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Documents obtained by Postmedia News through the Access to Information Act suggest the federal government knows full well that chrysotile asbestos belongs on a list of substances that face import and export restrictions — but nevertheless opposes adding it to the list.
“At previous meetings and again [in June 2011], Canada acknowledged all criteria for the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the [Rotterdam] Convention have been met but opposed its addition,” reads the briefing note provided to Environment Minister Peter Kent.
As scoops go, it won’t change the world. But it is a technical acknowledgment of a universally understood truth. No one disputes that the chrysotile mined in and exported from Quebec can be harmful if improperly handled. And no one, at least privately, would dispute that it is often not properly handled by workers in the developing countries to which Canada exports it. On asbestos, it’s quite obvious that Canada’s position isn’t mainstream. At a UN summit in Switzerland last year, it was shared only by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam.
The Conservatives seem to have inherited and embraced the conventional wisdom that the asbestos industry must be supported in principle, else Quebecers will wreak a horrible electoral revenge. When you begin with that assumption, you’re left with two options: You can argue that it’s none of Canada’s business if Third World workers breathe in the stuff; perhaps they should complain to their shop foremen. A bit callous. Or you can spew out the evasive platitudes we’ve seen from Ottawa for years: “We promote the safe and controlled use of chrysotile.”
But what if the conventional wisdom is just plain wrong? What if a politician or a party that wants to oppose Canada’s asbestos exports can nowadays just safely go ahead and do so? It might be a good time to ask. Martha Hall Findlay’s report recommending we do away with supply management in the dairy industry has been received appreciatively. Maybe Ottawa’s in a mood for a little iconoclasm.
For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/06/27/chris-selley-asbestos-isnt-the-lightning-rod-the-tories-seem-to-think-it-is/