Asbestos Regulations

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, that is enough talk about “Where’s me lake taxes gone?” Think about it.

My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I will talk about something even more serious — the asbestos issue in the province of Quebec. The Public Health Association of Canada has recently commented on the Conservative government’s ongoing support of this dying industry, the asbestos industry in this country, as “wrong, unethical and indecent” and rightfully calls it “exporting death.”

This is all happening at the same time that asbestos is being removed from the Prime Minister’s residence and from our workplace on Parliament Hill. According to Kathleen Ruff of the Rideau Institute, the Prime Minister has given the industry his commitment that as long as he is Prime Minister of Canada, he will support the exportation of asbestos and will block a United Nations environmental agreement to the Rotterdam Convention so as to prevent asbestos from being put on a list of hazardous substances.

Why are the Prime Minister and his government propping up this dying industry by providing international protection to stop the industry from being regulated?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, first, I am not certain to whom Senator Munson referred as I did not get the name of the individual.

Obviously, asbestos is a hazardous product. I am not an expert in this area, but I believe there is a different type of asbestos that is still considered relatively safe, although I cannot be absolutely certain about that. I will take Honourable Senator Munson’s question as notice.

Senator Munson: The name is Kathleen Ruff from the Rideau Institute.

A recent CBC documentary called Canada’s Ugly Secret showed asbestos from Canada being handled under appalling conditions overseas. Studies from the Quebec government report a 100 per cent failure rate to handle asbestos safely in Quebec. Yet, this asbestos lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute, is allowed to carry the emblem and the flag of Canada on its literature.

Will the government listen to the appeals from the Canadian Cancer Society and health experts? You are used to cutting off funds for different lobby groups. This particular lobby group receives about a quarter of a million dollars and it is giving this country a black eye.

Senator LeBreton: I thank the Honourable Senator Munson for the question. I was not aware of any particular lobby group being funded with regard to this industry; I could be wrong, of course. I will take the question as notice.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, I have a further supplementary question. I must emphasize the fact that in Quebec last year, 60 per cent of occupational deaths were caused by asbestos. That is according to figures from the Quebec Workers’ Compensation Board. As a result of the proven health risks and despite the Quebec government’s official policy to promote its use domestically, asbestos is rarely used in this country anymore. However, we still export about $100 million worth of asbestos a year to developing nations.

Canada will export 200,000 tonnes of asbestos every year for the next 25 years to Asia. Once again, this information is from the Rideau Institute. Why is it that many developed countries around the world, including the European Union, have banned asbestos use but we continue to promote its use abroad?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I am always a little dubious about anything the Rideau Institute says, but I will take the question as notice.



Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Earlier this week I learned that the Harper government is set to pull its support from the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. Why is that?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, all programs under the Canadian International Development Agency are being reviewed, including the one mentioned by the honourable senator, to ensure that good value is being obtained for Canadians’ tax dollars and that the funds are directed to communities in developing countries where the need is greatest.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, the three-year contract with the Canadian International Development Agency expired on March 31, 2010. The leader talked about programs being under review. How long does a review take? The CCIC has the backing of 90 Canadian organizations — “troublesome” groups like Oxfam, the Red Cross, the Canadian Labour Congress, Save the Children —

An Hon. Senator: Radical groups.

Senator Munson: “Radical groups,” he said sarcastically.

March 31 was the expiry date on the contract. How long does it take to conduct a review? Would the leader have any positive remarks about the good work that these groups do?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I do not find organizations like the Red Cross and Oxfam troublesome, though the honourable senator might

Senator Munson: That was sarcasm.

Senator LeBreton: Given the work of the Canadian Red Cross in Haiti, it cannot be considered a troublesome organization.

A proposal from the Canadian Council for International Cooperation are under review by CIDA. As I said a moment ago, all projects are reviewed to ensure that Canadians receive good value for their tax dollars and that the money will help relieve poverty in the developing world. That is an important point to remember.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, another important point to remember is that I skated to raise funds for Haiti. I did my small part for the Red Cross but it is about the bigger picture for all of these organizations.

Robert Fox, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada, said that the silence regarding such an established organization worries the entire humanitarian aid sector. Mr. Fox said, “It sends a signal to the NGO community that is very, very disturbing.”

I ask the leader again: How long will it take to conduct this review? For the life of me, I do not know why this review was necessary in terms of the amount of money spent for these groups. I believe that CIDA supplies about $1.7 million of the CCIC’s $2.7 million budget. I do not understand.

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, aid organizations need not be concerned because we have increased our funding to foreign aid. I simply state, once again, that CIDA officials are reviewing various programs to ensure that Canadians receive good value for their tax dollars and to ensure that those dollars will help relieve poverty in the underdeveloped world.