New Asbestos Mine in Quebec
Yesterday (June 29, 2012), the Government of Quebec announced it had given a $58 million loan guarantee to a consortium developing new chrysotile asbestos production facilities at the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine.1 Simultaneously, at a press conference in Quebec's Eastern Townships, Jeffrey President Bernard Coulombe, Quebec National Assembly member Yvon Vallieres and trade unionist Francois Vaudreuil praised the government's courageous decision to support the controversial project and boost employment prospects for people in the mining region; up to 500 direct full-time jobs and 1,000 indirect jobs will be created, they said.2 The provincial cash injection is absolutely essential as it will cover more than 65% of development and operational costs. To secure the Government's support, the mine's international backers, led by Canadian businessman Baljit Chadha, had to obtain $25 million in private finance. That they had failed to meet 2011 deadlines set by the Quebec Government for the acquisition of this sum had given hope to the project's critics that this scheme might be dead in the water.
Commenting on the government subsidy, Paul Lapierre, of the Canadian Cancer Society, said:
"This decision means the Quebec government is in direct conflict with global cancer control as all forms of asbestos cause cancer. We urge the Quebec government to reconsider its decision and cancel the loan guarantee. We believe these funds should instead be directed to projects to help the affected communities diversify their economic base."
Other Canadian opponents of this scheme include families of workers who have died of asbestos-related diseases, scientists, doctors, public health organizations and Quebec government health experts. All sixteen of Quebec's Directors of Public Health have declared their opposition to the Charest Government's plan to revive the asbestos industry, stating that the industry propaganda of the controlled use of asbestos is a fallacy.
International opponents of the scheme include members of civil society in developing countries targeted by Canadian asbestos stakeholders. It has already been announced that agreements have been reached to export asbestos from Jeffrey's new mine to India. New Delhi-based health campaigner Mohit Gupta has condemned Canada's double standards on asbestos as racist and hateful and asked whether only light-skinned people [are] entitled to breathe clean air and drink clean water.3
Mohit Gupta (at left) with colleagues at Canadian Embassy protest in Delhi, Dec 2010.
Reacting to last year's trade negotiations to reduce Indian import duties on Canadian asbestos, Gupta said:
India is Canada's best customer for chrysotile asbestos. It is outrageous that even as asbestos removal experts decontaminate government buildings, schools and hospitals throughout Canada due to the potential harm posed by asbestos exposure, Canadian asbestos producers are ever anxious to send more of this substance to India. Are not our lives worth the same as the lives of Canadian citizens? This intolerable behavior is as immoral as it is reprehensible. The fact that Indian politicians would even consider such a concession is a sad indication of the price put by our elected representatives on the value of human life in our country. 4
The timing of the Quebec Government's announcement was carefully orchestrated to come the day before the long weekend which marks Canada Day; this is considered one of the best times of the year to bury bad news in Canada. No doubt political spin doctors were hoping that the holiday plans of most Canadians and the short attention span of the media would ensure that this news was dead well before the return to work next week. Canadian ban asbestos campaigners were incandescent not only at the depressing news regarding the revitalization of this toxic industry but at the transparent attempt to curtail public outrage by the timing of the news release. Commenting on these developments, Dr. Amir Khadir, a member of the Québec Solidaire, said It seems clear that this decision announced in the pre-election context is opportunistic and aims to promote the interests of the liberal party, sound management of public funds and public health. Unfortunately for Quebec's asbestos fat cats the good old days when governments could manipulate public opinion by such transparent means are well passed. With the internet and widespread use of social media platforms, the global ban asbestos community will make sure that the news of Quebec's plans is known around the world. This is not over!
June 30, 2012
1 Loan of $58 M$ for the Jeffrey asbestos mine. June 29, 2012
2 Quebec revives asbestos mines with $58M loan. June 29, 2012.
3Press Statement: Canada's Racist and Hateful Asbestos Policy. December 7, 2011.
See also: http://www.oehni.in/files/Letter_to_PM_Asbestos.pdf