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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—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis ConservativeMinister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, it is refreshing to hear an NDP member speak about the virtues of the market.

As for the limits that he just mentioned, it is unfortunate that we are having this kind of debate. I do not have dust on my coat and I invite him to see for himself all the things that are being done on the ground.

The members for Compton—Stanstead, Sherbrooke and Drummond are not here. Will they intervene in the debate? I know the member for Richmond—Arthabaska will, but will the others?

Also, we are now comparing the safe use of asbestos chrysotile with smoking, which is total nonsense. As well, use of chrysotile asbestos is growing in the world; if it is banned, what would he see being used as a substitute, perhaps with higher bio-persistence? How can he assure people about substitutes when we do not have any idea about them? It is kind of irresponsible, and I would like to hear his views on that.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have some experience with this argument because I introduced a private member's bill in a previous Parliament to ban a certain type of chemical in plastics, a softener that was an endocrine disrupter and a known carcinogen. As it moved through Parliament, the government raised the same issues, as did industry. They said there were no good replacements. Government members said there were no known replacements and that any replacement they could find would be very expensive. This is exactly how industry, which is being targeted for exposing people to risky products, always responds. It is the same argument in reverse that the tobacco industry used for years. It asked for proof that smoking gave people cancer, said it could not be done, and said it would provide experts who would say otherwise.

Of course, industry is going to defend itself to the nth degree, because that is what it does, but the role of government is to defend the rights and interests of Canadians and, as a further extension, to stop promoting the use of something that we know kills people and at the very least to slap a label on it that says it is dangerous. To suggest asbestos is not dangerous while neither the minister himself nor any of his colleagues will put it in their homes is what we call hypocrisy. We must do better than this, and we can.

That is true.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, we keep hearing from the other side of the House that the NDP does not know what it is talking about, but I have here a list of doctors. It includes Dr. Turcotte from Quebec, Dr. Auger from Quebec, Dr. Last from Ottawa, Dr. Gosselin from Quebec, Dr. Bustinza from Quebec, Dr. Byers, Dr. Brophy. The list goes on and on. Can the hon. member tell me if it is only the Conservatives and members of the Flat Earth Society who do not believe that asbestos is dangerous?

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is the danger when an ideology is overrun: there is no capacity for a government to listen to reason and fact. It is not just the doctors listed by my hon. colleague, but the associations that they belong to and represent, which are many more health experts in the field from within Quebec and from without, across the rest of the country and around the world.

One cannot get a doctor who deals with cancer every day to suggest that exposure to asbestos is a good idea for anybody. Such a doctor cannot be found, other than the shills who were brought out during the tobacco industry debates. Those folks should have their licences ripped away, as far as I am concerned.

Part of the Hippocratic oath is “do no harm”. Government ministers should take a similar oath when they enter into cabinet. They should do no harm and stop propping up the industry, stop giving the industry taxpayers' money and allow the labelling and ban of asbestos to finally come to full and outright completion, because it is wrong, and the government must understand that it is wrong.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been waiting patiently for the opposition to talk about the fourth item in its motion, which says it wants the government to:

introduce measures dedicated to affected older workers, through the employment insurance program, to assure them of a decent standard of living until retirement

I notice it did not say “after” retirement.

We are talking about asbestos. I can hardly wait to hear the member's comments on this item in the motion.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it shows a profound lack of knowledge of the employment insurance program because it does not go beyond retirement, but I take my colleague's point.

The $50 million we have already socked into this industry might be better spent just paying people not to go to work. I would be much better for their health and the health of the planet if we just simply took the money we have dumped into the lobbyists' pockets and into the pockets of lawyers who fight this thing at Rotterdam and every convention.

The government has finally been exposed because even India, Ukraine and other countries that have been doing their government's dirty work at the Rotterdam Convention and preventing listing have said, “You're right, world, we should list this”, and only the Conservative government is ruining Canada's reputation by being the one opposing any listing and common sense.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for so eloquently outlining some of the concerns that the NDP has with this continued mining and exporting of asbestos.

I also want to acknowledge the member for Nickel Belt for introducing the motion and the member for Winnipeg Centre, who has long been a tireless advocate in the House, for speaking up about the dangers of asbestos mining and asbestos export.

I will not read the entire motion, but just a reminder, we are calling for a ban on the use and export of all forms of asbestos and a just transition plan for asbestos-producing workers and communities, a program for older workers that the member opposite mentioned, and an investment fund to encourage diversification.

Many people have spoken in the House about the dangers of mining and handling asbestos. We are talking about an industry in the province of Quebec that is focused on the export world. Although asbestos is banned in more than 50 countries, including most developed nations, Canada continues to be a leading producer and exporter of asbestos.

We export nearly 200,000 tonnes per year into poor and developing nations, making us the fourth-largest exporter in the world and the lead promoter of asbestos in developing countries. Our primary customers for Canadian asbestos are Indonesia, India and the Philippines, where workers lack the most basic protections and safe working conditions.

In this debate Conservatives have criticized New Democrats because they claim that we are hard on resource industries. One would wonder where the responsibility lies. What is that numerical number? What is that dollar figure that says that we will not only jeopardize our workers in the industry, but we will also jeopardize the workers in other countries? Where is that number that says that is a responsible thing for Canadians to do?

I want to turn for a moment to an organization called Ban Asbestos Network of India, BANI. The people of that organization put out an article in March 2009. It says, “Ban on Indigenous Chrysotile Asbestos Mining Lifted”. This was talking about India. The article highlighted a number of concerns that it had been lobbying hard on with its government.

The organization indicated that it had written letters, drawing urgent attention toward a serious and unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis with regard to an unnoticed asbestos epidemic in the country. Even if one asbestos fibre reaches the right place, it causes irreversible damage, leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma. Thirty deaths are caused per day from asbestos-related diseases, as per estimates based on U.S. and European studies.

It drew attention to the order of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission that ruled that exposing Indians to asbestos was a human rights violation. It goes on to say that it had requested the registrar of asbestos handlers and victims to develop a compensation fund and award people who had been exposed and suffered illness or subsequently death in their own country. It says:

How handicapped has our environmental regulatory bodies is best illustrated in the manner in which asbestos is allowed to be used in the country despite the fact that some 50 countries have banned it and even International Labour Organisation and World Health Organisation call for its elimination. Even World Trade Organisation upheld the right of the Europe to ban this incurable cancer cauding killer fiber. In case of asbestos, a carcinogen...

Later on the article says:

When the world is preparing and planning to get rid of all forms of asbestos, it makes us look stupid in India to be still importing it and lifting the ban on chrysotile asbestos mining, we should devote our scarce resources to prevent the impending disaster by phasing it out as soon as we can. Safer substitute materials for white asbestos are available, they should be considered for us.

This is a cry from India, where hundreds of people have died because they are exposed to asbestos. As this article points out, even one fibre can have an adverse effect.

The World Health Organization says to stop the use of asbestos, and this is from an article, “More Pressures on India to Ban Harmful Asbestos Use”. It says:

The WHO estimates that about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace, and that over 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer...and asbestosis due to occupational exposure. In collaboration with other industries, the WHO works with countries to eliminate asbestos-related diseases. It recognizes that the most efficient means of doing so is to stop the use of all types of asbestos.

The same article says that the Supreme Court of India has already accepted the adverse affects of asbestos. In acknowledging the dangers of asbestos, the Supreme Court stated that “there can be no doubt that uncontrolled utilization of asbestos, in any form, can be hazardous to human health”.

Referring to an earlier 1995 judgment that outlined strict guidelines for asbestos use, the court stated that it had already “accepted the well-established adverse effects of asbestos including the risk beyond the work place”, yet we are still actively seeking markets in India despite the fact that there is significant opposition in India to this Canadian industry.

Although this is a different kind of asbestos, I want to point out that we have historically said that asbestos is fine, only to discover later on that it had such severe effects that whole families were almost wiped out. Six members of one family are now dead.

At one time the now vilified Zonolite insulation was the darling of the Canadian government. It even provided grants through the Canadian home insulation program to encourage Canadian homeowners to install Zonolite in their homes. The grants were offered from 1977 through 1984 and it is estimated that 200,000 to 300,000 Canadians took the government up on its offer and installed the now lethal substance. Does this sound familiar? The member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley talked about the fact that we used to support and promote smoking. We used to promote and support Zonolite and 200,000 to 300,000 Canadians ended up with it in their homes.

First nations families are living in homes that are asbestos contaminated and they have even less resources to deal with some of these problems. I am going to tell the House about a woman who lost six members of her family. The article states:

For the ThunderSky family, however, the problems started long before that.

That's because the Canadian government installed asbestos-tainted insulation in hundreds of first nations homes in the 1950s. That's where ThunderSky believes she and her doomed family were first exposed to the deadly asbestos that has cost the Canadian woman six members of her immediate family.

It goes on to say:

Mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease can lie dormant for decades before it emerges. To that end it is not uncommon for a worker in an asbestos-laden environment, or even a resident in a home outfitted with asbestos insulation, to go for 30 to 50 years before symptoms finally emerge.

Asbestos is a ticking time bomb. Workers who continue to work in the field are continually exposed to it. Some members pointed out earlier that not only were miners exposed to asbestos, but their families were as well. We have heard stories about how wives and children, because largely the miners are men, have died of asbestos-related cancers even though they never worked one day in the mines.

If we are truly concerned about the health and vitality of workers in our country, if we are truly concerned about the health and well-being of their communities, then we will look for ways to support a just transition out of those industries.

A member opposite talked about hearing what we would do for older workers. There used to be a good government program for older workers called POWA, or program for older worker adjustment. When an industry was in transition, the program would provide pension bridging for workers of a certain age so they could retire in dignity.

I have a long list of organizations that have talked about the dangers of mining asbestos and using it, but unfortunately, I do not have enough time to read them. However, many organizations in countries throughout the world say that asbestos is not safe in any form.

I urge all members of the House to support the motion put forward by the member for Nickel Belt.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis ConservativeMinister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that the NDP decided to condemn that fibre. The NDP does not make any difference in the time it uses and the fibre itself. The NDP speaks about Zonolite and amphibole. Amphibole has been banned. The NDP speaks about uses from decades ago. When we speak about the West Block, this was used decades ago. Now we are talking about safe use of the chrysotile fibre. That means it has to be encapsulated. This is a safe-use policy that has been developed through the years.

Starting from that assumption, has the member consulted with the member for Compton—Stanstead, who was born and grew up in the asbestos area in Windsor, Quebec, as to why the member is not intervening here?

Did the member consult her colleague from Compton—Stanstead, who was born in Asbestos and grew up in Windsor, Quebec, in the Asbestos region? Does that member agree that his party does not believe that safe use is possible? As for toxicity, we know that it is toxic. It is a question of risk management. Have they consulted anyone about this?

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are really two issues here. One is the mining of asbestos and the other is the export into countries where there are not safe practices to protect workers.

As far as the minister is concerned, it is fine to mine a product here, which he claims is mined safely, and there are many dissenting opinions on that. Even if we could buy that argument, he is saying that it is absolutely okay to export it to developing countries where those workers have no protection.

It would seem to me that Canada needs to take some responsibility for the end use of its product. At a minimum, the government could have signed on to the Rotterdam Convention, but chose to block it in every way possible.

I simply do not buy the argument that we cannot disassociate the mining of this product from the end use. A responsible government would take a look at what the rest of the world is saying about this and sign on to the Rotterdam Convention.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her speech. It was very informative.

The use of asbestos in Canada is tightly regulated by Canada's Hazardous Products Act. Yet the member for Mégantic—L'Érable said that chrysotile fibres can be used safely. I am trying to understand this better. I would also like to know what my colleague thinks of the fact that Canada has not signed the Rotterdam Convention and how much this affects the use of chrysotile fibres in the developing world. It can be very unsafe and dangerous for the people of other countries.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a very good point around that. Many of us come from resourced-based communities. Of course we want industry in our communities. However, we also want the workers in those industries to be safe. We want them to be safe and we want to take some responsibility for where those end products line up and where workers do not have the kind of hazard management practices and safe practices in the workplace. The government's failure to support the Rotterdam Convention is so it does not have to take any responsibility for that end use, so it can continue to claim the product is safe, so it can continue not to have the product labelled for the kind of hazard it actually is, putting those workers at risk in other countries.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Richmond—Arthabaska.

As the House knows, the policy of the Canadian government with regard to mining and use of chrysotile is very clear. For more than 30 years Canada has promoted the safe and controlled use of chrysotile both nationally and internationally. It has been the position of successive federal governments, both Conservative and Liberal. It has been the position of successive Quebec governments, both Liberal and Parti Québécois. It continues to be the same position of the Charest government as it was in 2004 when the NDP member for Outremont voted against the inclusion of chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention.

That is an important point. The development of natural resources is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Banning the mining of any natural resource is an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction, and as such I will oppose this motion.

I would like to focus on the part of the motion that deals with worker retraining and older workers.

As the House knows, our government has taken significant steps to ensure older workers are put in the best position to succeed should they ever lose their job. It is interesting that the NDP has included a clause on worker retraining in this motion because, whenever our government has put forward measures for older workers, each and every time the NDP has voted against them, so the NDP probably cannot be trusted this time either.

Canadians know that when our government puts forward a plan, we deliver. Canadians know our focus has remained on economic growth and getting Canadians jobs. Key actions taken by this government specifically through our economic action plan have played a key role in steering the economic recovery from the deepest global recession since the 1930s. As a result of our quick and decisive measures, almost 656,000 jobs have been created since the depths of the recession in July 2009, the strongest employment growth in the G7.

We also continue to demonstrate strong economic stewardship as we wind down many of the temporary stimulus measures and take additional steps to secure the recovery.

The next phase of Canada's economic action plan announced earlier this year is to ensure Canadians remain on the right track for economic growth and jobs. Part of these measures is an awareness that we need to help workers who are in transition. This is where we are working closely with provinces and territories to equip Canadians with skills so they can take advantage of opportunities and achieve self-sufficiency. We are also providing targeted supports to those facing particular barriers to entering the workforce.

This government has acted to invest in Canadians. Each year we provide almost $2.5 billion to provinces and territories so they can deliver critical services and supports to Canadian workers needing help transitioning to new jobs.

Let us first focus on some of the help we provide under the employment insurance plan. In addition to the billions of dollars we provide in necessary income support to unemployed Canadians, we also provide provinces and territories close to $2 billion per year through labour market development agreements so they can provide training and employment programs for individuals eligible for EI. Through the labour market development agreements with the provinces and territories, about 600,000 workers across the country are getting training and employment support each and every year. Of these, over 100,000 are Canadians over the age of 50.

We are focusing on retraining workers so they have the skills to get good jobs in the growth industries of the 21st century. These include industries such as information and communications technology, biotechnology, energy, natural resources and environmental technology. We also provide $500 million each year to further support provincial and territorial initiatives that help meet the training needs of Canadians who are not eligible for employment insurance. This funding is provided through our labour market agreements, LMAs. LMA-funded training is particularly important for under-represented groups in the labour market including but not limited to older workers, people with disabilities, and employed individuals who have low levels of literacy and essential skills.

In fact, in the first two years of these agreements close to 550,000 individuals were served. No Canadian must be left behind is the watch phrase of our government. We are committed to being inclusive in building a prosperous Canada, and the funding that we provide to provinces and territories demonstrates this well.

I would also like to mention a third program through which our government is helping workers in transition, the targeted initiative for older workers. We know older workers are key to helping us meet the demographic challenge. Their experience and knowledge are valuable in the workplace. However, unemployed older workers face unique challenges in reintegrating into the workforce. That is why we introduced the targeted initiative for older workers, TIOW.

TIOW is a federal, provincial, territorial cost-shared initiative that provides employment supports to unemployed older workers living in vulnerable communities affected by high unemployment and/or significant downsizing or closures. Through TIOW projects, older workers are offered a combination of activities, including job search, skills training, and work experience. Let me emphasize that our support for older workers has complemented the labour market agreements with the provinces. We are well aware of the success of TIOW—

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I am loath to interrupt my friend midstream, but I have been trying to understand what this has to do with a ban on the export of chrysotile asbestos. He has talked about older worker transition programs. He has spoken about the government's now-ended economic action plan.

I have been listening intently for a reference back to asbestos. If the member is suggesting in his comments that he is talking about transition programs for asbestos workers, I am all ears, but I have not heard anything about the topic at hand.

The previous Speaker has ruled on this a number of times and encouraged government members to get off the PMO notes and back onto the topic. I would encourage my friend to do the same.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Members know it is important to keep the topic of the presentation relevant to the subject at hand. Members are given a broad berth in order to make their points and bring that relevance in terms of their speech, as the case may be. I am sure that the hon. member was coming to how this would connect with the topic of the day.

On the same point, the Minister of Industry.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I invite my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley to reread the motion. The motion also proposes measures for economic diversification. I do not want to hear anyone trying to divide the motion in order to lead the debate in another direction. My colleague is free to debate the entire motion, and I say this with all due respect.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

That essentially reinforces the point that was made earlier. Again, members are given the ability to make these points and may use considerable explanation to come to how this would be relevant to the motion in front of us.

The hon. member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I would refer that member to paragraph (c) of his motion. Maybe that would clarify the issue.

Let me emphasize that our support for older workers has really complemented the labour market agreements with the provinces. We are well aware of the success of TIOW and so are others. Just ask the more than 16,000 older workers who have participated so far. TIOW is a striking example of co-operation within the federal system. Our commitment to older workers stands firm.

Canada's economic action plan, introduced in 2009, included time limited targeted investments to address immediate needs during the economic global recession. These investments have made a strong and positive impact, and have helped propel us through the recovery.

Maintaining attachment to the workforce was our primary objective, and due to the success in helping Canadians, funding has increased for LMDAs, LMAs and TIOW. We transferred an additional $1 billion over two years to expand support for skills upgrading for EI eligible workers through the labour market development agreements.

We provided $500 million for a two-year period under the strategic training and transition fund with the goal of helping workers retrain to stay employed or transition to new jobs. This funding was delivered through the labour market agreements. We also provided an additional $60 million over three years.

We work with the provinces to ensure programs are in place to help local economies succeed. When they do not succeed, we help workers transition to new employment.

What we do not do is tell them whether or not to mine their natural resources. That is their choice. Instead, we work from the health, safety and environmental perspective to ensure that best practices are employed. As it relates to chrysotile, that formula has been in place for 30 years.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad that my colleague brought that speech around to a discussion on natural resources.

He said that the federal government does not interfere with the choice of natural resources, but quite clearly for the last five years the Conservative government has provided funding to an agency that actually promotes the sale of this product in other countries. To somehow suggest that the federal government is removed from the process of selling chrysotile asbestos in other countries is wrong. The federal government is a full-size partner in the sale of these resources to countries where standards are not in any way equal to Canadian working standards.

How can my colleague say that the federal government is separated from the provinces on the disposition of chrysotile asbestos?

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the member well knows, the mining of natural resources is under provincial jurisdiction. He knows that as well as I do. He is from one of territories and should be well aware of that. I am sure there is a lot of mining there. I do not think his territory would want the federal government interfering in which mines go forward and which do not.

The NDP has a paragraph in its motion regarding training for workers. Is it not a bit of a hypocrisy when any time we put money into training that party always votes against it? I find that to be quite interesting.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis ConservativeMinister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the remarks by my colleague from Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, and I congratulate him. I believe he has taken a position that is in keeping with that of our government, namely that we do not interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction when it comes to the extraction, processing and use of natural resources.

The same goes for agriculture, for example, where we support supply management. Frankly, the NDP does not have a position on that.

Today's debate once again demonstrates that the NDP has taken a position that is counter to the interests of our regions by advocating the elitist policies of its leadership. This position is completely out of sync with the prevailing view in Canada, a country rich in natural resources.

I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about that.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for the question.

I would love to elaborate on how the NDP obviously is not fit to govern this great country.

Here we have a province that has some jurisdiction over a particular sector of the economy and those folks would have us go in, do whatever, and pick the winners and the losers. That is not the way a federal government should operate.

A federal government is there to support the provinces in their direction. One province may choose to go one way and another province may choose to go another way. We are there to support that. We are not supposed to get involved in provincial jurisdictions.

I agree with the minister that the NDP official opposition certainly is not ready for prime time.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, a study conducted in 2009 concluded that the concentration of asbestos in outdoor air in Thetford Mines was 215 times higher than levels in samples taken throughout the United States and that the number of deaths caused by lung cancer and mesothelioma is 17 times higher there than in the general population.

The motion moved today proposes the creation of an investment fund for economic diversification in regions that produce asbestos, in order to help mine workers find other employment and improve their health.

I would like to ask my distinguished colleague opposite if he would like to help miners by supporting our motion, which would reduce health risks for people working in asbestos mines and result in regional economic diversification.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Conservative Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question. I must say, as I said earlier, this is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. That question must be put to the province. If the provincial government thinks the mines are dangerous, it simply has to stop production. It is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member who just spoke for sharing his time with me today. Of course, this matter is very important to me, considering that the town of Asbestos and the Jeffrey mine are right in the middle of my riding. I am sure you have heard a whole litany of arguments today from the NDP, the party that moved this opposition motion. Of course, they talked about the issue of chrysotile in a very demagogic, negative way.

Ever since I was elected—I may be exaggerating to say every day, but perhaps nearly every week—the member for Winnipeg Centre has been rising in this House to present petitions and make comments. Clearly, he has parliamentary immunity when he talks about serial killers and criminals. I do not want to repeat those kinds of comments here today. In the past I have had a habit of becoming angry when talking about this issue. Today I have decided to remain positive. This may come as a surprise to some of my colleagues, although I am really a very friendly, cheerful guy.

Today I would like to speak about this issue in a positive light simply because, in Quebec, there is a very interesting underground mining project. As hon. members are aware, Asbestos has suffered many negative effects as a result of the difficulties experienced by the mine. Then, Magnola Metallurgy opened a plant to produce magnesium, and invested $1 billion in the area of Asbestos. This project lasted about a year and a half and created excellent jobs that benefited the community and offered high salaries. These jobs in the area were lost.

Clearly, the region of Asbestos is pursuing economic diversification. It is important to say it. Nevertheless, this underground mining project is very important in terms of job creation—between 400 and 500 jobs. That is a significant number. The Asbestos mine currently employs between 350 and 400 people. All in all, the mines in Asbestos and Thetford Mines employ about 1,000 people. There are also approximately 1,500 indirect jobs. We are talking about a payroll and benefits of approximately $35 million. For the town of Asbestos, a community that has had so much difficulty, this is a pivotal moment.

I know that an NDP member made a speech today and gave the history. As the hon. members know, we are talking about strikes and all the battles that the workers fought for their health, particularly in Asbestos, and also in Thetford Mines. Today, this has been a recurrent theme among many of the members of the NDP, the party that presented this motion. They have spoken of people's health, not just the miners but also the other people who live in the area. They told all sorts of what practically seem like legends about people's health.

Did the hon. members know that Asbestos has the third-oldest population in Quebec? When I am out in public, with my riding association or anywhere, I talk to people—people I know, friends who live in Asbestos and who are seniors. Some of them worked in the mine for 35 or 40 years. Not everyone is going to die because they worked in the mine.

However, in the beginning, in the 1950s and the 1960s, it truly was hazardous. It is not for nothing that the workers and the unions fought for their health and for their rights. No one is saying it is not hazardous, but they were extracting amphiboles. A geologist not far from here, at the University of Ottawa, has already clearly demonstrated, when responding to doctors, that there are different types of asbestos. We cannot lump them all in the same category. There are at least half a dozen different types of asbestos.

Amphiboles used to be used for insulating homes. We often talk about the West Block here and say that MPs do not want to live in asbestos. It was used back then because it makes an excellent firewall. Obviously when it gets into the air, then it becomes a problem. If it gets into a person's lungs, it can be quite harmful and the effects can last for a very long time. The person can eventually develop cancer.

Today we are no longer mining amphibole asbestos because it is banned. We use chrysotile, chrysotile cement, in most cases. We also often hear that in the United States or in the Americas, they are no longer allowed to use asbestos and chrysotile. They only export asbestos. In the United States alone, they use chrysotile in a number of areas, including in the automobile industry for brakes and automatic transmissions. Today, they also make clothing, pipeline wrappings, roofing and slate tiles with chrysotile.

This is still the case everywhere, and it is one of the safest and most durable products. Why is it used a great deal in developing countries? Because they are developing, and so they are often in the process of building water systems. There is a very big difference, in terms of quality and health for the people of those countries, between a metal pipe that will rust and cause health problems for the people receiving that water and a pipe made of chrysotile cement.

We must clarify the issue. There is also a great deal of misinformation about this. André Lalonde, a mineralogist and dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Ottawa, clearly explained the difference between the products in an article that appeared in Le Soleil in 2010. This is a fairly recent article in which Mr. Lalonde said:

Historically, doctors have misunderstood asbestos. We cannot blame them, since they did not study mineralogy...[however,] all of these minerals have different chemical formulae and crystalline structures. The proof that [the misunderstanding] is still present today is that people still talk about asbestos instead of talking about amphibole or chrysotile.

You need to be a geologist to understand him. I am not a geologist. However, as the town of Asbestos and the Musée minéralogique d'Asbestos are in the centre of my riding, I know a little bit more about all the types of asbestos in the world. I believe that there is also a museum of mineralogy in Thetford Mines, but that is in the riding of the Minister of Industry.

Every day, everyone, all the MPs who spoke today, will breathe asbestos in this building or outdoors. This natural resource is found in the ground everywhere. I went to a small island in my riding, which is far away from Asbestos, and there was asbestos in the ground. The people I went to visit, who are not very young and have a small cottage on this island, are the picture of health today. Asbestos is found in its natural state almost everywhere.

You have to visit a mine, whether it be Asbestos in my riding or Thetford Mines in the Minister of Industry's riding, to understand how well the workers have done their job. Obviously, they do not want to die. Members of the family of workers at the Jeffrey mine in my riding had health problems at the time, because of what was happening. Today, occupational safety standards are extremely high. I went to visit the mine and I would have no problem staying there for a few hours and breathing the air that comes from the mine and from the place where the workers work. As well, the air is checked, but not every day. There is a laboratory, a place in the mine where people are paid solely to monitor the ambient air and make sure that the rate is safe for the workers.

There are several new NDP members. I want to remind them that not so long ago, all parties in the House were in favour of the safe use of chrysotile; everyone understood it. In 2005, I tabled a report from the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade in the House. The committee was unanimous; all parties agreed that Canada should continue to promote the safe use of chrysotile. That was not so many moons ago. It was in 2005, when I was elected.

The government was asked to adopt a national chrysotile policy based on the research, promotion and safe use of this product. The NDP voted for that. Second, the Government of Canada was asked to conduct a comparative study on the “hazardous nature” of replacement fibres and chrysotile. The NDP voted for that. And third, the Government of Canada was asked to organize a public education campaign on chrysotile and, in so doing, promote the safe use of this product domestically and internationally, and encourage its own use of chrysotile. The NDP and all parties in the House voted for that.

Obviously, therefore, I am going to vote against banning asbestos.

Opposition Motion—AsbestosBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Mégantic—L'Érable Québec

Conservative

Christian Paradis ConservativeMinister of Industry and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring two points to my colleague's attention to hear what he has to say about them.

First, during question period today, we heard the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup ask a question indicating that, with its safe use policy, the government is protecting corporations at the expense of workers and users.

Second, we heard the member for Newton—North Delta explain that in the 1970s, she lived near Thetford Mines and would find asbestos fibres in the snow when she was having snowball fights. God knows that there is a lot of snow in Thetford, but she found that appalling. So that is the debate we are having here today, which I personally find appalling. I would like to hear what the member for Richmond—Arthabaska has to say about this.