House of Commons Hansard #40 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was asbestos.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, through the Chrysotile Institute, Canada has been working with countries that produce and use chrysotile effectively to implement and enforce regulations to keep exposure low and utilize control of use practices of chrysotile.

As I mentioned before, chrysotile is not the only dangerous substance. I would remind members that we sell uranium. The safety precautions in handling, transporting and mining the substance are crucial and most important.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville clearly knows what he is talking about because he has a professional background as a mining engineer. He has shared stories with me from time to time about his time in Poland when he was working directly in the mines.

Maybe the member could share with us the advancements that have been made in mining to protect workers and consumers from dangerous products that are used to make everyday goods. Could the member share some of his experiences and tell us how mining has improved in Canada?

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Wladyslaw Lizon Mississauga East—Cooksville, ON

Mr. Speaker, mining is a dangerous industry. Miners work in very difficult environments. They are exposed to different substances. Technology has taken a big step forward and miners are protected much better than before. I would also like to mention that some materials that are dangerous to people are not used as commonly as they were before.

When I was young, I used to play with little lead figures. Lead is dangerous. The use of lead has decreased over the years to an insignificant level. It has been replaced by other materials. That is the case with other dangerous materials.

Through the advancement of technology and through research and development, we may not use chrysotile down the road. That is the solution we are looking for, but for the time being, it is important for us to protect to the best of our ability the people who do have contact with this substance.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Vancouver Centre.

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate on the NDP opposition day motion on chrysotile asbestos. We heard from two Conservative members who really had no coherent argument to offer on this subject that I heard, and had some difficulty in following the notes they were ordered to use by the Prime Minister's Office.

On the other hand, the NDP has long opposed asbestos exports. Some members, for instance the member for Winnipeg Centre and the member for Outremont, at times have employed extreme rhetoric. Those members might admit that they are known for that. However, I believe the focus of today's motion is more reasoned, balanced and logical.

The motion calls for a ban on the use and export of asbestos. This position is supported by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and other physicians, scientists and organizations too numerous to list. Why all this opposition, then? Why are all these medical people so strongly and unanimously opposed to the export of asbestos?

With respect to asbestos, the science is clear that it is a danger to human health. The Conservative government will tell us that if used properly, it is safe. However, most of the government's own members know that is not true.

The Canadian Cancer Society says that worldwide more than 100,000 people die every year from occupational exposure to asbestos. Medical colleagues of the member for Simcoe—Grey know the dangers of asbestos. About 250 doctors and health care professionals sent her an open letter indicating that her ethical code of conduct as a physician requires her to influence her Conservative colleagues to change their position on asbestos. I would invite her to indicate that is what she is trying to do. Obviously, if she would do that, I would wish her success in her efforts. That would be quite a challenge for a member of a Conservative Party which last summer threatened to sue Michaela Keyserlingk, a widow whose husband Robert died of mesothelioma in 2009. Imagine this. Conservative Party operatives actually threatened to sue this widow for using the Conservative logo in her campaign against asbestos exports. Imagine the intimidation. What a disgrace. Members on that side of the House would be embarrassed to consider that their own party was threatening to sue a widow in this situation. It is horrendous.

It is shameful when we consider that according to the World Health Organization, about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos can come in various forms. We know the history in Canada. We used to hear about it being in ceiling tiles and various materials where it is not even solid and where we knew it was very dangerous. We were told that when it is with a bonding agent, as in concrete for example, it can be more stable for the time being. It can be in floor and ceiling tiles, insulating boards, roofing shingles, water supply lines, plastic filters, pipe covers, and vehicle parts. It can even be used in shipbuilding.

The problem is that when it is sent to a developing country or to a country like India, which is one of the growing powers these days, it can be cut, scraped, filed, sanded, or perhaps removed out of a building. When any of those things are done, workers need to take very careful precautions or they risk having it endanger their health. It can cause cancer. We know that those measures are not taken in many countries. We have a responsibility to act on the knowledge we have.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in every three deaths from occupational cancer is caused by asbestos. Contrary to the feeble Conservative excuses we have been hearing, the WHO says that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans and may cause mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary. Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases, such as asbestosis or fibrosis of the lung, pleural plaque, thickening and effusion.

The organization also calls for the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemical products under the Rotterdam convention. The Liberal Party has supported the addition of asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention because we know that scientific evidence has clearly established the health dangers of chrysotile asbestos.

Unfortunately, my colleagues on the government benches do not believe in scientific evidence. To confirm this, all we have to do is look at petitions they have taken on things like the census. Government members did not want the scientific information on that and what the experts were telling us about the importance of the census, the way it had been done before. They do not like it when it comes to their crime bill. They do not want to hear the facts or the evidence on that. They do not even want to listen to their very right-wing conservative friends in places in Texas, who are saying, “We tried that and it does not work”.

We see it in the their attitude toward climate change. They do not want to listen to the scientists on that. They do not really believe in it. We see it in their attitude when they cut scientists at the Department of Fisheries recently. They are saying that we do not need much science. We are going to have a little of that less often, so we will not worry about whether the fish stocks are good this year as opposed to last year and whether they might change. We will just rely on the fact that we did a test a couple of years ago. That should be good for a while. That is the Conservatives' attitude toward science, so it should not be surprising to any of us that they have this attitude on this subject.

They have proved that attitude many, many times, but they do not like science. They do not trust science for some reason. They like to accept what they are told by the Prime Minister's Office. That much is clear. They proved that again in July of this year when Canada became the only country in the world to object to adding chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention.

Adding it to the list would have forced exporters of asbestos to warn recipient countries of any health hazard. It is kind of a basic thing. These countries feel often that they are not well-equipped to handle asbestos safety, like India for example, and those countries could then refuse all imports of the fibre.

Canada is in fact the world's fifth largest exporter of asbestos, and we are also the largest exporter that also imposes severe restrictions on its use domestically. We are okay with exporting it, but we have severe restrictions, very tough rules about how it is handled in Canada. We know it is not enforced elsewhere when it is exported.

We should take a look at the projects, like the one going on next door in the West Block, where asbestos is being removed. There is a fence around the building, so members of Parliament cannot get in there and be exposed to it. I have not been inside because of that fence, but I trust that people who are working in there have masks and suits, and whatever else is required to ensure that they are not affected by it.

Obviously the big concern is inhaling asbestos into one's lungs, which can cause many of these diseases. That is a hypocritical position for us to be in as a country in view of that. We still export over 90% of the asbestos we produce to other countries, countries like India, knowing full well the proper precautions are not being taken by people who are handling these products.

The Catholic Women's League of Canada recently stated, “Canada is harming people's health by promoting its use and leading diplomatic opposition to the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention”.

Canada's stellar reputation will continue to be tarnished until this gross injustice is addressed. We also need to address the domestic situation, and that is why it is important, as the motion suggests, that we deal with the communities that would suffer as a result of closing asbestos mines. We should be concerned about the health and well-being of people living in communities where there is asbestos mining.

I believe the motion strikes a proper balance and I hope that colleagues will support it.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we are having this debate today, I want to recognize Julius and Martina Hava, who are watching this very closely at home. Julius is basically in his final stages of asbestos-related cancer. Their experience in trying to get medical help for this as soon as possible has been very trying for them and now it is too late.

According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that about 90,000 people die each year as a result of Canada mining asbestos. Canada is responsible for most of the deaths. Dying from cancer is a very frightening experience for the whole family. This is what Martina writes:

This cancer--caused by asbestos in actually given or I can say forced on people by Canadian government. Carol, my heart is dying knowing that my husband might not even live to be 57 years old, never mind to enjoy retirement age.

I ask my colleague, does he know whether or not the government invests money into research to ensure that this debilitating disease, this killing disease, is funded enough to give treatment to the people? How much is invested by the government? Would he happen to know that?

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate her comments about her friends who are suffering from asbestosis. I also appreciate her question about the science. In fact, she may have heard when I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources if the government had research on the health impacts of asbestos. Her question is similar to that.

I do not have the information on whether or not the government has done studies on this question of how to help people who are suffering from asbestosis and what the best means are, but I would encourage her to ask a Conservative member that question.

I would hope the Conservatives will bring forward and table in the House any independent scientific studies on both of these subjects.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, what is obvious in the early stages of this debate, which probably causes concern for anyone watching the debate and certainly anyone who has been following this file, is what the heck the government is thinking with regard to its position on the Rotterdam Convention.

I know that people who smoke make personal decisions. They are very well aware of the risk factors associated with smoking. We identify the risk factors on cartons and packages of cigarettes, but they are willing to accept those risks. However, the government's reluctance to support the Rotterdam Convention in identifying asbestos as a dangerous product befuddles me.

I would like my colleague's comments on what he believes is the reason the government is holding back on this particular issue. Why is it not joining with other nations and identifying this as a difficult material to work with?

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, we heard the speaker before me talking about the chrysotile mining industry. He said it was worth $2 billion. I do not think he said per year, but he was talking about large numbers in terms of economic impact, and I suppose that is the basis of the government's approach.

However, for most Canadians it would be very troubling to consider that, with all the scientific evidence we now have, we are the only country in the world that is standing in the way of adding chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention's list of hazardous chemical products. That, to me, is alarming and worrying. It is time for the government to consider the scientific evidence, whether it likes science or not, and we know it is not keen on science, to take it seriously and list chrysotile asbestos.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the mover of the motion from the New Democratic Party and I want to say that we support this fully. We support this because of the scientific evidence that tells us that asbestos is a known carcinogen. The support of the motion speaks not only for the banning of the use and export of asbestos, the listing of it on the Rotterdam Convention. But it also speaks about looking at a plan for the transition of workers out of the asbestos industry and to retrain them to work in other industries as well as to look at new economic development modules or models for miners who are currently mining asbestos currently in Quebec to transition to a new workplace environment and a new job.

I support this because I want to put on the record that there is not a single, reputable, scientific authority in the world that does not agree that asbestos is a carcinogen. There is not a single scientific authority in the world that does not say that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used. When people say that chrysotile is different, all of the evidence and science around the world is telling us that it is not.

One of the things that has to concern us and the reason that we in Canada put asbestos in our own Hazardous Products Act is because we know that it is dangerous. We know that it causes health effects. We heard from my colleague that it causes three known health effects right now, one of which is asbestosis which is a chronic disease of the lung. People cannot use their lung tissue to breathe, so it is a chronic obstructive lung disease as a result of that.

The second one is mesothelioma which is a very rare cancer that affects the chest and abdominal cavity, and is linked only to asbestos.

The third is lung cancer that is linked to asbestos.

Here are three known health hazards that not only cause chronic illness but also causes death. Between 90,000 to 100,000 people will die this year from asbestos-related disease, and 125 million people around the world, especially in developing countries and poorer countries, are subject to asbestos inhalation diseases. The government continues to fund this product and continues to put money into assisting with the mining of this product.

If we want to make good public policy it must be based on evidence and it must be based on the impact on human health. We have seen the evidence very clearly on this issue. There are strict restrictions in Canada. We know that the United States also has absolute restrictions on the use of asbestos. In 50 European countries, in fact the whole European Union no longer use asbestos and have a ban on it.

Going back to 1983, Iceland banned all types of asbestos, moving on with all of the Scandinavian countries into Hungary in 1988, Italy in 1992, and Germany in 1993. The list goes on. Even Brazil, which produces asbestos, is now saying that it is a carcinogen. We know all of this, that is the first thing. Let us deal with asbestos here at home. Let us move out of mining and let us help the workers with transition. Let us build new economic development modules within the area so that people can find work.

However, that is here at home. When we know that and we have asbestos under the Hazardous Products Act in our own country, as a physician I believe it is unethical for us to export this to other countries, especially countries that do not have good public health agencies and do not have good public health regulations. It is also unethical to ban its inclusion in the Rotterdam Convention that basically tells people around the world that this is a dangerous substance and directs them how to use it in as safe as possible a manner.

That is what is unethical about this: one, we do not think it is healthy here; two, we export it to other people while blocking information, knowledge and any kind of regulations on the fact that we want other people to know this is a hazardous product and that it can kill them or damage their health through chronic lung disease. That is the unethical part of it for me.

The Quebec Workers' Compensation Board's statistics in 2009 said that 60% of all workplace-related deaths came from asbestos-related diseases. That is a strong statement. We also know that the Canadian Medical Association recently asked the government to ban it, to stop mining it, to stop exporting it and to put it in the Hazardous Products Act and the Rotterdam Convention as a minimum reasonable attitude toward it.

We know that the Rideau Institute asked the government to stop producing and exporting this lethal product. The Catholic Women's League, we have heard, also told the government to stop, so this does not come only from medical bodies or public health associations. All 16 public health offices in Quebec are calling for this action--all of them. The Quebec Public Health Association and the Canadian Public Health Association are calling for it. Health groups and non-governmental bodies that care about the health of people are calling for it. Of course, there was an open letter to one of the government members across the way, who is a physician, asking for that particular member to speak out and to have some sort of ethical attitude about the use of this product by her government.

We know that asbestos is everywhere. Many countries of the world use it for putting tanks on their rooftops to store water and mix it with cement to use it in floor tiles, roof tiles and walls. We know the minute these products are rubbed, the fibres of asbestos go into the air and into people's lungs. It cannot be stopped from getting into the air or people's lungs. There is no way we can stop asbestos from getting out of the format it is in. In the beginning it is in a format that is supposed to keep the fibres intact, but with wear and tear the fibres immediately go into the air and people are chronically exposed to it.

My colleague just shouted at me to imagine an earthquake. India and other countries that are using asbestos as insulation and for making buildings and laying tiles, et cetera, have had earthquakes. It is a double hazard, and it is something that we should no longer, as an ethical country, be exposing people to.

I will end with a quote from the Rideau Institute. It stated:

It is with sorrow and shame that we note that Canada is becoming a pariah on the international stage for its obstruction of global efforts to protect health, human rights and the environment.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot top that one. I think it is time we became an ethical nation again.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. I worked in the removal of asbestos from buildings in downtown Toronto. I remember one day an entire site was shut down because a young woman who was hired was using a vacuum. She was not even in the asbestos zone, but when workers saw she did not have a mask, they shut the entire work site down because of the immediate threat to her health from just being on the floor without a mask.

The science exists. We know the devastating effects of asbestos, yet we also know that it is being imported into third world countries and put into cement mixers and being cut as tiles. There is no protection for workers. It seems to me that the government has made a decision that it is okay, in the interest of a few jobs, for people to be murdered in the third world because they somehow do not count as much as Canadian workers.

I would like to ask the member about our being an ethical nation and what it says about Canada on the world stage when, in order to maintain an industry that should have died long ago, we knowingly dump this level of carcinogen into third world countries without the protection that workers need.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have heard from many groups, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Public Health Agency and the Rideau Institute, all of which, for that very reason, are calling for Canada to have asbestos placed in annex III of the Rotterdam Convention at the very least.

Children are exposed to it. If people have been using asbestos in a building site, it is in the earth and children are playing with it. It is not very ethical, as the member said.

I travelled the world as a minister for the Canadian government, and Canada used to be looked up to as a nation of ethics, fairness and caring about others. We have to think about this. I do not understand how the government could continue to block putting this substance into the Rotterdam Convention.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened quite carefully to the member's statements. She did acknowledge that she has had the opportunity to sit around the cabinet table and discuss issues like this.

My question is this: when did the epiphany happen among the members of the third party over there? When did they suddenly decide they were going to be outspoken critics on this issue? They were in government for 16 years and did zero, so when did the epiphany happen?

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the last five or six years many countries have come to look at class actions suits on this issue, based on what every scientific piece of evidence is now showing us.

There was a time when everyone thought that chrysotile asbestos was safe. That has changed in the last few years. We may not have known about that evidence at the time, but now the evidence is clear, and there is no excuse for the government not to do the right thing. There is absolutely no excuse. It has been here for six years.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, Julius Hava and his wife are actually watching this on TV right now. He does not have much time left, unfortunately.

He wants to reiterate the fact that he was a federal government energy, mines and resources department worker and also worked in the mineral exploration industry. He is now unable to work, and this afternoon he is watching this debate.

He could have tried to have treatment right away, at a cost of $400,000 in the United States. My colleague mentioned that medical assistance is not available in third world countries; well, it is not available here either. There are only trials.

I am just wondering if the member could advise us why her government, when it was in government, did not do anything about it? Will the member be supporting this motion today?

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, the motion says very little about medical treatment and accessibility to medical care, but of course this is an absolute essential. If people become ill from a public health hazard, then under medicare they should be treated when they get sick. That is a given. If that treatment is denied by provincial governments, then one needs to look at it under the Canada Health Act. That is a given.

However, it is not in this motion.