Asbestos

Hon. Jim Munson:  My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate.  In the last few months I have been noticing the great cleanup that has been ongoing in the West Block, the billion dollar project of cleansing the West Block of asbestos. There have been warnings and warnings about what asbestos does, with 500,000 cancer victims in Western Europe alone. Yet, we continue to export the same kind of asbestos. There are critics who say the country is exporting death to protect the profits of a handful of companies, one in Montreal, and the jobs of 1,600 miners.

Dr. Barry Castleman is the author of a respected book on the danger of asbestos.  What is the difference between land mines and asbestos? He says a key difference, of course, is that Canada does not export land mines. Therefore, why are we continuing to export this deadly product?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, the position of the Government of Canada has not changed.  It is the same position that the government has had for 30 years, through governments of both political stripes.  The Government of Canada has promoted the safe and controlled use of chrysotile, both domestically and internationally, and scientific reviews confirm that chrysotile fibres can be used safely under controlled conditions. That is the only means by which this government and previous governments have supported this particular industry.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, I do not know how we can have strict guidelines and follow where all this asbestos goes, and how they do it, and how workers in these undeveloped countries protect themselves from this particular asbestos, which is deadly, according to all science.

In June, at the UN, Canada opposed the listing of this sort of asbestos as a hazardous chemical. We opposed it, and then we ended up joining the big leagues with countries like Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Do we really want to be on the side of this kind of coalition?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I will only repeat what I said in my first answer, and that is that the Government of Canada, this present government and past governments, has promoted the safe and controlled use of chrysotile, both domestically and internationally. We have scientific reviews that confirm that the chrysotile fibres can be used under controlled conditions. As I have just pointed out, when this product is shipped, there are strict and controlled instructions for the safe use of the product.

Senator Munson: Honourable senators, the position of our party is that this must stop and that the federal government must help the people in Quebec who are working in that industry and in that region to transition into a new kind of employment. I think that is what we must look at as a nation. I think we have a moral obligation to look at the issue in that way.

I remind the honourable senator of the Earnscliffe fire that occurred the other day here in Ottawa at the British High Commissioner’s house. They are worried and fearful that this sort of asbestos, the same as is being exported, was burned into the air from the attic of that house.

I recognize that that this is the government’s policy, but I think there should be another proactive policy. I encourage the government to look at new and different ways of having workers in that area not lose their jobs but gain new and more productive employment.

Senator LeBreton: Senator Munson puts a valid case on the record, and I will ensure that his views are made known to my colleague, the minister responsible.