Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me, on behalf of the NDP caucus, to enter into the debate on Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.
As always when a bill is introduced by the Senate, I feel obligated to point out that we object to bills that are introduced into this elected House of Commons from the other place, the unelected, undemocratic Senate. We believe that legislation dealing on behalf of the people of Canada should be put forward by the elected representatives of the people of Canada. However, having said that, we find the bill on our table today and we will do our due diligence and debate it as per the rules.
I am very interested in the subject of Bill S-2 and WHMIS, the workplace hazardous materials information system. I notice that my colleague from Surrey North, as a former minister of health for the province of British Columbia, is nodding her head. As well, my colleague from Vancouver Island North, coming from the labour movement, would appreciate the struggle that it was to introduce WHMIS legislation into the Canadian industrial workplace.
It was a long battle, the argument being quite simple: that workers have a right to know what they are being exposed to and they have the right to refuse unsafe work if they find, based on the information given to them, that they are not willing to put their personal health at risk in handling some of these products.
That is the fundamental premise and it was the groundwork that led to WHMIS as we know it. It was many more years before it became mandatory, before it became the law of the land that all workers have to be trained in the workplace hazardous materials information system and that all workplaces must have material safety data sheets listing as clearly as humanly possible in plain language exactly what chemicals or what combinations of chemicals the workplace may expose a worker to.
It was a hard-won battle. It ranks up there as one of the victories of the Canadian labour movement in Canadian industrial history. It is an issue dear to my heart. It is an issue that I am proud of. I am proud that the labour movement and the NDP played a role in putting it into effect in this country.
However, it is also something about which I have great concerns and some hesitation. In the context of doing research for this particular speech, I was shocked to learn that roughly 95% of all the material safety data sheets reviewed by the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission had been found to be non-compliant with the legislation. It was a random survey, but a scientific random survey.
The fact that 95% were non-compliant should cause us great concern in this era of greater awareness about chemical exposure and the accumulation of otherwise moderate amounts of chemicals in our systems. Chemical a may not in and of itself do us harm and chemical b may not in and of itself do us harm, but when those two chemicals are mixed together within our bodily organs, where they remain for many years, they can form chemical c, which may itself be a carcinogen or do us great grievous harm.
These shortcomings in the data sheets were not minor in terms of misspelling the names of a chemical or something. They were gross violations. They were missing either elements or products absolutely. As for the shortcomings in the data sheet system as we know it, and that very confidence we are trying to achieve that the best interests of workers are being addressed by WHMIS, perhaps we are not quite as excited about it today.
In my mind, one of the most obvious oversights in this country in terms of exposing workers to hazards comes from the toxic substances list, which was updated as of December 27, 2006. I do not think the substances are in any priority of hazards, but perhaps they are. Number six on that list is asbestos.
Asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known. We believe that Canada should hang its head in shame with its treatment of the asbestos industry and the way it fails to protect Canadians to the hazards of exposure to asbestos. Even greater is the way we are exposing third world countries and underdeveloped nations to this hazard. It is absolutely indefensible in many ways.
Not only has Canada not banned asbestos and not only are we allowed to use it in the most alarming ways, but Canada is still the second largest producer and exporter of asbestos in the world. We export 220,000 tonnes into underdeveloped nations, often third world countries, because none of the developed nations will buy it.
Developed nations are banning asbestos in all its forms. We cannot sell asbestos to the European Union, Japan and Australia any more because they will not have the stuff in their countries. Yet Canada keeps pushing it and dumping it into developing nations. It is spending millions of tax dollars subsidizing the industry and trying to prevent other countries from banning asbestos.
When France tried to ban it, Canada sent teams of lawyers to the WTO to file complaints that we would lose our opportunity to sell the product in France and it would be an unfair trade issue if France did the right thing to protect its citizens from this hazardous carcinogen, number six on our list of toxic carcinogens in the country. Fortunately for the people of France, Canada lost its appeal. France did ban asbestos, yet we continue to produce it and sell it.
When Bill S-2 was going through the various stages of debate beginning in the Senate, clearing the Senate and coming to the House of Commons, at that very same time of confluence, a real irony, the Government of Canada was passing new regulations under the same act, the hazardous materials act, which cited places it recommended asbestos may be used. This is the real irony. It was almost as if the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.
On the one hand, we have both Houses of Parliament engaged in writing legislation to protect workers from hazardous materials, such as number six on this list. On the other hand, they are passing new regulations not banning asbestos, number six on the list, but citing places where it is okay to be used. Guess what some of these places are? This was shocking to me, as a journeyman carpenter, as a tradesman.
One of the places asbestos can be used, and it is cited clearly in the new regulations, put into effect in November 11, 2006, is in drywall mud, drywall joint compound that every tradesman slathers on the wall between sheets of drywall. That mud has to be sanded. The sanding process makes the asbestos airborne. The workers in the field, even in commercial unionized jobs, wear no more than a paper mask, which does not stop the asbestos fibre. Because they are so microscopic, they take eight hours to drop from the ceiling to the floor.
This is stupidity. Every tradesman in the country knows we do not put asbestos in drywall mud. Why then does the Government of Canada pass new regulations that say it is okay to put asbestos in drywall mud? I think the Conservatives are trying to make a point. They are trying to say that asbestos is benign, not bad for us, yet on their list of toxic substances, it is number six.
Another place listed in the new regulations, where asbestos could be used, shocked me and motivated the NDP to take action. Recently, my colleague from Vancouver Island North and I had a press conference to illustrate how insane this was. It is okay to put asbestos in children's toys. Now that is smart. What kind of brainwave, bright light came up with that idea to put number six on the toxic carcinogens list of our toxic materials hazardous information system in children's toys?
I am almost speechless. A person would not have to be stupid to put asbestos in children's toys. A person would have to be fundamentally evil to put asbestos in children's toys. I cannot imagine anyone being that ignorant. However, the Conservatives are trying to be provocative. They are trying to stand up against the anti-asbestos lobby, the international global ban on asbestos, which has now succeeded in 40 developed nations. They are trying to say that asbestos is safe as long as people do not breathe it, eat it or be exposed to it.
We fought like crazy to get asbestos out of Crayola crayons. It took us 10 years. Finally, we managed to do that. It took us years to get the asbestos out of plasticine modelling clay. Finally, reason prevailed and we succeeded.
Now the Government of Canada, as of November 11, 2006, says that it is okay to put it in children's toys and learning products. I do not know what that means, school supplies maybe. There is this irrational, bizarre affinity that Canada has to asbestos.
We spend millions of dollars as globe-trotting propagandists for the asbestos industry. We hosted 140 conferences and seminars in 60 different countries, paid for by the federal government and our embassies, to invite other countries to buy more asbestos, to push more asbestos around the world.
I point this out to illustrate what a bizarre contradiction it seems to be for us to be debating today WHMIS, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, for the protection of workers. We are dumping asbestos all over the world, creating a legacy of health problems. It is like exporting a thousand Bhopals every year when this terribly legacy goes on.
Tomorrow I am going to the Drexel College of Medicine in Philadelphia to address a ban asbestos conference. Leading workplace safety and health doctors from around the world will be there. It is their third annual conference. Last year I went to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City to address a similar conference. The world wants to ban asbestos and Canada is playing an active role to block it.
Bill S-2 is talking about the Canadian legislation, WHMIS, the workplace hazardous information list. The international WHMIS list is called the Rotterdam convention.
Only a few months ago Canada sent another team of Department of Justice lawyers to Geneva, where COPS was meeting for the Rotterdam convention, the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention. Once again, they were going to oppose that asbestos be listed on that Rotterdam convention list of hazardous materials. It only meets every two years, so every two years Canada trots out its Department of Justice lawyers who rush to the COPS Rotterdam convention meeting to ensure that asbestos is not on the list of hazardous materials.
I do not know what goes on behind the scenes, but this time the chairman of the committee cited Canada for being rude in not only blocking the motion to list asbestos. The chair had not even finished introducing the subject. He was just about to ask for arguments why asbestos should be on the Rotterdam convention list, when the Canadian delegation interrupted him at the microphones on a point of order and said that it was unnecessary, that it could save time, that it vetoed it because it did not want asbestos on the list. All countries have a right to veto in this consensus exercise.
I wonder if Canadians realize that we are paying these industry propagandists, the Department of Justice lawyers, to act as apologists for the asbestos industry. The asbestos industry is the tobacco industry's evil twin. For 100 hears it has been relying on tainted research, lies and cover-up. This is the most reprehensible form of questionable wacky science to keep asbestos in the marketplace. The Government of Canada is playing an active role in this.
I used to work in the asbestos mines as a young man. I am particularly sensitive to this. They were lying to us about the health effects of asbestos then, just as they are lying to us about it today.
In the context of Bill S-2, in case you are concerned about me wondering off topic, Mr. Speaker, I think it is entirely relevant to speak about one of the greatest hazards, the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known.
A lot of people do not realize that more people die from asbestos than all other industrial causes combined, and we have not reached the peak of the bell curve. The peak production and use of asbestos was in the 1970s and 1980s. The incubation period is 20 to 40 years. We have not seen the peak. It is not just the leading industrial occupation death. It is that all the other causes combined do not add up to the number of asbestos related deaths.
The people of Quebec say that somehow Quebec asbestos is benign. The National Institute of Public Health in Quebec, not the Canadian government Institute of Public Health, just published a study. They are finally facing reality.
Let me put it this way. Quebec men have the fourth highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. Quebec women have the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. The only type of asbestos they mine in Quebec is chrysotile. Chrysotile asbestos causes mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is only caused by asbestos.
Finally, we can put to rest this myth that Quebec asbestos is okay, it is all that other bad asbestos that is hurting people. Quebec asbestos kills, just like the asbestos at the mine I worked at or the mines in Newfoundland and Labrador.
All those mines closed because of natural market forces. We cannot give this stuff away any more because it kills people. We keep supporting the Chrysotile Institute with government funding. We spend millions, not only supporting the industry, not only pushing it into third world countries, but undermining other countries' efforts to protect themselves, such as at the Rotterdam Convention.
When South Korea wanted to put warning labels on Canadian asbestos, Canada intervened and stopped it. It would not let it do so, again, as a trade issue. Canada said that Korea could not put a warning label on bags of asbestos because it could not prove that it was bad for people. It is not even on the Rotterdam convention lists of prior informed consent. Rotterdam does not even say ban asbestos. All Rotterdam does is say that there has to be prior informed consent of the end user. In other words, we have to inform the end users that what we are selling them could kill them. They have to take precautions. They have to use some measures of protection.
I get very frustrated. When I go to Philadelphia tomorrow, I do not know what I will tell the people there because we have made no progress. When I spoke to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, I was hanging my head in shame for what the Government of Canada was doing. Since then, it has passed these new regulations which contemplate putting asbestos in children's toys. We are actually going backward.
I know why. There is a rat in the woodpile, I do not mind saying that. The current Minister of Natural Resources hired as his assistant deputy minister a man named Gary Nash. Guess where Gary Nash came from? He was the founder and first CEO of the Asbestos Institute. He is an apologist for the asbestos industry. He is filling the minister's head with a bunch of pro-asbestos propaganda that completely flies in the face of all the empirical evidence and scientific research which says asbestos kills.
This is the problem we have. Reason and logic are not driving this. Science is not driving this. What is driving this is some fear of offending what is left of this dying industry in the region of Quebec, which has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world for women. This is the kind of thing that is driving this.
I take this opportunity to serve notice that we will not let this issue go. We intend to continue our fight. We have a motion on the books to ban asbestos in all its forms, calling on the government to increase its diagnostics and treatment abilities. As the world's leading exporter and producer of asbestos, surely we have an obligation to provide some of the remedies and some of the solutions as well. As everyone who has been exposed to or is dealing with mesothelioma in the country knows, they have to leave Canada to get treated effective for it. They all wind up in Michigan or California for advanced treatments.