Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on Bill S-2. I have great personal interest in this legislation dealing with the WHMIS, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System.
In 1988, when I was a journeyman carpenter, WHMIS came into effect and all of us had to be trained on a 40 hour WHMIS course. We were not allowed to go back on the job until we had our WHMIS certification.
Since that time I became the leader of the carpenters' union in Manitoba. It was our job to ensure all of our membership had passed WHMIS. I therefore am very aware of the value of this right to know legislation, which is how we phrase it. WHMIS is the right to know and, flowing from that, the right to refuse unsafe work is the next logical step to the right to know. It is based on the premise that workers have the right to know that the materials they are being asked to handle as an aspect of their job are in fact safe. They also have the right to know if they need to take any safety precautions in terms of a mask or gloves.
However, the workers also has the right to know some of the complex things that my colleague from Windsor West tried to raise in that sometimes there is a perfectly benign chemical or compound and another perfectly benign chemical but when those two are added together they create a third product that can be very hazardous.
The WHMIS data sheets need to be very accurate and they are very complex. Workers need to be well versed to understand the complicated chemical language that is sometimes on these material safety data sheets.
I was shocked to hear my colleague from Windsor West point out something that I had never heard before. He said that roughly 95% of all the material safety data sheets reviewed by the commission had been found to be non-compliant with the legislation. Ninety-five per cent is a pretty appalling figure. Many of these shortcomings, in fact typical violations, they found were not minor in terms of misspelling the name of a chemical or something. Many of the violations included the failure to identify the effects of acute or chronic exposure to a product and the failure to identify that a hazardous ingredient in a product is a known carcinogen. Those are serious shortcomings in the WHMIS data sheet regime as we know it.
However, I take some comfort in the fact that we are addressing this, that Parliament is seized on the issue of workplace safety and health as it pertains to material safety data sheet. I only wish that we could extend that same interest in the rights of workers to know hazardous products to our international activities because what WHMIS is to the Canadian workforce, the Rotterdam Convention is to the international workforce. The United Nations has come together under the auspices of the Rotterdam Convention to identify hazardous products and to require labelling of these products when prior informed consent of the user is deemed to be necessary.
The most graphic illustration of Canada's failure to take into account the long term health effects of foreign workers is asbestos. Canadian asbestos continues to pollute and contaminate most of the free world. The legacy of the contamination from Canadian asbestos is still being realized in places like Europe but it has had the common sense to ban asbestos completely. However, Canada continues to be the third largest producer and exporter of asbestos in the world and we dump it all into developing nations and third world countries because no one else will buy it anymore.
Where the Rotterdam Convention comes in and where this contradiction comes in is that just last week in Geneva, Canada barred the inclusion of asbestos on that list of hazardous materials which would require the PIC, prior informed consent of the user. This is appalling. I personally hang my head in shame that Canada is acting like international globe trotting propagandists for the asbestos industry.
I do not know what we owe the asbestos industry but we are doing the industry a great favour by fighting its battles when we send teams of Department of Justice lawyers half way around the world to Geneva to argue against having asbestos listed as a hazardous material. They are serving some master in the asbestos community and it is beyond reason as far as I am concerned.
The Rotterdam Convention does not even seek to ban asbestos, although I personally believe the world should ban asbestos. The Rotterdam Convention only says that if asbestos is going to be sold and used that it at least should be mandatory that the users at the other end be cautioned that the material is hazardous to their health and safety and that safety precautions should be taken.
Canada opposes that as a nation. For the third time in a row Canada has gone to COPs, the committee of parties that form up the Rotterdam Convention, and we have done more than resist this. We have been an international bully. We have arm twisted. We have used every diplomatic means that we know of to convince other countries to follow our lead and not allow asbestos to be listed.
In the context of debating WHMIS and a workers' right to know, I wish somewhere in Bill S-2 we could require that what we want for ourselves we should extend to our business activities internationally. This is a concept of corporate accountability that was introduced in the last Parliament by the former member for Ottawa Centre, the hon. Ed Broadbent. Ed felt that some of our activities internationally were an embarrassment in terms of labour standards, human rights standards, health and safety standards and environmental standards. He felt that what we do in Canada, where we are guided by certain principles of fairness, of ethics and of a commitment to workplace safety and health, that by extension we should be propagating those principles in the third world and in developing nations because we want to bring them up to those same high standards that we enjoy in this country.
For all those people who think asbestos is banned in this country, I am here to say that asbestos is not banned in this country at all. I used to work in the asbestos mines as a young and foolish man. I can say that they were lying to us about the health hazards of asbestos then and they continue to lie to us about the health hazards of asbestos today.
I call the asbestos industry corporate serial killers. I do not hesitate to do that. The asbestos industry is the tobacco industry's evil twin because both of them have made a fortune in the last century by pushing a product that they know full well kills people and hiding behind fabricated research, tainted research, cover-ups, falsehoods and lies about the health hazard.
It is bad enough that the asbestos industry itself is lying to workers, its own employees, its own industry and to people around the world, but the Government of Canada feels some obligation to be the handmaiden to the asbestos industry and, as I say, to be globe trotting propagandists and spending millions of dollars artificially supporting and subsidizing an industry that is killing millions of people nationally and internationally.
Now that the government has done its dirty work for the asbestos industry in Geneva last week, it will be another two years before we have the chance to get asbestos back on that list. I am concerned that there will not be a Rotterdam Convention in two years when the next biannual meeting is convened because we have seriously jeopardized the integrity of the whole convention by allowing commercial considerations to override the health considerations around which that convention was first established.
Of the 90 countries that were in attendance in Geneva last week, only 8 countries supported Canada's position. The chair of the Rotterdam Convention introduced the subject on day one saying that chrysotile asbestos was a sensitive issue and that there have been difficulties with it before. He suggested that we follow the four point framework to assess the health hazard and to review the science.
Before the chair of the committee could even finish speaking, the Canadian delegation rushed to the microphones and said, “we don't need to waste our time. We move that asbestos not be put on the list”. Because that international institution runs by consensus, everyone has a veto. As soon as Canada set the tone by being rude and ignoring the international diplomatic protocols of courtesy at one of those conferences, that set the tone.
Then all of our customers went to the microphones too because we had twisted their arms: India, Thailand and Senegal. These are countries where we are dumping 220,000 tonnes, not pounds or kilos, per year of Canadian asbestos. It is being dumped into the third world creating a legacy of illness that is of epidemic proportions.
It is not an exaggeration to state that we are exporting misery on an astronomical scale because one single asbestos fibre is a carcinogen. We in Canada rank asbestos as a class A listed carcinogen. One errant asbestos fibre finding its way into the mesothelium of the lungs, heart or internal organs can trigger mesothelioma, the cancer that is caused only by asbestos.
No doubt some people will try to argue that Quebec asbestos is somehow benign, that it is different from other asbestos. The Institut national de santé publique du Québec did a study in 2005 and found that of the people who live in the asbestos region of Quebec, the men have the fourth highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world and the women of that region have the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world. There is nothing benign about Quebec asbestos.
Quebec asbestos kills the same way that Yukon asbestos kills. I worked in the mines there. Newfoundland asbestos kills because that mine was shut down, too. There is Timmins, Ontario. Everywhere where they mine asbestos they have merchants of death. I can say it in no other way.
The asbestos industry, the tobacco industry's evil twin, continues to pollute the world with a product that should never have taken out of the ground.
As we are debating Bill S-2, which originated in the Senate as the workplace hazardous material information system bill, we should try to contemplate at least that what we wish for ourselves we wish for all. We should contemplate the fact that there is no business case for pushing asbestos.
There is an enormous scientific case for banning asbestos altogether, but we have to ask ourselves, by what convoluted pretzel logic is it in anybody's interest to keep pushing a product that kills people and to keep subsidizing that industry to this degree?
The Asbestos Institute, paid for solely by the federal and provincial governments of Canada and Quebec, pushes asbestos around the world. Our foreign missions and embassies host these trade junkets for them, 120 trade junkets in 60 countries around the world in recent years by the Asbestos Institute trying to find new markets for Canadian asbestos and trying to quell the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that illustrates clearly that asbestos kills.
That is the dual function of the Asbestos Institute, to come up with phony science. It just paid for a research study recently by Dr. David Bernstein. It paid $1 million to add a question mark beside asbestos, so that it can safely say that the scientific community is not unanimous in its condemnation of asbestos. The one scientist who we just bought and paid for clearly has a question about whether Quebec asbestos is good for us or bad for us.
I am here to say that asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known and 100,000 deaths a year are directly attributed to asbestos, and hundreds of thousands more are never diagnosed because of the long incubation period. Parts of the world where Quebec asbestos is killing people today do not have the diagnostics and treatment centres that can accurately diagnose that asbestos in fact is killing these people.
There is an additional twist that I have to add to Bill S-2 and the workplace hazardous material information system because there is a mill in Kamloops, British Columbia, that is just about to close. It is owned by Weyerhaeuser. It has developed a product using the cellulose fibre from Douglas fir that is a perfect substitute for asbestos in ferrocement. It has a perfect substitute, but yet it cannot break into the market because the cement pipe manufacturers and the cement building material tile manufacturers all use asbestos from Quebec as the binding agent in their material.
There is a better product that grows in British Columbia. We have all these standing dead forests that are killed by the beetles et cetera, but the Douglas fir byproduct cellulose is the perfect substitute for asbestos in asbestos cement.
We could save that mill in Kamloops, British Columbia, if it could only find a market for the material it is willing produce. Instead, we are inexplicably married to the idea that we have to support asbestos and that Canada has to push asbestos.
I cannot believe the fact that we send teams of Department of Justice lawyers around the world to represent the asbestos industry. I do not know what they have done to deserve that level of public support. I do not know what they have done to deserve that kind of corporate welfare. Here we have corporate welfare for corporate serial killers. Corporate welfare, in any sense, should be condemned. In actual fact, we are aiding and abetting this industry that is knowingly and willingly killing workers.
Thailand is the world's second largest importer of Canadian asbestos. I went to Thailand this summer to speak at a conference of the medical community and the industry about the hazards of Canadian asbestos. I believe we had them convinced. Speaker after speaker from Japan, Australia, the European Union, all those countries that have banned asbestos, stood up and spoke. I think we had the government of Thailand convinced except when one very honest diplomat went to the microphone and apologized. He simply said his country was under enormous pressure internationally to buy Canadian asbestos. It is as if buying Canadian asbestos is tied to other aid, although he did not go that far and suggest that. It seems to me that the Canadian government will stop at nothing to promote this material.
Gary Nash, the assistant deputy minister of Natural Resources Canada, was the founder and first president of the Asbestos Institute.