During the recent Quebec election campaign, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois promised to shut down the province's asbestos industry by cancelling a $58-million loan that Jean Charest's Liberal Party had offered to help reopen the Jeffrey Mine. With the PQ win in Quebec, the federal government agreed to end its obstruction of international efforts to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN Rotterdam Convention. The feds also promised to give asbestos-mining communities $50 million to help them diversify their economies.
If the mine were to reopen — and company officials say they still plan to go ahead — about 200,000 tonnes of asbestos per year over the next 20 years would be extracted, mostly for export to developing countries in Asia. Asbestos is rarely used in Canada because public health officials know the mineral causes cancer when its fibres are inhaled. The federal government is currently spending millions of dollars to remove asbestos insulation from Parliament Hill buildings.
Exposure to asbestos is estimated to cause over 90,000 preventable deaths worldwide each year. About 40 countries have banned asbestos, including all member countries of the European Union. The withdrawal of government support for Canada's asbestos industry is good news, but more needs to be done. Canada must follow up by imposing a permanent ban on mining and exporting this deadly substance.
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The global asbestos industry is dying. Asbestos is banned in a growing number of places around the world. It killed 373 workers in Canada from 2007 to 2010. The number of deaths over this three-year period is almost as high as the number of jobs (450) that the Jeffrey Mine promised to create. That's almost one death per job, and this does not include those who continue to be exposed to asbestos in many public buildings. This includes our children at school.
If the new Quebec government cares about the health and safety of its citizens, it will honour its commitment to cancel the loan to the Jeffrey Mine and reinvest this $58 million in decontaminating schools. This would create good jobs throughout Quebec while protecting public health. And Quebec should work with the federal government to make sure the industry is closed for good. This is a matter of health — ours and that of our children.