Federal Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis says the government is not looking at a "fire sale" to get rid of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., even though the Crown agency has been on the market for two years with no buyer and Ottawa is still pumping millions of dollars into it.
Paradis, appearing before a parliamentary committee Thursday to defend the government's decision to provide the company with an additional $102 million this year, said he's angry at the rising costs, but that red ink isn't affecting the sale of AECL.
"It's not a fire sale. We can achieve a good agreement that will be useful for everybody," he said of attempts to sell the commercial division of AECL that builds and maintains nuclear power reactors
The new funding, announced in the government's most recent supplementary budget estimates, is the latest to cover cost overruns that NDP natural resources critic Nathan Cullen described as staggering.
Last year, the company ran up more than $800 million in red ink.
"For this year, 190 per cent over budget, last year 140 per cent over budget," Cullen said. "Is there any chance Canada is going to recoup even a fraction of what we're putting into AECL right now?"
The main bidder, Bruce Power, pulled out of talks in January, but Paradis said his government isn't getting desperate — and the agency's president, Hugh MacDiarmid, said AECL has learned from its mistakes and can be profitable again. Still, he conceded not everyone will believe that.
"It is, in some cases, a bit of a leap of faith that somebody needs to take that we are going to be a company in the future that will enjoy growth, profitability and operational effectiveness," MacDiarmid said.
AECL continues to lose money because of problems with its refurbishment of the Point Lepreau reactor in New Brunswick, the need to upgrade infrastructure at the Chalk River research complex in Ontario and the development of the Advanced Candu Reactor.
The government is now negotiating the sale of AECL’s commercial division to a joint venture between Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Group and OMERS, which manages pension funds for Ontario’s municipal employees.