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House of Commons Hansard #188 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was asbestos.

Topics

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Keep going. More, more.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

More on the carbon tax.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

He already said it four times.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

I hear comments from both sides, even my friends in the corner, who agree that a $21 billion carbon tax is definitely not the way to go.

Canada has always maintained, as I was saying, an open immigration system and, as such, there is a strong need for close regulation on who is entering the country and ensuring that people are in fact here legally.

The time for action is now. The global economy remains fragile, as we can see with the economy in Europe slipping back into recession and the United States, our closest economic partner, approaching a financial cliff.

Canada has been a leader when it comes to economic prosperity and we have emerged from this recent recession atop all G7 countries. However, the global economy is just that, very global, meaning that Canada is included and affected by all issues facing the global economy. We cannot simply take the wait-and-see approach to the economy that the opposition would have us do.

That is why I am pleased to support Bill C-45, a bill that would implement and enforce various measures of our economic action plan. I urge all hon. members in the House to support economic growth in Canada and Bill C-45.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his speech.

Near the end, he said we are part of the global economy and that things are looking grim in Europe and the United States. The budget before us today would slow the economy down, however. It would slow things down because it cuts jobs and spending.

Given the new information on the situation in Europe and the United States that was not available to us in the spring, does he still believe this budget to be adequate?

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, respectfully, they just do not get it. The member talks about the countries that are facing problems bigger than those Canada is facing, yet he wants us to take the same approach.

The New Democrats have never seen a tax they did not like; they have never seen one they did not want to increase; and they have never seen one they did not want to add. In fact, just at our transport committee in the last week or two, the member for Trinity—Spadina proposed another 1% tax on everything to help out infrastructure. It just goes to show the New Democrats are thinking “tax, tax, tax”. We are the opposite; we lower taxes.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to hear that the member is somewhat sensitive to tax increases for Canadians. One of the most significant increases that Canadians are going to have to pay is regarding the decision by the Prime Minister to increase the number of members of Parliament, so we would have a substantial increase at a substantial cost of $30 million plus.

Does the member believe that his constituents would rather see more politicians inside the House or more services to his constituents? Which does he think his constituents would say is a higher priority?

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, the easy answer is that we can always say “fewer politicians”. This is not a bad thing, but Parliament decided on an increase in members of Parliament. It is not the first time. Years ago, the number of members in this House was closer to 200 and now it is over 300. That is the way it is.

As far as the issue of services to constituents goes, there are many different ways for anybody to look after his or her constituents. However, one thing that would not help my constituents, or anybody else's in this House, is a $21 billion carbon tax.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, one thing I can tell members is that, if we got 30 more members like the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, it would be good value for Canadians.

Would my hon. colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound fill in this House on what devastation would come to communities like mine? The hon. member had the opportunity to be in my riding, which plays an important role in the Canadian economy. We have a significant forestry sector and a significant amount of agriculture, as well as a significant number of people working in the oil and gas sector. Might the hon. member enlighten this House as to what impacts a $21 billion carbon tax would have on ridings like mine?

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did have the pleasure of being in the riding of my colleague from Peace River this summer. I actually worked up there when I was 17 years old, and it was great to get back and see some of my relatives who are still there.

However, with the growth from when I was there in 1973, I saw the kind of spin-off and economic benefit that the oil sands and industry in general have on his riding. It is the driver there. Of course, there are other things like agriculture and forestry, but the riding would be devastated. That $21 billion tax would affect his riding as badly as, if not worse than, any other riding.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us take care of business. I have an advantage: I have been here nearly 16 years. I have seen things from both sides. I have got along pretty well. From here, I now have a better overall view. I have to admit that I find this sad, and even unacceptable. We have a bill with something like 516 clauses that deals with a number of bills. It is introduced in catch-all form, which ultimately means that the public, and we, their representatives, do not have a chance to really shed light on each bill. So there is something that is not working in our democracy. It is called an abuse of power.

I am certainly very sad to see the contribution by the NDP, who are jeering and trying to ditch the Conservatives. Some people have said 3,000 amendments was superficial. No, it is giving democracy a chance to express itself. We are the same people who recently spent the night together. We remember that. There were several hundred amendments that time. Why did we do it? To define this government. We call that consistency. If we want to give democracy a chance to express itself and if we want to show just how much this government is abusing power and just how antidemocratic it is, then we have to play the game to the very end. When we are at a finance committee meeting and we make all the motions and propose all the amendments possible, it is to define this government.

Unfortunately, the official opposition has painted itself into a corner. The New Democrats can call the government whatever they like, but they have created a dangerous precedent. Unfortunately, the New Democrats, working together with the Conservative Party, have created this precedent that a majority party will be able to do what it wants from now on. They could have stood up and spoken out for their fellow Canadians. This is not a matter of partisanship; it is a matter of how democracy works. Unfortunately, the NDP voted with the Conservative Party.

He is signalling to me there, my young colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, but those are the facts. They are going to have to explain that inconsistency, because in a democracy, procedure is essential. This bill is not just an omnibus bill, it is not just a mammoth bill, it is not just a catch-all bill; it is a way of defining parliamentary democracy.

That is what is important, and I have said it in both official languages because I am a proud Canadian and proud Quebecker and I can speak in both official languages.

Democracy is not about making it fast. Democracy is about giving us time as legislators to make sure that we can look through every article in every piece of legislation, because our role is to enhance the quality of life and protect those who are in need. It is also to make sure that we fight inequities, to make sure that people in rural Canada are also treated as first-class citizens. However, to do that we have to know procedure. Here, my colleague put forward 3,000 amendments, but did not do so for nothing. It was to define the current government. It was to make sure that we understand what Parliament and democracy are all about.

We have an official opposition that I do not understand. We spent nights together for God's sake and now that party has totally changed.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

An hon. member

They abandoned us.

Jobs and Growth Act, 2012Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

They abandoned us, Mr. Speaker. Those members abandoned Canadians and that is bad because it has created a precedent they will have to live with. We have a saying in French, “Power is like booze; not everybody can handle it”.

We have an issue now because we have a majority government and the official opposition has clearly said that time can be limited. I do not care if I have to stay here on Christmas Eve, because my role is to protect Canadians. My role is to make sure that I am doing my job and I will do everything to make sure that I protect them. However, now the government is using this kind of procedure.

This is doing things in haste. When that is the case, mistakes are made. When mistakes are made, they get sent to the other chamber. The other chamber has to make amendments. And then, we have witnesses tell us we have enacted bad bills. After that, we can talk about questioning our country’s constitution. And then, we can say there will be legal proceedings.

Our role means that we should not be in a hurry. Someone once said that the way to get a flower to grow faster is not to pull on it. With this kind of bill, it is essential to take the time that is needed, particularly when we are talking about the environment, about regional development, about credits, about investment tax credits, about the very definition of navigation, and all that. We can agree.

There are parts of this bill with which we agree entirely, but as a whole, there are things that we do not like and must vote for or against while holding our noses. That is not how politics works. There have been omnibus bills in the past. I was a member of the government that produced bills like that, but they were not mammoth bills including everything but the kitchen sink.

There are some things that are incomprehensible. It is true that the Conservatives love to abuse power, but how can we be expected to vote quickly on a 414-page bill containing 516 clauses?

I thank the other chamber, which has done its job. One need only think of Bill C-10 on censorship, which contained approximately 600 pages, and a tiny clause was nevertheless located. Senators did their job and this created a situation where the role of our own culture and artists was being redefined.

Why has the NDP got into bed with the government? Why are the New Democrats being all holier than thou? Tartuffe said: “cover up that bosom which I cannot endure to look upon.” My colleagues are, unfortunately, being a little hypocritical. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues, but after a year, I imagine that they must be gaining some experience, and are starting to understand how things work around here. You cannot just say things like that.

I understand that there is a party line to be towed and that they are being told that they must not associate with the evil Liberals because they oppose them, but at some point, one must set partisanship aside. If they truly want to stand up for the interests of Canadians, procedure is also important.

The problem is that this bill does not just deal with financial matters. We also have a Prime Minister and a Minister of Finance who are at odds. The Minister of Finance claimed that it was important to balance the budget, and now, they are singing a different tune. Things are changing around the world. They are spinning their wheels and that is extremely worrisome.

When we operate like that, it casts doubt on our own identity as Canadians and the way we do things.What type of country do we want to live in? We cannot just pack up on December 14 because we are eager to get home for the holidays. We were elected for a reason, and it is called parliamentary responsibility. Every time we are unable to do our work, it leads to cynicism. It is all very well to get into heated arguments and to shout out "my father is stronger than your father". The members, including the official opposition, need to explain why they voted with the government. That is what worries me as a parliamentarian.

We can no longer get to the heart of the matter because there is a time limit, and it is impossible to solve the world's problems in 10 minutes. However, people need to understand that because the official opposition allowed a majority Conservative government to do whatever it wanted, that government will do so every year. Unfortunately, our government thinks that the best way to govern is to govern as little as possible. It says that more services and less red tape are needed. What this means is that in the minds of Conservatives, a government is not a catalyst.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Transport, and they came to see us because we had some matters that had to be dealt with. According to them, we should let things go and see how they work, and whether they work, before investing. On the other hand, governments need to play a support role. Governments are there to create an environment that is conducive to investment and to protect those who are less well off. When things begin to move too quickly and compromise democracy, people turn less and less towards Parliament; that is what you get.

Yvon Deschamps said, “what is it good for?” And people will now ask, “what are members of Parliament good for?” We are not here simply to cut ribbons and get our pictures in the local newspaper. We are the keepers of this democracy. That is what the official opposition and the government have failed to do.

We have worked hard, and we will continue to do so to protect people's interests.

Motion

The House resumed from September 27 consideration of the motion.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand today to speak to this important motion before us. From our party's perspective, we see the benefit in the passage of this motion. I want to express appreciation to the mover of the motion before us today. It does deserve the support of the House, with the idea of ultimately seeing it pass.

The asbestos issue has been a very strong and, at times, emotional issue. I have had the opportunity over the years to be engaged in it, not only here in the capital but also back home in Manitoba, and have had the opportunity to discuss the issue with many Quebecers. At the end of the day I think we will find that there is widespread support for action to be taken in regard to the asbestos industry.

In the past, literally millions of dollars have been generated by the asbestos industry. It has provided economic opportunity for thousands of people over the years. The province of Quebec has benefited immensely economically from asbestos over the years and, at the end of the day, it is important that we acknowledge that.

However, equally important is that we acknowledge that, as things have evolved, we have become that much more knowledgeable about the side effects of asbestos. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that not only are there healthy industries in Canada, but that the products we are selling are healthy in other jurisdictions. There has been a great deal of concern. There was a time when asbestos was very well utilized across the country. It was used as one of those materials for insulation, among many other things. As a whole, industry loved using the product.

As time went by, we stopped seeing asbestos being used in housing as more and more health concerns were being raised. We then saw a dramatic shift as the industry strove to find other products to replace asbestos. The primary reason for that was the health-related concerns.

It is great to see that had taken place in Canada as education and science demonstrated the need to tread carefully with this particular product. More and more Canadians decided that they were not prepared to take the chance. Today, tens of millions of dollars are being spent all over the country to get rid of asbestos.

We are still a nation that produced and exported great quantities of asbestos. I can think of some of the TV newscasts I have seen where, in some of the countries that use asbestos, individuals were standing in a pile of asbestos, fluffing it into the air or shoveling it into bags or into spaces. I could not help but think that was just completely wrong.

A reaction came from the public and sometimes we would see masks being put on, but that did not deal with that kind of handling of the product. We need to take a lot more safety precautions when we are dealing with this particular product.

When Canadians as a whole started to hear about it, they started to respond. I know the member for Winnipeg Centre and others have introduced petitions in the House of Commons. We have seen literally tens of thousands of signatures over the years, all from people concerned about this product.

The government has been dragging its feet in trying to deal with the issue. Two things have to be dealt with. One is the product itself and the related health concerns both in Canada and abroad. World organizations have started listing this product dangerous and as being the number one concern that government should have. The other concern is the economics of closing down a mine and trying to ensure things are done in a fair fashion, at the same time not putting at risk, or endangering, the lives or the health of people around the world.

I would like to think that a proactive government, hearing from scientists who have concerns with regard to a product, would respond to the facts and then take the appropriate action.

Part of that appropriate action is to take into consideration the impact it will have on the community. We have many towns and communities throughout our country that one could classify as one industry communities. These communities have grown so dependent on a mine or a certain type of industry, maybe agriculture. These communities are built around that activity.

At the end of the day, we could have done more to try to alleviate some of the concerns and possibly bring in other economic opportunities to phase out the whole asbestos industry. There is a great deal of merit to this. Many people have argued for this for a good period of time.

Looking at the motion, it is something all members should be supporting. Quite frankly I suspect, given what has happened over the last number of months in particular, we will see this motion pass.

I have made reference to the latest scientific evidence, which has clearly established health dangers. Of paramount concern to us as a party is the health and well-being of those living and working near asbestos mining communities, as well as Canada's international responsibilities for exporting.

We would like to see the government plans. That is one of the reasons for this motion. It provides some form of a planning process over a period of time.

What will the future be for the asbestos industry as a whole? Again, this is something we have an obligation to review. Are there certain situations where asbestos might be an acceptable product?

Getting involved and getting a better understanding of this product would be of great benefit. At the end of the day, we have to think about the health and well-being of our communities. We have to think about what type of message we send when we export products that we know are not healthy and that cause a great deal of concern in regard to health standards, particularly in third world countries and other developed countries.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful to have the opportunity to speak to this very important motion, Motion No. 381, on behalf of my constituents from Surrey North. The motion has been brought to the House by my colleague, the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.

I want to share a story about my first day in the House. I am not new anymore, but the first day I arrived on the Hill, like most members of Parliament, I took one of those green buses from my office and came to the main entrance of this wonderful building. I was happy to see my NDP, Liberal and Conservative colleagues. When we pulled up to the front of the House of Commons, I noticed a building that had an envelope around it. Wanting to know what was happening, I asked my colleagues. Gleefully, they said that the building was having the asbestos removed from it because it is carcinogenic. We needed to clean the air to make it healthy for MPs and all the employees who work in the House of Commons. It was not just NDP, Liberal or Conservative members who said this; it was all members who said we needed to remove the carcinogenic substance from the buildings.

However, I found out later through a number of debates in the House how the asbestos industry impacts not only the building here but buildings around the world.

Basically, the motion seeks to put an end to the government's support of the harmful crystallite asbestos industries, both here in Canada and abroad. However, I think it is a tragedy that this motion needs to exist and that there is a need to speak about it in this House, considering we are getting rid of the same material from our buildings that we are exporting. I think it is very tragic that I am standing here today speaking about it.

We know that asbestos is incredibly dangerous, and we know the health risks associated to working with asbestos are too high to be acceptable. The World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society all said that asbestos should be banned in all forms and that Canada should no longer produce it at all. Internationally, the WHO and the International Labour Organization agree that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.

Approximately 30 countries in the world have banned the use of crystallite asbestos due to its carcinogenic characteristics. Yet, in Canada, not only do we produce and export this toxic substance, but our government has been actively supporting and promoting the industry for years.

The Conservatives have actively worked to stop asbestos from being on the United States' list of dangerous substances, which would basically require exporters to provide information on the toxicity or safe handling of dangerous substances. This means that when we export asbestos to developing countries, companies are not required to include health and security labelling for workers or their communities that will bear the burden of asbestos exposure.

New Democrats understand that people who work in the industry in Canada are worried about their jobs. That is why this motion includes specifically that the government must establish an industrial restructuring plan to ensure the creation of alternative employment for the workers and communities that presently rely on the asbestos sector.

In 2009, Canada exported nearly 153,000 tonnes of crystallite, and more than half of that went to India. I came to this wonderful country from India 32 years ago. The rest of the asbestos went to Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the UAE.

At present, due in large part to the efforts of the Conservative government to support this industry, the workers in these industries are unpacking and handling this toxic substance and there is no requirement for Canadian companies to let them know that materials they are working with could cause them serious harm. This is just dead wrong.

Canada can and should do better. We should support positive, progressive, mutually beneficial trade with other countries and we can do better than this. My Conservative colleagues know better and they know that we can and should do better. That is why my New Democrat colleagues and I ask for support for the motion. Members know that it is the right thing to do.

The motion is very reasonable and clear about what we need to do. The motion basically asks for a restructured industrial plan for communities that would be affected by the closure or the ban on asbestos to other countries. It asks the government to consult with communities on how to best restructure the industry so the people affected are provided with resources to transition into other industries. It asks for support for the inclusion of chrysotile on the Rotterdam Convention list of dangerous substances. It also asks for a stop to financing or supporting the asbestos industry within six months following the adoption of the motion.

There is a body of clear medical and scientific evidence that asbestos causes harm to workers, their families and the residents of countries to which we export asbestos. Yet, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, Canada sponsored and funded 160 trade missions in 60 countries to promote asbestos. The government also granted $150,000 over the last three years to the Chrysotile Institute, a lobby group from the asbestos sector that ensures promotion of asbestos chrysotile internationally.

However, for Canada, even on Parliament Hill, it is another story. We have banned this substance in our country. We have condemned entire buildings and are spending millions of dollars because we know the dangers of asbestos. I gave the example when I started that even this building is being cleaned of asbestos. When I was first elected, I came to the Parliament building and talked about this experience.

Why would we export a substance to other countries that we have banned? We have banned it in this building. That is still very troubling to me and I have not found any answers from the government side on this issue. The Conservative government is spending taxpayer money to export this very dangerous material to other countries.

That brings us to a really important ethical question. Conservative members of the House have double standards. What does it say to the rest of the world when we say something is dangerous to Canada, yet it is okay for other countries? What does it say to the workers here, including those in the West Block who are working to remove this substance and we are spending millions for them to do it safely, while workers in India are working with this substance with no warning at all? The government has actively lobbied for them to not have any warning about the hazardous nature of this substance. This is a double standard and is not okay in my books.

Canada has a global responsibility to fix this and to right our wrongs when it comes to the manufacture and export of asbestos. There has been some causes of hope. The Minister of Industry has said that Ottawa will no longer oppose the inclusion of asbestos on the Rotterdam Convention list of dangerous substances. That is a step in the right direction.

However, the government needs to go further than that. We should not be discussing this matter, which we should have resolved it a long time ago. If asbestos is not safe for Canadians, it is not safe for us to export it to poor third world countries.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, the motion put forward by my colleague is absolutely crucial for our country. It is about the public health of Canadians and other populations around the world, but also about a better economic future for local communities that depend on the asbestos industry.

We know that many workers made a living in Quebec's asbestos mines. However, the two existing companies are only exporting what they have left in stock. Therefore, this is an opportunity to hold a public consultation to determine the measures to be included in an industrial restructuring plan for affected local communities. It is crucial that the government develop such a plan.

On the other hand, the overwhelming medical and scientific evidence on the damage caused by asbestos has been known for many years. In France, asbestos was recognized as a carcinogen in 1977. That was 35 years ago. We also can no longer justify exporting asbestos to developing countries, because we know full well that its use is hazardous to health. We spend millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to remove asbestos from buildings in Canada. Therefore, we should stop pretending it can be used safely.

Talking about the corporate accountability of companies that export asbestos just does not cut it. It is a bogus argument. It is unbelievable that regulations on asbestos in Canada are so strict, but that we do not apply them to other countries. We take asbestos out of our public buildings, including this Parliament, yet we shamelessly export our stock to third world countries.

If this product is deemed dangerous in Canada, why would it not also be dangerous in other countries? There is a double standard here. Consider what the two main organizations concerned, namely the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization, have to say about it. Both agree that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

The government must stop denying the facts and hiding the truth about asbestos and the danger that it presents to populations around the world. However, it is doing just the opposite. It must take its responsibilities seriously. It must stop travelling to dozens of countries around the world to promote the sale of asbestos. This government sponsored 160 trade missions. Meanwhile, Canada's international reputation is being tarnished.

Asbestos cement has been found in Indonesia's dump sites, and the local population is exposed to it. Bags from Canadian businesses are being found in these dumps. Any financial support for this dying industry must stop immediately. Asbestos must be added to the list of hazardous chemicals right away. That is the only way to control it.

Adding asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention list would force exporters such as Canada to warn importing countries of any health hazards. Currently, there is no obligation to put labels on exports to warn workers of the dangers to their health and safety. Importing countries would then be able to ban the importation of asbestos. However, in 2011, the government refused to add asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention list of hazardous materials.

We cannot simply accept evasive answers from the government like the ones we heard in September. Asbestos must be added to the list of hazardous materials as quickly as possible, and we must stop believing that it can be used safely.

We know that the government will no longer oppose the inclusion of chrysotile in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention during the next round of talks. However, the government remains evasive when asked whether it will place chrysotile on the list of hazardous products in the future. There is an important distinction to make here. Canada must not remain silent during future talks.

Epidemiologists around the world agree that the mineral cannot be used safely. We need only take a look at the figures from the World Health Organization to get a good idea of where things stand.

This is nothing new. We have known since the 1970s that it is not safe to use or export this product. We want Canada to stop supporting the asbestos industry once and for all.

That is why we are calling for an industrial restructuring plan for the economies of the mining regions affected. This industrial restructuring plan must be put in place as quickly as possible, once the public has been consulted within six months of the adoption of this motion. We owe that to these regions that have relied on asbestos for so many years.

These regions have a right to a better economy, and that is what we will offer and guarantee them. We must support Quebec workers in these regions by investing in restructuring the regional economy, but we must ensure that this process is transparent and that stakeholders are consulted. We must support the workers throughout this restructuring.

We must stop subsidizing this outdated industry. It makes sense to invest in these regions so that they can transition towards other types of businesses. Epidemiologists from around the world consider this to be a public health disaster. Now is really not the time for the government to be biased towards the industry. It must fulfill its responsibilities to all Canadians and to the entire world. We need firm guarantees from the government.

Are we really going to continue to send this fibre to developing countries? That is completely misleading and it is harmful to the public health of populations that are already vulnerable.

The other public health reality is that of public and semi-public buildings containing asbestos. We absolutely must remove the asbestos from these buildings. It is an important public health problem that must be resolved.

As we know, from the 1930s to the 1980s, asbestos and other fibres were used to insulate buildings. As a result, there is asbestos in the Parliament buildings and in government buildings, schools and hospitals. We therefore want an exhaustive list of federally-regulated public and semi-public buildings that contain asbestos to be published. We must also take steps to guarantee the safety of people who work in these buildings. The government must also help the provinces and municipalities when it comes to removing asbestos.

What needs to be done is to get the community and stakeholders involved in this industrial conversion plan in order to create new industrial opportunities. These new opportunities will be sustainable, which is not the case with asbestos.

That would be the purpose of the public consultation. It is through true democratic consultation with interested parties that we will succeed.

Let us put an end to the export of asbestos once and for all. It is up to the federal government to legislate in this regard. It has a responsibility to fulfill.

Let us also support the workers in the asbestos region. Let us work together to establish a real plan to transition to a sustainable economy. This would be a major economic conversion to new promising industries for local communities. Such an economic shift could only benefit these communities.

In short, if asbestos is so dangerous to us that we take the time to remove it from our public buildings, then it is also dangerous for people in developing countries. They are human beings like us. We therefore have a responsibility with regard to their health. We know that asbestos is so strictly regulated in Canada that it is practically prohibited. We also know that Canadian taxpayers pay tens of millions of dollars to have it removed from our public buildings.

Since exporters are not currently required to provide information on the toxicity or safe handling of these dangerous substances, the best thing to do is to regulate them and consider them hazardous substances.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, under the terms of Motion No. 381 moved by my colleague, the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—that is quite a mouthful—we are discussing not just the economic future of the regions that have been waiting for a long time but, more importantly, the future of human beings. That is what is truly important.

The asbestos regions, primarily Thetford Mines and Asbestos, have suffered for too long because various federal governments failed to act over the past 30 years. We are also discussing the future of the surrounding areas, the two RCMs to which these municipalities belong. Failure to take action results in collateral damage, and these two municipalities are not the only ones to have been affected. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have neglected and even abandoned the people working in this industry, which no longer has access to a market.

Consequently, it is pointless to dwell on the reasons for the present situation of this sector of economic activity, which at one time was prosperous and an important lever for investment in these regions, but which more often than not had dangerous and even fatal consequences for the health and safety of its workers. My own maternal grandfather, Léandre Morel, died at the age of 64 due to respiratory complications. For his last five years, his quality of life was compromised by the pulmonary illness that afflicted him.

What can we do today for these regions that have been devastated and withered by the end of an era? The death knell was sounded a long time ago. The constant decline of this sector of economic activity was an obvious sign from the outset. What will we do when the industry hits bottom?

I understand how the men and women of these regions believed in the industry and held out hope until the end. One thing we cannot hold against them is the courage they have shown. They fought until the end and kept the industry alive for a few more years even though, unfortunately, it was failing. These people must now face the facts: the end has come.

I do not understand why the different levels of government, including the federal government, never worked with the industry on a contingency plan to take care of the people and to provide economic stability that could have attracted coordinated investments and diversified their respective economies. It makes no sense especially because elected officials claim to be trustworthy and to be working on behalf of the people and the entire country. That is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, the golden age of single-industry regions, such as Thetford Mines and Asbestos, is over and, from now on, we need to think differently about the economic activity in these communities. We must act in such a way as to revive these corners of Quebec that have lost their resources but have helped to shape our identity and culture.

However, we must work together and show some humility in order to put partisanship aside and save the economy of these areas in distress. It is important to mention this because the people who still live in these once thriving communities are dejected and in distress.

The abandonment of these regions by the governments that have been in office over the past few years has had catastrophic effects, particularly in Asbestos. There have been psychosocial consequences and hardship such as an increase in alcoholism, an increase in drug addiction, an increase in separation and divorce and an increase in the suicide rate. When the government ignores a region or industry in decline, the consequences are unthinkable. It is unacceptable to leave these people to fend for themselves and to fail to intervene.

That is what these communities have had to face, not just because of the previous governments' interference but because of the failure of those governments to manage a socio-economic crisis of unprecedented proportions in these communities.

Let us think about it. The population of Asbestos has gone from 9,000 people in the late 1960s to less than 5,000 people today. And that number continues to drop.

As for Thetford Mines, although the town had access to more elaborate infrastructure and institutions over the course of its history, its population still dropped from 20,000 people in the early 1970s to 15,000 people today. That is a huge drop. So what are we waiting for to support these municipalities and help them to regain the reputation they once had as a result of a primary resource industry. That industry represented over 65% of the economic activity in Asbestos and close to 35% of the economic activity in Thetford Mines at the height of their mining operations, and over 5,000 direct and indirect jobs. Imagine the void left by the crash.

It is time to act and to join forces with all the economic stakeholders. Now is the time to seize this opportunity since the Government of Quebec has expressed an interest in getting involved in a recovery plan for these communities. It is time to put an end to unsuccessful and unnecessary dialogue and take action.

Inevitably, in order to meet the challenge of this recovery, we need to take inclusive and universal action to ensure the renaissance of the local economy. To that end, in fact, and in accordance with our social, democratic policies and principles, the NDP firmly believes that broader consultation with all economic and community stakeholders is crucial to this process of revitalization and diversification for the local economies of the affected regions. The only way to fix the social crisis currently facing the asbestos-related economic sectors in Quebec is by working together on a progressive plan. The people who make up the labour force in those regions want only one thing: a combined initiative led by all levels of government in collaboration with the business community in order to create the proper conditions to ensure the development of a prosperous, diversified local economy.

In conclusion, as many people here know, I was born in Asbestos, and unfortunately, I have been witnessing that community's economic decline my entire life. Nevertheless, the vitality and hope left over from better days continue to sustain the residents, despite the harsh reality associated with their industry.

In Asbestos, my ancestors survived the October crisis in 1929. They fought for their rights and conquered an awful employer and a nasty government in the 1949 crisis. Many people, many families, also lost their land and their homes in the landslides of 1969 and 1979. Nine seems to be an unlucky number. It is beyond comprehension.

However, one thing is crystal clear: the people of these mining regions have unshakeable courage and faith in life. I can assure this House that the bill introduced by my hon. colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, whom I wish to thank, is just the beginning. I urge the members of all parties to vote for the hope generated by this motion.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today in support of the motion by the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup. My colleague's motion addresses the government's responsibility for the current state of the asbestos industry in Canada.

The motion calls upon the government to implement, in the year following the adoption of this motion, an industrial restructuring plan towards sustainable economic sectors for all communities in which a portion of the economy still depends on asbestos mining.

Industrial restructuring plans should include the mobilization of resources and encourage the involvement of the local work force. That means that we must consult the local people concerned, because they are the leaders and must live with whatever is developed to restart the regional economy. It is essential that the government show leadership that creates enthusiasm. It must also be innovative.

The motion also calls for a public consultation to be held in the six months following the adoption of the motion. First, it should establish measures to be included in the industrial restructuring plan to ensure the creation of alternative employment for workers presently employed in the asbestos sector; second, it should include all organizations concerned and groups of regions still mining asbestos and who ask to participate.

I know that consultative democracy is a problem for our government, but it is essential in these communities and it must be an everyday practice for everyone in politics. When I talk about consultative democracy, of course, I am talking about informing and consulting the people most closely involved. We must work with people in their communities. It is essential to get their consent and that of their community institutions so that they can feel part of a project that affects everyone in their community.

The motion also asks that the government publish, in the year following the adoption of this motion, a comprehensive list of public and quasi-public buildings under federal jurisdiction that contain asbestos. This is a government responsibility. Public Works and Government Services Canada must monitor materials containing asbestos.

The motion also calls upon the government to support the inclusion of chrysotile on the Rotterdam Convention list of dangerous substances. We have learned recently that the government has finally agreed to do so. That is very good news because it obliges exporting countries like Canada to warn importing countries of the dangers to health. Importing countries would be free to choose to accept asbestos imports or to refuse them if they felt unable to handle these products in complete safety.

Finally, the motion calls upon the government to stop financially supporting the asbestos industry within six months following the adoption of the motion. Under the current government, Canada has sponsored and funded some 160 trade missions to 60 countries in order to promote asbestos. Since 1984, before I was even born, the Chrysotile Institute has received over $50 million from the Canadian and Quebec taxpayers.

Canada twice opposed the inclusion of asbestos on the list of dangerous substances, but, as I said, the good news is that the government may have agreed to sign the convention. Since the present Prime Minister took office, Canada has sponsored many trade missions. Thus, we perhaps have an international responsibility. I believe that sponsorship of trade missions should also be eliminated.

In the last three years, the government has given around $150,000 to the Chrysotile Institute, a lobby group working in the asbestos sector to promote asbestos abroad. Not only does it promote asbestos, but it encourages its use internationally. Canada may be an industrialized country, but we have to put international interests ahead of Canada's domestic policy. We are talking about well-being. But this is not only about our own industrial or economic well-being; we must also consider the well-being of people all over the world, in all countries.

In Canada, we know how dangerous a product asbestos is. Parliament has legislated against its use. Entire buildings have been condemned and millions of dollars have been spent because we are aware of the dangers of asbestos. If it is dangerous here, it cannot be safe in another country; that is magical thinking.

Internationally, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization agree that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. So, there is none. By continuing to export asbestos and sponsor trade missions, the Conservative government continues to damage our international reputation, and I find that especially disturbing. We are opposed to the mining and export of asbestos. I want to praise the hard work my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup has done on this issue. It is greatly appreciated. I congratulate him on his fine work.

In addition, we must consider the massive amount of medical and scientific proof that asbestos damages workers, their families and all residents. The scientific and medical evidence is clear. Internal documents reveal that public servants at Health Canada refuted the Conservatives' statement that chrysotile asbestos was safe, back in 2006. Once again, there is evidence.

On the other hand, I think it is important to recognize that many workers in several regions of Quebec have earned a living from asbestos, and that is why we urgently need a plan B. In my opinion, it is the government's responsibility to prepare an industrial restructuring plan and hold public consultations in the affected communities.

On an opposition day in 2011, five Conservatives abstained from a vote on the motion put forward by the hon. member for Nickel Belt, and it appears that more and more Conservative members are opposed to the continued mining and export of asbestos. That is why we are asking all members from all parties to vote in favour of this motion.

Simply put, it is time for a change and time that the government accepted its international responsibilities. Adding asbestos to the list of dangerous substances is a very good first step and an essential one. Workers in other countries must be informed and protected the same way as any Canadian citizen, because a Canadian is not any better or any more important than a citizen of any other country.

Finally, it is important to remember that people must be informed of any risk to their health, as I said earlier. That is essential. It has been done for asbestos. Still, the government must now face up to its responsibilities to other countries and to the communities that need a realistic industrial restructuring plan to revitalize their economies.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, in all the times I have risen in the House, I have never hoped so much to find the right words, because I know that a number of members who do not belong to my party are pondering the motion and wondering whether they should support it. This evening, I hope I can influence them.

Fortunately, for the past several weeks or months, the debate is no longer on the danger of asbestos, or on a safe way to handle it. In my opinion, that is a major victory because over the past few weeks the debate has been on the substance of the issue. There is an international consensus. There is also a consensus in what Quebeckers have been calling for years the ROC, or the rest of Canada. There is now almost a full consensus in Quebec on the fact that asbestos is no longer socially acceptable and that it no longer has a future.

That is a hard fact, but we can no longer make abstraction of it. The asbestos industry is near the end of its life. It has been hit by the collapse of a market that will not improve in the years to come. It has been hit by the fact that it is no longer socially acceptable, even in Quebec.

The first ones hit by this reality are the people living in the asbestos regions. That is why I thought about moving this motion and why it is worded in this fashion. For too long, front-line victims have been the people who live in the asbestos regions. These people used to be able to rely on thousands of stable jobs. Now, they are barely getting by. They are stuck inside a shell, in an industry that is not running and that will never run again like it did a few decades ago. So, those are the first victims. That is why the motion is based on industrial restructuring.

I am not going to read the motion again. I will try to respond to the concerns of some of my colleagues, including members from other parties.

It is simple. Industrial restructuring is about finding jobs for a few hundred workers who still depend on a dying industry. It is simple and it is a necessity. We cannot merely look and decide to close the mine tomorrow without guaranteeing a decent future to front-line victims of the asbestos issue.

The motion then asks that they be consulted. Fifty million dollars were put on the table, because there is some movement even on the government side. We cannot guarantee that once that $50 million is spent that it will translate into jobs that will clearly and specifically go to asbestos workers without first sitting down and consulting stakeholders.

I have been told that some members fear the consultation will get out of hands and will become a broad exercise during which all Canadians from coast to coast to coast who have an opinion on the asbestos issue will spend days and months expressing their views.

That would not be case. The motion is clear on this matter. We are talking about people living in regions that are still mining asbestos. They are the ones that the motion proposes to consult.

We are also asking for a list of federal buildings that contain asbestos. The other group of people who become sick are construction workers. They are the ones who want to know, when they begin working or tearing down walls, if there is a risk to their health. That is fundamental.

There are two other issues that I want to discuss.

First, we must support the inclusion of asbestos on the Rotterdam Convention list of dangerous substances. We can no longer sit at an international negotiating table and have an untenable position. This has to stop.

Finally, we must stop financially supporting the asbestos industry. There is a consensus on asbestos in Quebec and in Canada. I am asking the House to support Canadians and the consensus on this issue.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

AsbestosPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.