Quebec Condemns Killer Industry
The unprecedented coverage of Canada's asbestos scandal which has taken place in La Presse, Quebec's most popular newspaper, over recent weeks is a reflection of the sea change that has occurred in Canada's asbestos debate. Whereas criticism of the national asbestos industry was previously not infrequent in the English-speaking media, similar articles were subject to de facto censorship throughout Quebec's French language newspapers and TV stations. That this is no longer the case indicates that the asbestos industry has indeed lost the public relations war in Quebec, leaving asbestos vested interests exposed and isolated. On Monday, March 5 a press conference was held by a Quebec coalition of civil society groups at which activists pledged to campaign for the shutting down of Quebec's asbestos industry, the withdrawal of government funds for a new mine and the introduction of a public register of asbestos-contaminated buildings.1 As far as can be ascertained this was the first time that French-speaking environmentalists have confronted the powerful Quebec asbestos lobby.
In the run-up to the March 5th press conference, La Presse reporter Charles Coté and his colleagues covered a variety of issues related to the province's asbestos heritage including the complete lack of transparency and accountability regarding government-held files on asbestos-contaminated buildings. Unlike Ontario which has a law (Ontario Regulation 278/05 under the Occupational Safety and Health Act) that mandates asbestos audits of public buildings, no such provision exists in Quebec. To expose the dangerous information vacuum, La Presse drew up an interactive map of 300 asbestos-riddled public buildings in Montreal which includes schools, institutions of higher learning, office and municipal buildings.
Even as the propaganda war seems to have been lost, news is spreading that the international consortium backing the new asbestos mining project at the Jeffrey Mine has come to the end of the road.2 The entrepreneurs, led by Baljit Chadha of Balcorp Ltd., were required to come up with $25 million in private financing before the Quebec authorities would sanction a $58 million loan guarantee. According to reports printed on March 2, they have been unable to attract either foreign or homegrown investors. It seems that a prominent asbestos backer the Canadian Desjardins Group has declined to get involved this time around. Reacting to this news, Québec Solidaire Member of the National Assembly Amir Khadir, who has been an outspoken critic of the asbestos industry for years, said: If the health and environmental arguments against the use of asbestos won't convince it (the Quebec Government), then it should listen to the financial institutions.
March 7, 2012
1 Environmental groups want an end the asbestos industry in Quebec. La Presse. March 5, 2012 http://www.cyberpresse.ca/dossiers/la-controverse-de-lamiante/201203/05/01-4502574-les-ecologistes-veulent-en-finir-avec-lamiante-au-quebec.php
2 Balcorp has failed to convince institutions in bid to get financing for Jeffrey mine project: Khadir. March 2, 2012.