By Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press - Friday, September 14, 2012 - 0 Comments
MONTREAL – The federal government has tossed in the towel and will stop fighting international efforts to list asbestos as a dangerous substance, striking another blow to a once-mighty Canadian industry now on the verge of extinction.
MONTREAL – The federal government has tossed in the towel and will stop fighting international efforts to list asbestos as a dangerous substance, striking another blow to a once-mighty Canadian industry now on the verge of extinction.
In a sudden reversal for the Harper government, Industry Minister Christian Paradis said Ottawa will no longer oppose efforts to include asbestos to the UN’s Rotterdam treaty on hazardous materials.
For Paradis, the announcement Friday was far from celebratory.
He hails from central Quebec’s asbestos belt and is one of the sector’s staunchest defenders. Paradis looked glum and spoke in a nearly hushed tone as he spoke in his hometown of Thetford Mines, a community still dotted with imposing tailing piles that remind locals of the industry’s once-bustling heyday.
He blamed the new Parti Quebecois provincial government for killing the industry and cast Friday’s move as an inevitable response.
In making the announcement, the Conservatives fired the first shot in what is expected to be a turbulent relationship between Ottawa and the freshly elected PQ.
The PQ has said it will cancel a $58 million loan, confirmed just a few months ago by the previous Liberal provincial government. The cash was aimed at reviving what would be the country’s only asbestos operation in Asbestos, a 90-minute drive from Thetford Mines.
Paradis took direct aim at the sovereigntist PQ and blamed it for the turn of events.
“First off I’d like to remind you that Pauline Marois, the premier-designate of Quebec, has clearly stated her intention to forbid chrysotile exploitation in Quebec,” he said in his opening remarks.
“Obviously that decision will have a negative impact on the prosperity of our regions…
“In the meantime hundreds of workers in our region are without jobs, are living in uncertainty and hoping the mine will reopen… Madame Marois has clearly made her decision. So our government has made a decision that it’s now time to look after our communities, workers and families.”
The PQ said Friday that it had taken note of Paradis’ announcement but would not react to it. The party also reaffirmed its commitment to hold a commission on the economic future of the industry.
Paradis promised that the Harper government would spend up to $50 million to help a region deeply in need of jobs diversify its economy. He made the announcement next to Thetford Mines Mayor Luc Berthold.
The mayor expressed disappointment about recent events and thanked the federal government for helping to make the best of a bad situation.
One industry official downplayed the significance of the announcement. Jeffrey Mine spokesman Guy Versailles said several other countries — notably Russia, China and Brazil — could still block the substance from being added to the UN list as they have in the past.
And even if does get listed, all that would mean is adding labels that warn about possible health risks and would not actually limit exports, he said.
“Inclusion of chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention would in no way signal the end of the chrysotile business in Canada,” Versailles said in an interview Friday.
“It does not say, ‘prohibit imports and exports.’ ”
A bigger hurdle faced by Jeffrey Mine is the PQ campaign promise to cancel the $58-million loan to help revive the operation for another 25 years.
“I don’t want to lack respect against politicians, but I must say that a company cannot govern itself according to declarations made during an election,” Versailles said.
“This does not change the standing agreement we have with the Government of Quebec.”
Canada gained a reputation as the world’s top producer of the once-valuable global commodity that was hailed as the “magic mineral” for its fireproofing and insulating characteristics in construction materials.
But the asbestos sector’s profitability has been pummelled by bad publicity over the years. Health experts and human-rights advocates have frequently voiced concerns about the substance, pointing to studies that have shown inhaling needle-like asbestos fibres can lead to diseases such as lung cancer.
The World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 people die globally each year from asbestos-related disease.
As a result, Canada’s asbestos sector ground to a halt last fall for the first time in 130 years when production stalled in both of the country’s mines — one in Thetford Mines and the other in Asbestos.
Persistent health warnings have slowly eroded support for asbestos mining and exports, including within the Conservative caucus.
Several Tories took the unusual step of questioning their government’s policy on asbestos exports last year.
Industry experts were independently invited to a meeting on Parliament Hill, where about a dozen Conservative MPs asked some pointed questions of the Chrysotile Institute and industry scientists over several hours.
The meetings revealed that a clear divide over the Tory government’s resistance to having the substance listed as a hazardous substance internationally. It was a rare public hint of internal dissent from a caucus known for its tight discipline.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl had been a longtime advocate for listing asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention.
Strahl contracted a form of cancer his doctors say was related to asbestos exposure while working in the B.C. logging industry as a young man.
“It’s the moral thing to do,” Strahl said Friday in an interview.
“We say this is the warning, this is what we know, if you’re going to use this stuff, be warned.
“By not listing it under the Rotterdam Convention, we don’t even tell people that. And that’s wrong. Where the government’s headed now is the right thing to do. List it, I think there’ll be a very small number of countries that say that they still want to use it once it’s listed.”
The Conservatives and other defenders of the asbestos sector have long maintained that the substance, especially the chrysotile form mined in Quebec, can be safe if handled properly.
But the industry’s critics say they doubt that the mainly poor countries that import Canadian chrysotile can offer such safety guarantees.
The Canadian Public Health Association lauded Paradis’ announcement, noting that Canada was among only a handful of countries — including Zimbabwe, Russia and China — that helped block chrysotile’s listing as a hazardous substance in the Rotterdam Convention.
“Canada has a moral obligation, backed by well-grounded evidence, to close down this industry and stop exporting a potentially hazardous material to countries that are ill-equipped to protect the health of workers who handle asbestos and people exposed to asbestos fibres,” Erica Di Ruggiero, the association’s chair, said in a statement.
“The Government of Canada has made a good ‘public health’ decision.”
- with a file from Jennifer Ditchburn in Ottawa
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 14, 2012 at 5:23 PM - 0 Comments
As the Member of Parliament for a community that has been dealing with the impacts of asbestos for many years now, I am pleased with the actions of the Government of Canada to transition the Asbestos region of Quebec away from asbestos production and to allow the placing of this product on the Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention.
Furthermore, I wish to congratulate Minister of Industry Christian Paradis for taking a bold and decisive step in reversing a 4-decade old policy held by the Government of Canada that was supported by various governing parties. I have no doubt that this announcement will be supported in Sarnia-Lambton and in fact across Canada by all Canadians, who will feel this decision is the right and responsible choice to make.
Via Twitter, Les Perreaux points out that, despite what the Harper government is saying today, the Parti Quebecois hasn’t promised to “prohibit” the asbestos industry, it has said it would cancel a government loan for the Jeffrey Mine. I’ve corrected my post below.
By Paul Wells - Friday, September 14, 2012 at 3:50 PM - 0 Comments
Ten days after Quebecers elected a Parti Québécois government, the government of Stephen Harper began implementing its response today. The key elements:
• fond memories of two-century-old border skirmishes;
• blaming the Quebec government for caring about public health.
Boy, I’m pretty sure Pauline Marois never saw this coming. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 14, 2012 at 3:44 PM - 0 Comments
A little less than a year ago, the House voted on an NDP motion that called on the Harper government to support the listing of asbestos as a hazardous chemical product under the Rotterdam Convention and provide measures to assist the transition of workers in the asbestos industry. The motion was defeated with the vast majority of Conservatives voting against.
This afternoon, the Harper government has announced that—with the Parti Quebecois
moving to prohibit the industrypromising to cancel a government loan for the Jeffrey Mine—it’s dropping its opposition to the listing of asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention and will be providing funds to help transition workers out of the industry.
Today, the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry, Minister of State (Agriculture) and Member of Parliament for Mégantic-L’Érable, announced an investment of up to $50 million to support the diversification of the economy of asbestos producing communities due to the decision of the Premier-designate of Quebec to prohibit chrysotile mining in Quebec.
Minister Paradis said it is clear that Mrs. Marois’ decision is final, and it is not time for “academic” consultations but to take action. « Mrs. Marois’ decision to prohibit chrysotile mining in Quebec will have a negative impact on the future prosperity of the area. Right now, there are hundreds of workers in the region who do not have a job and live in uncertainty. The last thing they need is a false consultation, when the decision to close down the industry has already been taken by Mrs. Marois. My priority is therefore to work immediately with local partners on the transition needed to create jobs for our workers as soon as possible,” said Minister Paradis.
Minister Paradis highlighted the excellent cooperation that exists between the partners of the region, who were once again able to show that the people of the region can stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of adversity. “Our region will have to live with the consequences of Mrs. Marois’ decision, but we will continue to work together on the continued economic development of the community,” highlighted Minister Paradis.
Minister Paradis also indicated that Mrs. Marois’ decision means that from now on, Canada will no longer oppose the inclusion of chrysotile in annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. “It would be illogical for Canada to oppose the inclusion of chrysotile in annex III of the Rotterdam Convention when Quebec, the only province that produces chrysotile, will prohibit its exploitation,” said Minister Paradis.
In conclusion, Minister Paradis reminded that since 2006, the Harper government has been a key partner in the development of the region. “Through sound investments, including the natural gas project, the Harper government allows our region not only to survive, but also to flourish. It is in that spirit that our government will keep supporting our region to tackle this new challenge.”
The NDP’s Francois Lapointe has a motion (M-381) about asbestos on the notice paper that is due to be debated on September 26 (with a vote as early as October 3).
For all previous coverage of the asbestos debate, see here.
By Julia Belluz - Friday, December 30, 2011 at 11:42 AM - 0 Comments
‘Tis the time of year to look back, and in reflecting on Science-ish, it seemed wise to seek out all those who made outrageously science-ish statements in 2011, and ask them why—in their claims on topics as far ranging as asbestos and home care—they completely ignored the evidence. But pulling people away from the fireplace and eggnog seemed unfair over the holidays… and unlikely to elicit constructive responses, if any at all. So instead, from the Science-ish archives, here are the year’s most offensive attacks on science, with a wish list of questions I would like to see answered about these wildly unscientific ideas:
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 21, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 22 Comments
The Canadian Press finds increasing unease among Conservative MPs about the government’s support for asbestos.
The first public cracks in the Conservative party line came on Nov. 1, when five Tory MPs broke ranks and abstained from an NDP vote that would have banned asbestos exports. That was followed last Monday with a private Parliament Hill meeting that saw about a dozen Conservative parliamentarians ask some pointed questions of the Chrysotile Institute and industry scientists over several hours … Other Conservative MPs who were not at the meeting have told The Canadian Press they too are uneasy with the current position on asbestos. One Tory, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some of his colleagues might have voted for the recent NDP motion if had been worded more narrowly and had actually been binding on government.
The idea that more Conservative MPs would’ve voted in favour of the NDP motion if it had somehow been binding is a novel one. If the government whipped the entirely symbolic vote earlier this month, one assumes they would whip a more consequential vote, meaning any Conservatives who voted with the opposition would almost certainly be punished.
Our Julia Belluz previously handled the question of whether asbestos could be handled safely.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 9:03 PM - 6 Comments
By a vote of 152-123 this evening the House defeated the NDP’s motion on asbestos. The New Democrats, Liberals and Elizabeth May voted in favour, the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois voted against.
To my eye, three Conservatives abstained, including Patricia Davidson. I’m told the Conservative vote was otherwise whipped.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 1 Comment
This evening the House of Commons will vote on the following NDP motion.
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) ban the use and export of asbestos; (b) support international efforts to add chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemical products under the Rotterdam Convention; (c) assist affected workers by developing a Just Transition Plan with measures to accommodate their re-entry into the workforce; (d) introduce measures dedicated to affected older workers, through the employment insurance program, to assure them of a decent standard of living until retirement; and (e) support communities and municipalities in asbestos producing regions through an investment fund for regional economic diversification.
The government whip’s office won’t say whether this will be considered a free vote for Conservatives.
Conservative MP Patricia Davidson has lobbied the government to reconsider its position on asbestos in the past and restated her opposition to exports two months ago. Former cabinet minister Chuck Strahl, father of current Conservative MP Mark Strahl, has recommended that Canada support the addition of asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention.
Full archive of asbestos coverage here.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 4:43 PM - 17 Comments
A few weeks after a group of doctors and medical professionals called on Conservative MP Kellie Leitch to renounce her government’s position on asbestos, a group of individuals who’ve lost loved ones to asbestos-related illness are calling on Ms. Leitch to choose between politics and her medical license. When she spoke to the Barrie Advance earlier this month, she seemed unpersuaded by the controversy.
“The Canadian government has stated that it supports the safe controlled use of Chrysotile,” said Leitch. “It will continue to do so, anything to do with the decision that [buyers] make – that’s their choice.” … When asked about how her medical expertise affects her decision to support or not support the mining and export of asbestos, Leitch, an orthopedic surgeon, said her expertise is in bones.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 11:09 AM - 4 Comments
Last week, doctors wrote to Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, imploring her to uphold her obligation as a doctor. Yesterday, the Canadian Medical Association passed a motion condemning the government’s refusal to acknowledge asbestos as a hazardous substance.
“This is an important health care issue and a product that causes significant illness and even death,” outgoing CMA president Dr. Jeff Turnbull told reporters in St. John’s on Wednesday. “Canada should not be in the business of exporting such a dangerous product.”
The motion came from doctors in Quebec, where the province is currently weighing whether to provide a government loan guarantee to revive the mine in Asbestos, Que., which is one of only two remaining asbestos operation in Canada.
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 5:19 PM - 29 Comments
Robert Keyserlingk was a lifelong Tory who died horribly in 2009 from mesothelioma, a cancer typically caused by asbestos exposure. Keyserlingk had regular contact with asbestos in his youth while working summer jobs on Canadian naval ships.
Before his death, he crusaded against Canada’s government-supported asbestos industry, and his wife Michaela has carried on the cause since. Every month, she pays $300 to run this banner ad on websites, which links to her own anti-asbestos website:
By macleans.ca - Monday, August 15, 2011 at 10:53 AM - 12 Comments
Michaela Keyserlingk used Conservative logo in anti-asbestos campaign
The Conservative Party is threatening legal action against Michaela Keyserlingk, a Quebecois widow and anti-asbestos activist, whose husband died in 2009 after contracting lung cancer from asbestos-laden pipes. Keyserlingk received a cease and desist letter from Conservative Party Executive Director Dan Hilton, requesting that she remove an ad banner used to promote her website, canadianasbestosexports.ca. “Canada is the only Western Country that still exports deadly asbestos,” reads the banner’s text, which is placed between a “Danger” symbol, and the Conservative Party logo. Keyserlingk says her husband was a “true blue” Conservative, serving as the president of the Ottawa Centre Progressive Conservative riding association before being diagnosed with cancer. “What killed him”, she told the National Post, “is what they are now advertising.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 3:08 PM - 2 Comments
Tabatha Southey tries to help rebrand Asbestos.
“Asbestos: A different kind of silver lining.”
“Asbestos: It’s like cotton candy for your walls. (But ideally not for mine.)”
“Look, world, it’s practically the same colour as a baby seal, and we’re saving it. Get off our backs.”
“Asbestos, now with zero trans fats.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 4, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 2 Comments
The town of Asbestos stands by its namesake.
Gilles Morin, a popular community physician who worked for the company for 20 years before going into family medicine, agreed. “The rate of exposure to chrysotile fibres today is infinitesimally small,” he said. “I’m fed up with being treated like an imbecile or a contract killer because I support asbestos.”
Mr. Nicholls, one of his patients, walks slowly around his home, catching his breath as his lungs slowly harden from a disease that will eventually suffocate him. But he too feels the industry is “not as dangerous as it once was” – though he is genuinely worried about the health of less-protected workers abroad.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 4:18 PM - 0 Comments
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 24, 2011 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
The government’s delegation in Geneva offers an interesting admission.
The Canadian delegation at an international summit admitted Thursday it agrees with the work of a United Nations scientific panel that wants limits placed on the export of chrysotile asbestos, but Canada still won’t back the move … The Canadian delegation on Thursday said the expert panel’s guidance document, which included its recommendation to list the carcinogen on Annex III, was “appropriate and the criteria for listing was met. Canada is not in a position to support the listing.”
Meanwhile, Sarah Schmidt tries to get the government to unequivocally state its position on the Rotterdam Convention and is duly stymied.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 9:54 AM - 0 Comments
At a summit in Switzerland, Canada’s delegation ended days of silence and speculation by opposing the inclusion of asbestos on a UN treaty called the Rotterdam Convention. “Yes, I can confirm they intervened in the chemicals contact group meeting this afternoon and opposed listing,” Michael Stanley-Jones of the UN Environment Program said in an email.
Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan also opposed the listing.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 2:58 PM - 0 Comments
Ukraine and India would support the motion
Canada announced its objection on Wednesday to a recent UN recommendation that chrysotile asbestos—one of Quebec’s main exports—be listed on Annex III of the United Nations’ Rotterdam Convention. Such a move would force Canada to inform other countries of the mineral’s danger prior to exportation. Chrysotile asbestos is a carcinogen, mined heavily in Quebec. It has been deemed cancer-causing by both the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Medical Association, who have urged the federal government to heed the UN’s recommendation and consent to the listing. Ukraine and India are two countries among a growing consensus of UN members who would like the mineral to be fall under the cautionary listing.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 9:32 AM - 7 Comments
Randy Boswell digs into the history of asbestos mining in Quebec and finds Jack Layton’s father.
The late Robert Layton, a Quebec MP in the 1980s who served as federal mines minister in Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government, played a high-profile role in championing Canada’s asbestos industry at a time when the world had just come to recognize the serious health risks posed by handling the fibrous, fire-resistant mineral. Robert Layton, in fact, was probably best known during his two-year term as Mulroney’s mines minister for promoting asbestos as a “good product” in the face of growing international opposition to the mining and export of the cancer-causing material.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 11:28 AM - 3 Comments
Canada has to decide if asbestos should be listed in the Rotterdam Convention as a product that is ‘flagged’ as potentially harmful. We should do that, not because chrysotile, or white, asbestos is the most dangerous (it’s not) or because it cannot be used safely in some circumstances (it can), but because importers and exporters have the right to know it can be problematic if misused.
While the government still refuses to say whether it will support the listing of asbestos, Julia Belluz takes to our new blog Science-ish to take apart the claim that chrysotile asbestos can be used safely.
By Julia Belluz - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 9:44 AM - 48 Comments
The Statement: “All scientific reviews clearly confirm that chrysotile [white asbestos] fibres can be used safely under controlled conditions.” (Dimitri Soudas, PMO communications director, 06/15/2011)
Chrysotile, or white asbestos, is back in the news again, and doctors around the world are questioning the Canadian government’s championing of a substance that has been banned in most developed countries. “My jaw dropped when I heard [Soudas’ statement],” says Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, a specialist in respirology at Toronto’s University Health Network and assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto. “It’s so completely misrepresentative of the science.” Continue…
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 1:34 PM - 3 Comments
PMO says carcinogen can be safe under “controlled conditions”
The federal government won’t reveal what its stance will be on chrysotile asbestos at an upcoming international conference in Geneva. Twice in the past, Canada has blocked the known carcinogen from being placed on a global list of hazardous chemicals under the Rotterdam Convention, which operates by consensus. Even though Canada has spent tens of millions of dollars removing the chemical from public buildings, including Parliament, it remains one of the world’s main exporters of asbestos. Minister of Industry Christian Paradis told the CBC that the Canada’s position on asbestos hasn’t changed in 30 years and that “we won’t necessarily recommend” the chemical to be listed at the meeting in Geneva. PMO spokesman Dmitri Soudas said the Canadian government maintains that chrysotile asbestos “can be used safely under controlled conditions.” More than 200 health experts have signed an open letter to the prime minister saying the government’s position is “harming Canada’s international reputation.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 3, 2011 at 10:49 AM - 3 Comments
The Conservative backbencher pushed her government to reconsider its support of the asbestos industry.
“The myopic policy of supporting the asbestos industry without fail must be viewed rationally and scientifically, and from both viewpoints the current policy our government supports falls well short,” she told Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis on March 25, 2010…
“In my view, this is not a partisan political issue, nor is it an issue where electoral politics should trump human health concerns that are truly at issue with the policy,” she stated.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 28, 2011 at 1:17 PM - 68 Comments
The host of a fundraiser for Michael Ignatieff owns a company that exports asbestos from Quebec.
Their differences on asbestos aside, Ignatieff said he’s happy to attend Chadha’s fundraiser. ”Baljit Chadha is a great guy, personal friend, great businessman,” he said. ”(Asbestos) is a discussion I have with Mr. Chadha, but I’m happy to be there tonight.”
The mining and export of asbestos is as fascinating a test of political leadership as there is in this country. Mr. Ignatieff’s stated objections have already cost him a candidate in Thetford Mines. Stephen Harper supports the industry, but at least two government backbenchers feel otherwise.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 16, 2010 at 9:52 AM - 20 Comments
Separately, Progressive Conservative Senator Elaine McCoy recently wrote that Canada should consider legalizing marijuana with an eye to the potential revenue generated.