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 workers.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few moments at the beginning of my speech to provide a history of the fight by asbestos workers. There are many key moments in this struggle. I think that we need to provide asbestos workers with immediate and proportionate help for all that they have done for this country for decades and for all the suffering that they have endured for close to 30 years now.

Why can the struggle of asbestos workers not be ignored? Let us go back to the very beginning. In the 19th century, a deposit of asbestos was discovered in the Asbestos region. For over half a century, people in the region worked under simply appalling conditions: even minimum workplace safety standards were not met and accidents occurred almost daily. Occupational health would have been more aptly described as occupational illness. People were sick on a regular basis.

Three other NDP members and I had a full day meeting with people from Asbestos at the end of the summer. Workers who are 50 or 60 years old told us about how, when they were young, they took their fathers lunch at the factory. When they opened the door, they could not recognize the fathers and mothers who worked there. They saw only shadows in a sort of opaque dust. They had to call out to their fathers, “Dad, it's me. I brought your lunch.” Their fathers would appear to be a sort of shadow in a big cloud of dust inside the asbestos mine. These are the types of conditions that people experienced until 1949.

In 1949, there was an event known as the Asbestos strike. That was the key point in this whole story. For eight months, the workers in Asbestos battled with law enforcement, and the other asbestos miners across Quebec quickly joined in. The Duplessis government was in power during this period, which was referred to in Quebec as the great darkness. Our kindly premier at the time considered any action taken by the workers to be the work of big bad socialism, even though the workers were getting together to demand something as fundamental as the right to not die at work. Our good friend and premier at the time saw this as big bad socialism. The battle was difficult and cruel.

One important thing happened during that time. For the first time, because these people were so destitute and in so much pain, the clergy did not take the side of the government of the day, which was unthinkable at the time in Quebec. A large number of the clergy sided with the workers. This is what led historians to claim that the strike was one of the first steps towards the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, if not the very event that instigated the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.

Gérard Picard, president of the Confédération des travailleurs catholiques du Canada, was my mother's favourite uncle. During my childhood, he would often recount the entire battle. Mr. Picard, my great-uncle, was regularly arrested by law enforcement officials for no reason, for example, because his left turn signal was not on for a full eight seconds. This harassment went on for over a decade. It was a very long battle for such simple demands as working without dying of lung disease.

Canada is also indebted to the asbestos workers. Everyone here knows the Right Hon. Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Asbestos has traditionally been associated with the start of his political involvement. He and others, like the Hon. Jean Marchand, went on to have long careers in federal politics. They are the ones who worked with Lester B. Pearson, in what was probably the Liberal government most influenced by social democratic values at the time. For example, they are the ones who proposed the first plans for universal access to health care, student loans and the Canada pension plan. The battle fought by the asbestos workers is in part responsible for helping to instigate these fundamental changes in Canada. Quebeckers and Canadians must recognize the historic importance of the battle fought by the asbestos workers.

International consensus on the harmful effects of asbestos on public health is motivating the NDP to take a courageous political position and to call for the ban of the use and export of asbestos. We cannot forget that this international consensus means collapsed markets and unemployment and despair among hundreds of workers. These people have fought to modernize Quebec and Canada as few other groups of workers have. They deserve our complete solidarity, and they deserve it now.

I will quickly go over the different points of the NDP motion, which calls for stopping the export of asbestos and also assisting affected workers as soon as possible.

First, the government must “ban the use and export of asbestos”. Internationally, the World Health Organization says that more than 107,000 people a year die from an asbestos-related cancer. The International Social Security Association—I have its report right here and we can see that it is rather lengthy—is calling for an outright ban on asbestos. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found that asbestos causes a number of different types of cancer. In Canada, since 2006, Health Canada has said that we cannot say that chrysotile asbestos is safe and we must choose to add it to the list of regulated substances. The Association des pneumologues de la province de Québec also favours banning asbestos mining.

The thing that is important about this part of the motion is that the main buyers of Canadian asbestos are Indonesia, India and the Philippines. We had discussions with the asbestos people and I asked a question that I felt got at the heart of the problem: can we guarantee that the young construction worker in the Philippines or in Indonesia who, in 10, 15 or 20 years will be asked to tear off the shingles from hundreds of roofs, will remove shingles containing asbestos in accordance with the necessary labour standards, in other words, wearing a mask and gloves, removing one shingle at a time and disposing of it in a self-closing container? It is impossible. Even those who support the use of asbestos could not guarantee that in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, we will not be poisoning a young worker in Indonesia. No one could reassure me on this. That is the crux of the problem. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand.

Second, the motion calls on the government to, “support international efforts to add chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemical products.” This is the third time this government has spoiled international efforts to include chrysotile asbestos on the UN's list of hazardous materials. This is serious. It means that part of our Canadian diplomacy, which had such a good reputation in the 1970s and 1980s, until 1990, is currently supporting something that the entire international community condemns. Nearly everyone has been calling for a ban on asbestos. At the very least, it should be included on the list in order to send a clear message everywhere, from Korea to Indonesia, that it is a dangerous product. The government is involving Canada's diplomats in all kinds of processes to prevent that.

Third, the motion calls on the government to, “assist affected workers by developing a Just Transition Plan”. The workers' co-op in Asbestos, among others, has a long tradition of organization and job creation. It is such a key stakeholder in the economy there that it even owns shares in the mine. Imagine if funding like that given to the Chrysotile Institute—about $2.3 million over 10 years—were given to those people to create jobs.

Finally, the last point, which is very important to me, calls on the government to, “support communities and municipalities in asbestos producing regions through an investment fund for regional economic diversification”. Over the past 35 years or so, nearly $50 million in Canadian and Quebec public funds has been invested in supporting asbestos. That equals $1.4 million a year. If we were to invest $1.4 million in organizations like the local CFDC, we would be talking about a lot more than 300 short-term jobs for three or four months of the year. That would be the smarter choice.

Above all, the motion before us aims to put an end to the contempt being shown towards the people who work in the asbestos industry. I invite everyone to vote in favour of the motion, in order to immediately break the stalemate facing asbestos workers. Collectively, we owe it to them to lend our support as quickly as possible.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but ask the member opposite why his party, which says that it stands for workers, will not stand with chrysotile workers in Quebec?

We know that the union that encompasses this industry does not support what the motion calls for. We also know that the motion goes even further than the people who are asking for the listing of chrysotile on the Rotterdam Convention.

That is the interesting point because I have in my hand a record of a vote from the National Assembly of Québec that shows that the member for Outremont voted against the inclusion of this on the Rotterdam Convention.

Could the member tell us if the member for Outremont, who is running for the leadership of the party, has changed his view, and could the member please tell us that the member for Outremont continues to support the workers of Quebec, or will he undermine them, as the motion calls for?

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member one thing. My colleague from Outremont participated by telephone when we met with workers. His position is clear and straightforward: we must stop exporting asbestos. The scientific evidence gathered for years inescapably points to this conclusion. I have told the story of my great uncle and so I am the first to say that this is a sad, but inescapable conclusion. We must acknowledge the situation, as developed countries have, especially because we must quickly help workers in the asbestos industry with funding to meet their needs.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his excellent speech. I would like to add another aspect to this debate about asbestos: the issue of the environmental impact in Quebec. I know that, in recent years, it has come to light that asbestos has polluted the environment in Quebec.

In fact, the ambient pollution by asbestos in waterways and in the regions of Asbestos, Quebec, and its surroundings have led to the highest level of women with asbestos-related cancer documented anywhere in the world.

I wonder if he has any comments on that aspect.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is inescapable. Unfortunately, in the past 100 years and even recently, a significant number of workers have been victims of the market collapse. In Asbestos alone, 1,000 jobs have been lost in a small community of approximately 6,000 people. That would be equivalent to 900,000 people losing their jobs and having difficulty finding work in Toronto for 10 years. If Toronto had such a problem, there would have been a plan in place long ago to address it. The asbestos workers are suffering financially, and the member unfortunately is correct in saying that they are also the front-line victims of asbestos-related illnesses. I can therefore only concur with my colleague's comments.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments. It is ironic and strange to see the Conservatives expressing so much hope for a better union in this case. I very clearly recall the courage and leadership shown by the hon. member for Outremont and the other NDP member from Quebec on this matter. The Conservatives are playing nasty political games when they say that workers and people in general must die in order to boost Quebeckers' confidence in them. It is a question of morals and ethics. I wonder if my colleague could comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for raising this particular issue. I do not have sufficient evidence to prove this, but I cannot help wondering: is the government's decision to support the industry proof that it has decided not to help these people? To hide behind the idea that there might be a recovery, despite the growing evidence that that industry has collapsed for good, is that not, in fact, just an excuse for not proposing an investment plan to help those people? I cannot help but wonder about this. It is up to the government to respond immediately.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, like my colleagues who have just spoken brilliantly on the subject, I would also like to speak in favour of the motion.

The NDP is a party that cares about the health and welfare of Canadians, and the present use and export of Canadian chrysotile asbestos runs directly counter to the health of our population. In addition, asbestos endangers the lives of the workers who are dangerously exposed to it in developing countries. To rectify this alarming situation, our party urges concrete measures such as are proposed by the NDP in the motion today.

First, it is important, and this must be the priority, to ban the use of this dangerous substance that leads to the development of fatal illnesses. It is important to know that all forms of asbestos disintegrate into finer and finer fibres that are invisible to the naked eye. When these fibres are inhaled by a human being, they can cause many fatal illnesses such as asbestosis and lung cancer. And there are facts to prove the extremely dangerous nature of this product.

In this country, more Canadians die because of asbestos than all other occupational and industrial causes combined, while in Quebec, where the mines are mainly located, asbestos is responsible for half of all work-related deaths.

Another concrete example is found in a study done in 2009. The study concluded that the concentration of asbestos in the outside air in Thetford Mines, Quebec, is 215 times higher than samples taken in the United States and elsewhere in Canada. The death rate associated with lung cancer and mesothelioma is 17 times higher there than in the general population.

Experts from various fields have also spoken out on the question of the toxicity of chrysotile asbestos, but the government does not seem to be interested in hearing them, let alone in acknowledging their expertise. Internal Health Canada documents show that, back in 2006, officials refuted the Conservatives’ assertion that chrysotile asbestos was safe but the Conservatives preferred to close their eyes.

The Confederation of National Trade Unions, or CSN, has supported ending asbestos mining in the province, but the Conservative government has not heard it.

At the international level, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization agree that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. But the Conservative government continues to outrageously tarnish our international reputation, a reputation we have worked so hard to build in recent decades.

Asbestos is a hazardous material, and asbestos mining has decreased significantly since the late 1990s. This sector is just not profitable any more, and an economic transition plan similar to the one for the tobacco industry is urgently needed. In 1991, Quebec asbestos mines employed 1,000 workers. Today, only 350 people work three to four months per year in Thetford Mines. LAB Chrysotile Inc. has entered bankruptcy protection and plans on closing its doors next November.

Instead of reviewing the dangers inherent in this economic sector and supporting miners' families, the government has chosen the criminal approach of subsidizing 160 trade delegations to 60 countries to promote asbestos exports abroad.

Using taxpayers' money, these delegations have promoted our supposedly safe asbestos in order to score big sales, primarily in developing countries that do not have the safe handling practices that we have in Canada.

In terms of our miners' health costs, a study of disability claims for 691 workers suffering from asbestos-related illnesses indicates that these costs topped $66 million in 2000 alone.

Canada cannot afford to gamble with workers' health or taxpayers' money, money that the government continues to misallocate. The NDP has been asking for a ban on asbestos exports for a long time because asbestos is causing serious illnesses and death in developing countries.

In Canada, the use of asbestos is now strictly regulated under the Hazardous Products Act.

That is not the case in a number of developing countries, where legislation on hazardous products has not yet come into effect or where the regulatory bodies do not yet have the resources to deal with lawbreakers.

It is estimated that asbestos causes more than 100,000 deaths a year worldwide. Workers in the developing countries to which Canada exports its asbestos are not usually aware of the safety measures for handling asbestos, and they do not receive any training in that regard, either.

Indonesia, India and the Philippines are currently the main buyers of our asbestos and we all know that their workers do not have basic health and safety protection. While asbestos is banned in more than 50 countries, including the most developed countries, Canada continues to export its asbestos without warning labels about its toxicity. Worse yet, the government has even tried to dissuade Thailand and North Korea from issuing a toxicity warning on the bags of asbestos they receive. The government considered that these warning measures, which would show a skull and crossbones, were excessive.

The NDP believes we should support international efforts in favour of adding chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemical products under the Rotterdam Convention. Since 2006, the government has obstructed international efforts to add asbestos to the United Nations' list of hazardous products three times so far. We absolutely must rectify this situation that embarrasses and shames us in the eyes of the international community.

Opposition Motion—Asbestos
Business of Supply
Government Orders

October 31st, 2011 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Barry Devolin Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Order, please. I must interrupt at this time. The hon. member will have three minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.

Persons with Disabilities
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honour Deohaeko, a group of families committed to promoting the social inclusion and valued participation of people with disabilities.

In 1994, they designed and built Rougemont Co-operative in my riding, home of over 200 people of widely diverse backgrounds, including adults with intellectual disabilities. In the co-op, Deohaeko has created an environment recognized internationally for helping adults with an intellectual disability, often stigmatized and treated as a burden, to become resilient and resourceful for themselves and make a significant contribution to their communities.

I thank the Deohaeko Support Network for the pioneering work it has done to improve people's lives. It has created a model for people with intellectual disabilities to lead a better life in their community.

Regional Economy
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the world of pulp and paper, the Laurentide mill in Grand-Mère plans on halting production on its No. 10 machine, which will directly or indirectly affect hundreds of jobs.

Entire chunks of our heritage are disappearing because of the world paper crisis. We must use some imagination to put our regions back to work, and we are still waiting for the government to take concrete action to do so. It is easy for the current government to make our public institutions disappear, one by one, under the cover of budget cuts, but it must propose a coherent vision of what our regional economies will look like in the future.

Junior Football
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Saskatoon Hilltops have done it again. In what is turning into a bit of rivalry, both on the field and, dare I say, on this side of the House, the Saskatoon Hilltops have once again defeated the Vancouver Island Raiders this past Saturday in the Canadian Junior Football League semifinal.

Last year, I had the pleasure of hosting my colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Alberni, in Saskatoon where my colleagues and I won a friendly bet on the outcome of the 2010 Canadian bowl final.

I congratulate the Saskatoon Hilltops and wish them all the best as they take on the Hamilton Hurricanes this coming Saturday when they defend their Canadian Junior Football League championship title.

Ground Observer Corps Wings
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise to recognize James Hodder, formerly of St. Bernard's and now St. Lawrence in my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's.

As a postmaster and telegraph operator in the 1950s, Mr. Hodder volunteered as a chief observer with the Royal Canadian Air Force Ground Observer Corps. In 1957, after three years of outstanding service identifying and documenting all low-flying planes, he was awarded the Ground Observer Corps Wings.

Unfortunately, those wings commemorating his patriotic service to his country were lost. Mr. Hodder's wife, Nella, of 43 years, knew he was distraught over the loss. Not knowing exactly where to turn, Mrs. Hodder started making inquiries and called my office wondering how she could secure another set of wings for her husband.

On September 1, along with acting wing commander Major Luc Girouard and Chief Warrant Officer Joe Burns, I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Hodder presented with another set of wings.

An appreciative Mr. Hodder declared, “This is a wonderful day, a very good day, I will never forget this”.

Today I ask all members of the House to join me in telling Mr. Hodder that we will never forget him and the service that he and other veterans give and continue to give to our country.

Medal of Bravery
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was my pleasure, this past Friday, October 28, to attend a ceremony at Rideau Hall, where constituents Matt Jackson and Tyler Lockerby were bestowed the medal of bravery by His Excellency, the Governor General of Canada.

In June 2009, Matt and Tyler risked their lives to rescue four people from a submerged vehicle near Revelstoke, British Columbia. They witnessed the van in front of them swerve out of control, roll down an embankment and plunge into Griffen Lake. Jumping into the frigid waters, Matt dove under and pulled three victims out through the driver's side window, passing them to Tyler, who brought them to shore. With the fourth person still strapped inside the rapidly sinking vehicle, Matt and Tyler made their way back and managed to pull the last victim out through the broken window.

Thanks to the quick and brave actions of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Lockerby, all four victims survived.

On behalf of the constituents of Kelowna--Lake Country, it is my great pleasure to congratulate Matt and Tyler and to thank them for their courage and bravery. We are so fortunate to have these heroes as members of our community and our great country.

Rouge Park, Ontario
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, this past weekend I was pleased to participate in the biodiversity walk in Rouge Park, as well as the opening of the new viewing platform overlooking the majestic park and Little Rouge Creek.

Rouge Park, located in the northeastern part of my constituency, is one of Canada's urban gems. Volunteers provide guided nature walks year-round for all interested. These very educational and interesting walks teach participants about the biodiversity in Rouge Park and the efforts that this park is taking to combat climate change. They are a great way to learn more about the flora and fauna of our area, as well as a great way to spend time with family, friends and loved ones in our great outdoors. I would like to thank the volunteers who conduct these walks.

People from across all party lines and at all levels of government support the naming of Rouge Park as Canada's first urban national park. I am happy to be working with my colleagues and community members to see this dream come true.

I encourage my fellow members of Parliament to support Rouge Park and everyone in the area to come out and participate in one of Rouge Park's biodiversity walks.