Cynical Relaunch of Canadian Asbestos Industry
It is no coincidence that yesterday's announcement by the Quebec Government of a decision to support an asbestos mining scheme took place during an election. Although politicans the world over are known for their self-serving behaviour, the actions of the Charest Government transcend the ordinary and bring further shame on Quebec's already damaged reputation. For the sake of 425 new jobs in the mining town of Asbestos, Quebec, the Government is willing to export death on a massive scale to unsuspecting and unprotected populations. None of the asbestos which will be produced at the new underground chrysotile (asbestos) mine will be used in Canada according to commercial backers who last year conceded that all the fiber will be exported to Asian countries.1
On Wednesday (April 13, 2011), Quebec's Industry Minister Clement Gignac issued a statement giving the green light to an international consortium backing the new Jeffrey mine. Although some financial details remain to be resolved, the Government has said it will provide the $58 million loan guarantee requested for the scheme. In return for this largesse, the asbestos entrepreneurs will commit to making a $7.5 million donation over the period 2015-2020 to an economic diversification fund for the region.2 To achieve maximum media impact, Gignac announced this decision at a press conference; standing beside him was Deputy Yvon Vallieres, a Member of the Quebec National Assembly from the asbestos mining region of Estrie.3 Welcoming this long-awaited decision, Vallieres said it was good news and would provide 450 jobs; he added: This is a clear decision. The use of chrysotile is not without risks but these risks can be controlled.
This opinion is not shared by medical and public health professionals in Quebec and elsewhere who have been outspoken about the dangers posed by the project. Just days before the Quebec Ministers gave their approval, a study by Quebec's Public Health Department was released which showed dangerous levels of asbestos contamination at Quebec worksites. Of the 3,000 air samples taken, 43% were found to contain illegal levels of asbestos. Commenting on these results, Louise Souliere, public health director for an asbestos mining region in Quebec, said:
What (the study) shows is that even though in Quebec we have norms, active laws, inspectors and also the availability of protective gear it's (still) very difficult to adhere to the norms So this means that even the workers who know they're working with asbestos are sometimes at risk.4
To be fair, Charest and his cronies are not the only ones who should face charges over Canada's asbestos profiteering. Throughout his career, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has consistently maintained that the Conservatives are the only politicans who could be trusted with the long-term welfare of the Canadian asbestos industry. Pursuant to this pledge, Harper promised to block all efforts to impose regulations on the global asbestos industry; he will no doubt make good on this promise at the upcoming meeting of the United Nations Rotterdam Convention. He and Charest are the Macbeth and Lady Macbeth of this humanitarian tragedy. In Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, Macbeth asks: Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?5 Should Harper, Charest and the other asbestos fat cats deign to ask the same question, they might be well advised to examine the text of Macbeth. It did not end well.
April 14, 2011
2 Que. Backs asbestos mine relaunch. CBC News online. April 13, 2011.
Robillard A. Quebec gives conditional support to controversial asbestos mine's revival. The Canadian Press. April 14, 2011.
Dougherty K, Lalonde M. Quebec backs asbestos mine expansion. Montreal Gazette. April 14, 2011.
Feu vert à Mine Jeffrey d'Asbestos. (Green light to Jeffrey Asbestos). 98.5 fm online. April 13, 2011.
4 Blatchford A. Air has high asbestos levels at Que. worksites: study. CBC News online. April 5, 2011.
5 Shakespeare W. Macbeth Act 2, scene 2, 54-60: Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?