Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in this House and defend this important issue for the province and regions of Quebec. Canada has been promoting the safe use of chrysotile asbestos at home and abroad for more than 30 years. That is why I would once again like to express our government's support for the asbestos-producing regions.
Canada monitors the use of chrysotile and promotes its safe use around the world. Canada does not ban the mining of naturally occurring substances. Natural resources are the driver of Canada's economic success. Banning the mining of any naturally occurring substance would have an adverse effect on the entire natural resources sector. During the last election campaign, our government said it would not ban a natural resource that is traded around the world.
This government will not place a Canadian industry in a position where it would be subject to negative discrimination in a market where the sale is permitted. Canada's production for export is worth almost $100 million, or approximately 10% of global production. Our government is aware of the importance of this industry in Quebec. I would also like to mention our government's efforts to diversify regional economies. For example, there is the strong support for the SADCs in Les Sources and Thetford Mines, which have worked tirelessly on the economic diversification of these regions.
Efforts in this regard include, among others, the gas pipeline between Vallée-Jonction and Thetford Mines, an important project that was recently announced in the presence of the Prime Minister. With this investment of more than $18 million, the government is making possible the construction of a $24 million pipeline that will provide access to a reliable and less costly source of energy, natural gas. The project will contribute to the economic development and diversification of the region and surrounding communities. This contribution by the Government of Canada is an exceptional measure for the economic diversification of this region.
I am also thinking of the $474,000 in funding provided to set up and run two research centres in Thetford Mines, which are the pride of the business community in the region. The Centre de technologie minérale et de plasturgie received $170,000 in 2007 and provides professional expertise in plastics and mineral technology.
Having said that, in Canada, exposure to chrysotile is strictly controlled by maximum exposure limits in workplaces issued by federal, provincial and territorial government and by restrictions on certain categories of consumer products and products in the workplace under Canada's Hazardous Products Act.
Importing countries are solely responsible for their decision to import products, such as chrysotile, and implementing appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of their workers. We implemented measures to protect the health and safety of those working in the mining sector, especially workers who handle chrysotile, a long time ago.
Our knowledge in this area is constantly growing, just like our knowledge of many other products that can pose a risk or danger when we are not very familiar with their attributes. For many decades now, we have been making a distinction between amphibole and chrysotile, and we have implemented regulatory mechanisms to protect workers in this sector.
The illnesses that we are currently seeing in countries that have made heavy use of asbestos fibres are related to exposure to high doses in the past and inappropriate practices that were prohibited and abandoned in Canada in the late 1970s. Completely banning chrysotile is not necessary or appropriate because doing so will not protect workers or the public from past uses that have been prohibited for many years now. Since 1988, all federal, provincial and territorial regulations on health and safety in Canada that pertain directly or indirectly to working with or around asbestos are consistent with the International Labour Organization's 1986 Convention concerning Safety in the Use of Asbestos, Convention 162.
Canada was one of the leaders in the development of this convention.
Importing nations alone are responsible for their decisions related to the import of products, including chrysotile, and for the implementation of measures to ensure the health and safety of their workers. However, we strongly encourage importing nations to put mechanisms in place to ensure the controlled use of chrysotile and products containing chrysotile.
Once again, since this point bears repeating, in Canada, exposure to chrysotile is strictly controlled by workplace exposure limits.
These limits are set by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Exposure is also controlled by banning certain categories of consumer products and products in the workplace under Canada's Hazardous Products Act.
The purpose of these regulations is to prevent consumers from being exposed to products containing asbestos, the fibres of which can detach, be inhaled and thus be harmful to health.
It is important to note that the development of natural resources is an area of provincial jurisdiction. Prohibiting the mining of a natural resource would infringe on provincial jurisdiction.
Our government has always had great respect for provincial jurisdictions. With that in mind, I find this motion troubling, since it was moved by the NDP, a party that claims to defend Quebec's interests. This is clearly not the case, especially when we consider the fact that the Government of Quebec supports the chrysotile industry.
If my colleagues do not believe me, they should listen to the following quotes from Premier Jean Charest:
“The government has not changed its mind. It will continue to defend the safe use of chrysotile, a policy that should be defended.” That quote was from April 12, 2010.
“Quebec promotes the safe use of chrysotile. That is what we do at home and that is what is encouraged throughout the world.” That was Premier Jean Charest on January 29, 2010.
I have to wonder why the NDP is seeking to punish Quebec instead of rising to defend the people who voted for it What is worse is that the NDP must be aware that this topic is very important in Quebec.
If that is not aware, that means it is ignoring its own members from Quebec. For example, in 2006, at the NDP's convention in Quebec City, the NDP's Quebec section proposed that the NDP vote in favour of the safe production and responsible use of chrysotile. This was resolution 4J3. In the same resolution, the Quebec section of the NDP even recognized that chrysotile could be used safely.
Will the Quebeckers on the other side of the House tell us whether they support the people from the regions or the elites who run the NDP's political machine? I wonder, because they obviously cannot support both sides at the same time.
In 1984, the Government of Canada got together with the Government of Quebec, the industry and labour unions associated with the Canadian chrysotile industry to create the Chrysotile Institute. The governments recognized the need to promote the controlled use of chrysotile through health and safety training programs, technology transfers and information sessions. These initiatives generated a lot of interest, both from producers and from countries that use chrysotile.
The Chrysotile Institute has carried out research and provided information and training workshops on dust control for unions and workers since its creation. It has also provided training programs for medical monitoring and contributed to the transfer of knowledge and technology to more than 60 countries.
The institute has fostered the development and implementation of regulations and best practices throughout the world. These initiatives have helped developing countries adopt workplace health and safety practices in accordance with the requirements of the International Labour Organization's Convention No.162 concerning safety in the use of asbestos.
In February 2008, the Government of Canada confirmed $250,000 in funding over three years for the Chrysotile Institute to carry out its mandate. The agreement between the Government of Canada and the institute is still in effect, under the same terms, and will end on March 31, 2012.
Through our partnership with the Chrysotile Institute we inform the public of the technical means, control measures, standards and best practices for the production and handling of chrysotile fibre.
Over the years, this same partnership has facilitated the global transfer of know-how and technology, which strengthens our economy.
In this regard, I would like to reiterate that we have always emphasized economic growth and job creation for Canadians. I know that we can be proud of the 656,000 new jobs that have been created since the depths of the recession in July 2009, the best job growth in the G7. We can also celebrate the fact that our unemployment rate is steadily decreasing and has now reached 7.1%, the lowest rate since December 2008.
Through our world-class economic action plan, which the NDP opposed, we have established partnerships with the provinces to provide training and financial assistance to affected workers in order to keep them in the job market.
With respect to work-sharing agreements with employers, labour market agreements and labour market development agreements with the provinces, and with excellent funding by our economic action plan, our government provided close to $3.5 billion to Quebec in skills and employment funding. This is a whole series of economic measures that the NDP has opposed.
The work-sharing program was developed to help companies that were experiencing temporary slowdowns to avoid layoffs while they got back on their feet by providing income support in the form of employment insurance to workers whose number of hours of work per week had been reduced. Employers are able to keep their employees and avoid the costs of having to rehire and retrain, while employees are able to continue working and keep their skills up to date. Workers who are laid off at the end of the work-sharing agreement are entitled to regular employment insurance benefits based on their rate of pay prior to their participation in the work-sharing program.
As of October 16, 2011, there were 5,774 workers participating in 145 active work-sharing agreements in Quebec. Sometimes, however, individuals have to transition to a new career in order to continue working.
Although the federal government recognizes that the provinces and territories are responsible for designing and carrying out labour market programs, it is providing a great deal of support to Quebec to help Quebeckers get the training they need to find employment. Since 2008-09, the government has provided Quebec with over $3.5 billion in funding related to skills and employment. This includes close to $360 million under the economic action plan to help Quebeckers affected by the economic slowdown to upgrade their skills and retrain.
This year alone, Quebec will receive over $750 million in funding for its skills and employment priorities. These significant investments were recognized by Quebec when the province announced its Pacte pour l'emploi.
The 2007 budget established the foundation for this new labour market architecture, which provides a labour market program for those who need it, while encouraging employers to provide more training. This new architecture also clarifies roles and responsibilities by recognizing that the provinces and territories are in the best position to develop and implement labour market training.
This was done through bilateral agreements called labour market agreements, which are supported by an annual federal investment worth $500 million paid to the provinces and territories on an equal per capita basis.
These agreements were created in order to fill the gap in labour market programs concerning those who do not currently qualify for training under the employment insurance program and in order to encourage employers to provide more training for their employees.
The provinces and territories, including Quebec, have the primary responsibility for developing and implementing programs, thereby offering greater flexibility in understanding and meeting the particular needs of local and regional labour markets.
As part of our economic action plan, which the NDP did not support, thereby jeopardizing our economic recovery, the federal government invested more money in labour market development agreements through the strategic training and transition fund. This fund was created in order to target the specific needs of individuals affected by the economic downturn, regardless of whether they qualified for employment insurance. The fund allowed the provinces and territories greater flexibility in order to target local and regional labour market realities. This helped to ensure that all Canadians would have access to the training and assistance they need to get back to work.
The strategic training and transition fund provided $55 million over two years and was administered through existing labour market development agreements in Quebec. Labour market development agreements exist above and beyond labour market development agreements—