Hopes High that Canada is About to Ban Asbestos
Until just a few years ago, Canada was a major exporter of asbestos and promoter of the asbestos industrys lies and deception. Now it looks extremely likely that the Canadian government will finally take action in the next session of Parliament to ban asbestos. This would be an historic, long overdue action that would bring to an end the shameful role that Canada has played historically as the asbestos industrys leading ally.
Quebec Led the Way to End the Asbestos Industrys Political Power
Quebec led the way to end the political power that the asbestos industry had for more than a century wielded over government policy in Quebec and Canada. In 2012, the last two asbestos mines in Quebec were set to expand their operations and make Quebec the second biggest exporter of asbestos in the world. Instead they were forced to shut down when the newly elected Parti Québécois government cancelled a $58 million government loan that the previous Jean Charest government had given to enable the asbestos industry to expand its operations.
While the political power of the asbestos industry over the Quebec government was broken in 2012, it still had the political support of the federal government. The Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper attacked the Parti Québécois government for betraying the asbestos industry, when it cancelled the $58 million government loan.
Previous Health Ministers Betrayed their Duty to Protect Health
Even though the asbestos industry had shut down in 2012, the Harper Conservative government continued to support it for ideological reasons. Harper is a strong supporter of corporate power and, in particular, the mining and fossil fuel industry in Alberta, his home province. While in office for the past decade, the Harper government gutted policy and regulations that protected the environment, health and human rights. Even though the asbestos industry was closed down, the Harper government still refused to support the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. Passing legislation to ban asbestos and protect Canadians from asbestos harm was an ideological anathema to the Harper government. His Ministers of Health, as well as the only medical doctor in the Conservative government, Kellie Leitch, MD, FRCS, MP, put their political ambition ahead of their duty to speak the truth on asbestos and were complicit with Harpers policy of supporting the asbestos industry.
In October 2015, the Trudeau Liberal government was elected into office. Trudeau ran on a platform of basing government policy on scientific evidence and taking action on environmental and social justice issues, such as climate change, violence against aboriginal women, strengthening Canadas public healthcare system and international cooperation.
When asked a question about the asbestos issue, Prime Minister Trudeau referred to its harmful effects on health and indicated his government is considering taking action. The federal governments Public Works department took action to ban the use of asbestos in all new construction and renovation projects as of April 1, 2016. Clearly, it is neither rational nor defensible to protect some workers from asbestos but not the rest of the population.
It was encouraging thus to learn from a policy adviser to Health Minister Jane Philpott, that the Minister, who is a medical doctor with a strong background of commitment to health justice, together with the Minister of Environment and other government Ministers, is working on a new Canadian policy on asbestos that we can expect to be announced in the coming weeks.
Expectations are high that finally the Canadian government will, in the upcoming session of Parliament, announce measures to ban asbestos, protect Canadians from continuing asbestos harm and play a leading role internationally to end asbestos use.
August 23, 2016
1 Kathleen Ruff is the founder and co-ordinator of RightOnCanada.ca and a board member of the Rideau Institute.