electricity," she says in a statement.

Ringuette introduced a bill that would limit the government's sale of AECL to only 30 percent of the agency's assets.

Routliff says the First District is leading a grassroots education effort to help keep the agency in the government's hands.

"This puts thousands of good jobs and the nuclear energy industry in Canada at risk, so it's vital that every IBEW member lets their MP know how they feel," says Vice President Flemming.