Canada: No More Asbestos!
The asbestos era in Canada is over. After more than a hundred years of asbestos production, Canada has run out of chrysotile asbestos. Efforts to develop a new underground asbestos facility at the Jeffrey Mine collapsed this month amidst a change in government and increasing public pressure. The September 4 defeat of the pro-asbestos Charest Government in the Quebec elections was the final nail in the coffin. Incoming Premier Pauline Marois, who is publicly committed to revoking a multimillion loan to asbestos stakeholders, has made clear her intention to withdraw support for the toxic industry and help affected communities build an asbestos-free future.
On September 14, the Federal Government declared that it too was turning its back on the country's asbestos past when Industry Minister Christian Paradis, himself from Quebec's asbestos heartland, glumly announced that Canada would cooperate with United Nations efforts to regulate the global trade in asbestos.1 The Harper Government's U-turn has a political and symbolic import that transcends the practical impact this change of heart will have. For years, Canada has orchestrated resistance to listing chrysotile as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.2 This resistance will now end Paradis confirmed last Friday (September 14). In the meantime, however, Russia, which recently became a member of the Rotterdam Convention, will take over Canada's role in blocking progress on chrysotile. As action under the Convention can only be taken if there is unanimous agreement, chrysotile will remain a no-go area.
In days to come, more will be revealed about how the $100 million promised by Ottawa and Quebec to assist the asbestos mining communities will be disbursed. No doubt more will also emerge about the impact these developments will have on long-term asbestos stakeholders like Bernard Coulombe and Baljit Chadha, individuals whose wealth has been built on the commercial exploitation of Canadian asbestos. Will they be held to account as have asbestos executives elsewhere? Time will tell.
September 16, 2012
1 Canada will no longer fight 'hazardous label'. September 14, 2012.
2 Kazan-Allen L. Canada, A Pariah State. June 27, 2011.