Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this House to support my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup and his motion on the government's responsibility for the current state of the asbestos industry in Canada.
A huge debate has been raging over the past few years on the use of asbestos, particularly in Quebec, focusing specifically on the use of chrysotile asbestos, an ore that is proven to be carcinogenic.
Chrysotile is a fibrous, non-flammable mineral that is flexible and resistant to most chemicals and has high tensile strength. This unique combination of characteristics has for decades made it a choice component for lightweight reinforced cement products, friction materials, and high-temperature seals and gaskets, to name just a few. Chrysotile accounts for a huge share, 94%, of the world asbestos market.
Chrysotile has been recognized as a carcinogen for more than three decades now and there are approximately 30 countries in the world that have banned its use, including France in 1997.
In 2011, under this government, when the UN Environment Programme wanted to add chrysotile to the list of 39 chemicals whose industrial use is hazardous, better known as the Rotterdam Convention list of hazardous substances, the program came up against the refusal by the four major chrysotile producers and exporters: Russia, Kyrgyzstan, India and, of course, Canada.
Canada's refusal was ascribed to the fact that this government supported the export of chrysotile to developing countries.
As exporting countries are not required to provide information about the toxicity or safe handling of this hazardous material, this government decided to shift the burden of asbestos exposure to the developing countries.
This all happened while this very government was using millions of dollars from Canadian taxpayers—and guess why—to remove asbestos from public places such as the Parliament buildings and the Prime Minister's residence. This provided another great opportunity for this government to promote Canada's image abroad.
While the government has been dithering, dawdling and procrastinating on this issue, here are some of the solutions that NDP MPs would like to see. First of all, we demand that this government support the addition of chrysotile to the Rotterdam Convention list of hazardous substances. When asbestos is on the list, Canada will be forced to warn asbestos importing countries about its dangers to human health. Second, we demand that the government stop providing financial assistance to the asbestos industry.
Under this government, Canada has sponsored and paid for an impressive 160 trade missions to 60 countries to promote asbestos. If the government had only put the same effort into the manufacturing sector and into maintaining our social programs, Canada's economy would be a lot stronger today.
Finally, we hope this government will set up an industrial restructuring plan for asbestos workers. We want the government to put just as much effort into economic diversification and into redeploying former asbestos workers as it put into promoting asbestos throughout the world. Our regions and our workers are affected and they deserve the same amount of money as the government has invested in promoting asbestos over the past few years, in Canada and abroad. Workers in Canada and Quebec should not have to bear the brunt of this government's callousness.
The NDP's position is supported by the vast majority of people, in addition to being supported by many Canadian professionals, including healthcare professionals and the Canadian Cancer Society, to name just a few.
Recently, the World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society stated that asbestos should be banned in all its forms, as chrysotile is a class A carcinogen.
Finally, Quebec's Premier recently pledged to cancel the $58 million loan guarantee that was meant to revive mining operations in the Jeffrey mine, thereby bringing an end to asbestos mining operations in Quebec.
If Canada wants to continue being a leader on the international stage, we must put international interests before domestic political considerations. We no longer use asbestos in our buildings, and it is not any safer to use it in buildings in other countries. Asbestos is just as carcinogenic in the walls of buildings in developing countries as it is in our own.
The World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization have agreed that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. It is incumbent on the Conservative government to stop tarnishing our international reputation. It must demand that asbestos be added to the Rotterdam Convention list of hazardous substances immediately.
In conclusion, as far back as 2006, internal documents revealed that Health Canada officials agreed that the department’s preferred position would be to add asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention list, as this would be consistent with controlled use. Six years later, this recommendation has not yet been followed by the Conservatives. It is high time that this government do the right thing and call asbestos a dangerous substance, for our health and for everyone's health.