Mr. Speaker, personally I was very interested in this evening’s debate, especially when I read the motion by the member for Winnipeg Centre, who is the anti-asbestos knight par excellence in this House. Unfortunately he is a master of demagoguery when he talks about asbestos. I can understand that this file raises a lot of emotion, particularly since the member himself says he has worked in an asbestos mine.
I have the great privilege of having in my riding the municipality of Asbestos, where the largest opencast mine in the world is located, namely the Jeffrey mine.
I still know many employees who work in this asbestos mine personally. It is true that people were affected by illness during the 1950s and 1960s.
It is the same as with a lot of products; people work with them and there are not any safety standards because people are not very familiar with the product and its eventual effects on their health. Asbestos is not the only product to have unfortunately led to health problems and deaths.
For example, when I was a student, I spent the summer working for painting companies. You will tell me that we are not going to ban paint. No, of course, except that, because I was a young student and I wanted to show my bosses that I was game for anything, I did not always put on a mask and I did not always protect myself adequately. I sanded furniture and we painted it, and then I walked around. It must be past suppertime, so I can talk about it. At night, when I blew my nose, there was sometimes stuff in my handkerchief the colour of the furniture we had painted during the day. I do not think that this was very good for my health. I think that, when workers are properly protected, as has been the case for many years, they are safe. Furniture-painting companies were not banned.
We have to beware of demagoguery, especially when we are addressing the public in this House.
I will be told that many politicians who have sat in this House have engaged in demagoguery, but I wish to speak out against the comments made tonight by the member for Winnipeg Centre, comments he will no doubt continue to make.
Let us return to the budget of the Department of Natural Resources. The motion tabled by the member of the NDP aims very simply to cut funding to the Chrysotile Institute. This is a credible agency that has demonstrated courage and determination since 1984 in the face of often hostile criticism coming mainly from Europe and South America, where they produce substitute fibres. It must be said that all this lobbying, this entire anti-asbestos campaign, originates in countries that manufacture substitute products. They want to sell those products, cellulose or other products of the petrochemical industry at the expense of chrysotile. That is what is going on now and has been for years. We have to recognize that and it needs to be said. When I say that they are practising demagoguery, it is because they hide these facts.
The push comes not just from these countries, but also on the domestic level, as can be seen in the incessant destructive efforts of the member for Winnipeg Centre, who tries to throw people into panic every time there is mention of asbestos.
Despite everything, thanks to the efforts of the Chrysotile Institute as well as those of the PROChrysotile movement, the communities of Asbestos and Thetford Mines have been able to survive. That is very important. The PROChrysotile movement brings together the communities of Asbestos and Thetford Mines in Quebec—where the asbestos mines are located—the mayors, federal and provincial elected members and especially the workers in those mines. In spite of that, some 37 countries have banned the use of asbestos in all its forms. That means that two-thirds of the countries in the world are now using chrysotile fibre.
The NDP wants to cut off funding to an agency whose president, Clément Godbout—who is well known in Quebec—has spent his life defending the rights of workers. He has dedicated his life to the interests of workers because in an earlier period he was the leader of the most powerful labour union in Quebec, the FTQ. Clément Godbout is not just anyone. He would never have agreed to defend a product that kills workers.
Yes, asbestos has killed, and we will hear all kinds of figures, studies that talk about 100,000 deaths from cancer caused by asbestos. I personally know people who have worked in the Jeffrey mine, because I am their member of Parliament. Yes, members of their family have regrettably been made sick because of the work that they have done with asbestos.
We are not talking about the same product. As I said previously during questions and comments, at that time there were amphiboles that are now prohibited. That was the product that unfortunately got into the lungs and stayed there. Biopersistence studies show that those products were not soluble and that the fibres remained within the human body. As a result, over a period of years, even decades, that could unfortunately develop into cancer. Today, that is no longer the case because that product has been prohibited for 20 years. The new product is chrysotile. It is bound within cement. I have seen the chrysotile pipes that are used for water mains. These products are far superior to other products available on the market. For example, steel will eventually rust. In my opinion, that is not very good for one's health. Chrysotile in cement will remain intact for years and years, for hundreds of years. The product is not volatile. It does not shed fibres and it does not cause any human health problems.
Is it possible that Clément Godbout would wish any harm to come to the workers at mines in the Asbestos area and in Thetford Mines? Is it possible that he would condone the use of a product that is harmful to the health of workers and users? The answer is obvious. Furthermore, I would like the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre or his caucus to invite Mr. Godbout to talk about chrysotile. He is passionate about the subject, knows the file very well, and can explain in detail the ins and outs of the issue.
I repeat, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre and his party are engaging in demagoguery, pure and simple, and deliberately confusing the public by not making the distinction between the asbestos of the 1950s and 1960s, and chrysotile. I do not mean to insult anyone, but either they are ignorant, or they are being dishonest by confusing the two products. It is one or the other.
I know the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre and I do not believe he is ignorant. In my opinion, he is acting deliberately and in bad faith, because he supports the “ban asbestos” movement, which is using to its advantage the thousands of deaths caused by asbestos. We do not deny this. However, a new discussion is needed today because we are no longer talking about the same product. There is nothing to hide here, and I would not deserve to be a member of this House if I were to rise here today to defend a product that kills people. Even people working in the mines, whose parents developed cancer and died, now support chrysotile. We must therefore not confuse the public.
I am sure the 1,500 workers form the Jeffrey asbestos mine and the LAB Chrysotile mining company in Thetford Mines would also be very happy to meet with the NDP members to explain to them the difference between amphiboles and chrysotile.
I will provide some more information about amphiboles. As I was just saying in layman's terms, amphiboles find their way into the lungs and, because they are not soluble, can cause asbestosis and cancer. Exposure to amphiboles is very dangerous. That is why this product has not been on the market for 20 years. There are people who have been affected but not by the product we have today, which is currently produced by mines in the Asbestos area and in Thetford Mines. This product is known as chrysotile and looks like cement. It is encased and solid as a rock.
Biopersistence studies show that chrysotile is safer than replacement fibres from countries that wish to ban chrysotile, such as France and Chile, which produce ceramic cellulose and fibres. These are replacement products for chrysotile and they remain in the human body longer. Thus, they are more dangerous than chrysotile.
However, during a certain period, public opinion in Europe was galvanized. We can certainly all remember the home insulation trend. Unfortunately, there are still houses with asbestos insulation on some Indian reserves. The insulation used at the time was flaky and so it was possible to aspirate it. That product is dangerous, and must be banned and no longer used. It is no longer produced. Nevertheless, people still think of asbestos as volatile particles that float through the air. Today, even NASA buys chrysotile for its space shuttles because of its resistance to the high temperatures in the atmosphere and the stratosphere.
I am no astronaut, but if NASA uses such a product then it must be reliable.
I also must point out that there is no serious study showing that chrysotile, used safely, represented any health risk at all. The only people who claim to have studies showing the contrary are the industries I was talking about earlier, the petrochemical industries that manufacture chrysotile substitutes. I mentioned cellulose products and ceramic fibres.
By not making the distinction between amphiboles and chrysotile, I would say that the NDP is misleading the public. And that is the problem. People have had it with this demagoguery, this state of panic created by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre. I say the NDP, but if an hon. member of the NDP stood up to defend chrysotile, I would be most happy, but unfortunately I have not heard from any of them.
This is like telling someone to stop drinking cognac, an alcohol, because it is dangerous to drink ethanol, another alcohol. What we are talking about tonight is the exact same thing. Of course one has to drink cognac in moderation and be careful to drink prudently, just as one must use chrysotile safely. That is what is recommended by the Chrysotile Institute, an agency that uses this small sum of $250,000 from the federal government to do research on the safe use of chrysotile. It also defends the product and its workers from their detractors.
The Chrysotile Institute does not deserve to have this $250,000 cut, as the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre would like. It deserves to be encouraged by the federal government. In my opinion, its budget should be increased. Earlier it was said that the Government of Quebec invested money, as does the industry and the federal government. This allows the Chrysotile Institute to survive. However, this budget needs to be increased.
For instance, the Chrysotile Institute recently held a very interesting international conference in Montreal on developments in scientific research. It would have been worthwhile for an NDP member to attend. The event attracted people from around the world. Doctors of all kinds, highly educated people, explained the latest findings on chrysotile. Needless to say, it was revealed that scientific studies show that, as I have been saying, chrysotile poses no threat to human health when used safely.
Moreover, the motion is erroneous. I just want to mention that as well. I do not know whether that means it is out of order. The $250,000 that comes from the federal government does not come from Natural Resources Canada alone. Half comes from the Economic Development Agency of Canada. The Department of Natural Resources contributes $125,000, and the Economic Development Agency of Canada contributes another $125,000. I do not know whether the member noted this difference.
I invite the government to support the Chrysotile Institute instead of making cuts to it. We should listen to the recommendations adopted unanimously—I repeat, unanimously—by the subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. The former member for Mégantic—L'Érable always rose in this House to defend chrysotile, as the Bloc Québécois has always done and will continue to do. It had called for these recommendations that Canada establish a national policy on the use of chrysotile. I myself introduced these recommendations in this House. There are only three, and I will read them:
That the Government of Canada adopt a national policy on chrysotile that will provide information about and promote this product as well its safe use.
The second recommendation reads as follows:
That the Government of Canada undertake a comparative study of the hazards of replacement fibres for chrysotile.
The third recommendation reads as follows:
That the Government of Canada:
a) carry out a national and international public awareness campaign promoting the safe use of chrysotile;
b) promote the use of chrysotile in its own infrastructure.
There has always been a contradiction here, even though people from all parties voted unanimously for these recommendations. The Bloc Québécois had pointed out that, in calls for tender, for example, Public Works and Canada Post always stipulated that contractors must not use chrysotile or asbestos. There were always very strict standards in that regard.
On the other hand, the members of the government said they defended chrysotile. There were even members who come from mining regions, for example, Mr. Binet, a former member for Frontenac—Mégantic. But in the end the government was talking out of both sides of its mouth at once.
Besides, we are still waiting for some tangible results from this government in power that boasts it can do everything. Luckily the Bloc Québécois is there to do the work. If we had not done that, nothing would have moved as far as chrysotile is concerned. What we are awaiting now is action. After saying that we were in agreement, we are awaiting something tangible from the government, namely the implementation of these recommendations.
Now there is a member for Mégantic—L'Érable who is on the government side. We are also waiting for him to take some action and lend us a hand in moving this file forward.
For a long time now pressure has been exerted so that chrysotile is not included in the list of hazardous products in the Rotterdam Convention. The leader of the Bloc Québécois, my leader, has even accompanied ambassadors from various countries during the worst of the crisis affecting this industry on tours of our mines. So we have been defending this file for a long time. At present one member is suggesting quite simply that we cut funding to an institute that is doing an honest job and that obviously takes into account the safety of its workers. I outlined the pedigree of its president, Clément Godbout, awhile ago. This is proof that these people are obviously not there to promote the use of a hazardous product.
I would also like to point out that, for a party that says it is leftist and defends the workers, it is doing a poor job of defending this file. It is pretty ironic. The NDP member who asked that these funds be cut is doing a poor job of defending the workers.
Here is an example of what the steelworkers union, always prompt to defend workers’ health and safety, thinks of chrysotile. This is from a letter signed by René Bellemare, who is in charge of health and safety with the steelworkers union. His job consists of defending and protecting the health of workers who belong to his union:
—I want to tell you where we stand regarding chrysotile asbestos and its by-products. We have long been advocating the safe use of chrysotile asbestos. We base our claim on many reasons such as:
Prohibiting friable asbestos material--notoriously dangerous to human health;
Demanding that chrysotile asbestos not be substituted with products having unknown health effects;
Developing an action plan in managing buildings, which, in the past, were fire-proofed with sprayed-on asbestos, rather than systematically and immediately removing asbestos-containing materials.
Scientific research conducted by recognized specialists and international organizations acknowledge the safe use of chrysotile asbestos;
Several chrysotile asbestos products (i.e. chrysotile-cement, fire retardant material, brake linings, friction disks, etc.), can be manufactured and used safely;
Those are the examples he gives. He goes on to say:
As mentioned above, through the battles fought by the labour movement, for the most part in Quebec, we have been able to ensure safe working conditions in our mines and in our mills.
...Anti-asbestos groups have emerged throughout the world and we maintain that, in order to fully understand this issue, we all have the moral obligation to keep an open mind and weigh the many impacts that this will have on workers, their families and on future generations.
He closes by saying:
We firmly believe that we must fight for the safe and controlled use of chrysotile asbestos and all other fibres in this country and throughout the world. Banning chrysotile asbestos completely is in no way a desirable answer.
René Bellemare is in charge of health and safety with the United Steelworkers of America, and that is what he had to say about chrysotile asbestos.
Every time people attack my community, Asbestos, its mine, the people of Quebec who work at Thetford Mines and LAB chrysotile, every time that happens, people can count on the Bloc Québécois and on me because I will rise. I would never dare to represent the riding of Richmond—Arthabaska—to represent its citizens and to run in the elections knowing that the entire community is under attack—if I did not rise in this House to defend it.